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2025 Subaru