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2018 Subaru Forester Review

2018 Subaru Forester Review

The 2018 Subaru Forester continues to offer top safety scores, remarkable space inside, and all-round versatility; it’s still one of the best small SUVs, and a good value for money.

The 2018 Subaru Forester crossover SUV makes a good argument against its competitors. It's spacious, capable, comfortable, and quiet. Its standard all-wheel drive and chunky engine make it a hit in snowy states.


It won our Best Car To Buy 2014 award the year it launched, and it’s Subaru’s best-selling line. The four trim levels are base, Premium, Limited, and Touring.

We think the Forester is one of the segment’s best all-round cars, with our assessment confirmed most recently by spending a few months with a turbocharged Forester 2.0XT across a variety of terrains and driving cycles. Even in its fifth model year, it easily earns its rating of 6.7 out of 10.

The Forester has a traditional, upright shape without the flourishes found in some crossovers. Inside, it’s functional, and easy to understand. Subaru’s improved the noise suppression in recent years, so it’s quieter than before, and it’s surprisingly spacious inside for its length—especially for rear-seat passengers.

Two engines are available, a 2.5-liter flat-4 and a more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-4. Most will be fitted with Subaru’s very good continuously variable transmission, although a manual gearbox can be ordered on base models. Handling is good for a crossover, and standard all-wheel drive makes driving even in bad weather confident and sure-footed.

The 2018 Forester gets excellent ratings and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Its forward-collision warning system in particular works well, and it has acquired more capabilities in the last couple of model years.

Styling
The clean, straightforward design of the 2018 Subaru Forester is let down only by the turbo model’s excessive add-ons.

As utility vehicles get sleeker, swoopier, and more stylized, the Subaru Forester’s restrained, handsome design is an old-school throwback. It’s been kept up to date with projector headlights and LED taillights. The hood has character lines in the center and along the sides, but the chiseled front end is slightly let down by a profusion of details down low.

The horizontal window line and relatively upright rear make the side view resemble a classic first-generation Ford Escape, updated for a new decade. Our only real quibble is that the 2.0XT turbo model has too many vents, grilles, lights, and accents, including an aggressive air dam that brackets the front end like dewlaps.

Inside the Forester, you’ll know instinctively where the controls are and how to use them without needing to search through the manual. Matte and soft-touch surfaces are accented with metallic trim in its own matte finish, marking improvement in Subaru’s previously basic interiors.

The tall, upright shape provides superb outward visibility, and we rate the Forester at 4 points out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.) We dock it one point for the gimmicky 2.0XT add-ons that mar an otherwise nice shape. It’s far from stylish, but we think it hits the right balance between unobtrusive and functional.

Performance
The 2018 Subaru Forester handles well and its standard AWD gives off-road ability as well, though only the turbo model offers spirited performance.

We give the Forester 6 out of 10 points in performance. Its car-like handling and standard AWD lift it above the average.

Most Subaru Foresters come with a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat-4 engine, though the 2.0XT has a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at a substantial 250 hp. Low-end models come with a 6-speed manual gearbox, though the CVT is your only choice as you move up to higher trim levels or opt for the 2.0XT turbo. That model lets drivers make the Forester behave as though it has a conventional 6- or 8-speed automatic, with shift paddles that produce quick, if simulated, "gear changes,” using the drive modes provided by the SI-Drive system.

For a utility vehicle, the Forester’s car-like handling is far sportier than anything from Honda, Nissan, or Toyota. For a tall vehicle, body roll is minimal, the steering feels nicely weighted, and Subaru has engineered the best continuously variable transmissions we've sampled.
A full 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive will make drivers as confident about off-road use or bad weather as they are in paved suburbia. For additional off-road capability, Subaru offers an "X-Mode" that distributes power left to right at low speeds, supplementing the standard front-to-back distribution. It lets Subaru’s utility wagon cope with hills normally limited to competitors from Jeep and Land Rover.

The Forester can tow up to 1,500 pounds with either engine, though you’re more likely to see it with one of many specialized carriers for boats, skis, or sports gear on the roof. Gas mileage is good, though that’s a continuously rising bar and it’s no longer the best.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Subaru Forester isn’t close to luxurious, but it’s hard to beat for interior space to hold both people and their gear.

The 2018 Subaru Forester offers a pleasantly high driving position, lots of front elbow room, and a dashboard far enough away to make the interior feel spacious. The upright shape and low window line make the interior airy and light and give excellent outward visibility.

We rate the Forester’s quality and comfort at 7 out of 10, giving it extra points for rear-seat room and flexibility and the optional one-touch folding rear seat. 

Taller drivers may find the short, flat bottom cushions of the front seats to lack bolstering, and they may find themselves continually in contact with the center console and door panels—in places that lack soft surfaces.

Rear-seat room is ample, with almost 40 inches of head room (without the sunroof), and a low driveshaft tunnel. All but the base model offer a rare and welcome three-position reclining feature for the (60/40-split) rear seatbacks.

The squared-off shape offers generous cargo space, and there’s no steeply raked tailgate to conflict with large boxes. The Forester has 34.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and 74.7 cubic feet when the second-row seats are folded down. Subaru has designed a clever one-button mechanism to fold the seat back fully flat, though it’s optional except on the top Touring version.

Noise suppression is good, with more sound deadening added last year, as well as an acoustic windshield, thicker window glass, and better door seals. This helps address a chronic Subaru weak point and makes the car much more pleasant for longer trips.

Safety
Top safety scores and continual updates to safety features put the 2018 Subaru Forester among the safest cars in its class.

Subaru's reputation for safety extends into the 2018 Subaru Forester. The IIHS rates the Forester a Top Safety Pick for its Good ratings on all crash tests, and it gets five stars overall from the NHTSA.

All Foresters include a rearview camera as standard equipment. This year, all Limited and Touring models now come with blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts. Those features are also added to Premium models ordered with Subaru's EyeSight system.

Subaru’s excellent EyeSight camera system, in fact, is a highlight among active-safety systems. It uses a pair of cameras to identify road hazards ahead so the car can brake to avoid a crash or reduce its impact. EyeSight, standard on Touring models, also provides optional adaptive cruise control. Last year the EyeSight system got color cameras for a wider, long field of vision; this year it adds automatic headlights and automatic reverse braking as standard.

For its excellent crash safety ratings, the Top Safety Pick designation, the excellent and continually updated EyeSight system, and top-of-the-class outward vision, we rate the Forester 8 out of 10 for safety. A pair of four-star ratings on specific NHTSA crash tests, in fact, are the only things standing between the car and a perfect score.

Features
The best value in 2018 Subaru Foresters is a base model with manual gearbox, but it’s still decently priced after adding fancy audio, leather, and a moonroof.

The 2018 Subaru Forester wins extra points for having a stripped-down, manual-gearbox model that’s a relatively bargain at the low end, and a wide variety of upscale features at the top end. The Forester Touring shouldn’t be mistaken for a luxury crossover, but the entire range represents good value for the money, and we rate it this year at 8 out of 10 points.

The 2018 Subaru Forester can be ordered as a 2.5i model with base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels, or a 2.0XT performance model in Limited and Touring versions only. Prices start just over $23,000 and go as high as $35,000. All versions have Bluetooth pairing, steering-wheel controls for the audio system, a 6.2-inch touchscreen for basic infotainment functions, and a rearview camera as standard.

Base models will be relatively rare, but the 2.5i Premium version hits the sweet spot in the crossover market. It adds a 10-way adjustable power driver's seat, reclining rear seatbacks, a panoramic power moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

The 6-speed manual gearbox is offered only on base and Premium models. The latter also gets the All-Weather Package, which includes heated front seats and side mirrors, plus a windshield-wiper deicer, if you order the manual (it’s optional on the more common CVT models).

A Black Edition trim package is newly available for Premium trims and it includes dark-finish wheels and special exterior accents.

Adding the turbo engine to make it a 2.0XT, the Premium trim includes larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a rear spoiler, 18-inch wheels, the All-Weather Package, and the X-Mode for the all-wheel-drive system.

Limited models bundle in the CVT and X-Mode, along with perforated leather trim on the seats, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control, fog lights, the All-Weather Package, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and a power liftgate. (Some features can be added as individual options on Premium models as well.

Top-of-the-line Forester Touring versions, however, are the only ones with a 440-watt premium audio system and eight speakers, the excellent one-touch folding rear seatback, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, a heated steering wheel, and HID headlights with automatic height adjustment. The 2.0XT Touring also has torque vectoring.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Subaru Forester delivers good fuel efficiency given its standard AWD, but the field gets tougher every year as competitors improve.

The most fuel-efficient version of the 2018 Subaru Forester is by far the most common, with the base 2.5-liter flat-4 engine and continuously variable transmission. It’s rated at 26 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined.

Step down to the same engine with the 6-speed manual gearbox, however, and the EPA ratings plummet to 22/28/24 mpg—worse even than the faster and sportier 2.0XT model, with its turbo-4, at 23/27/25 mpg.

The turbocharged Forester is rated for premium fuel.

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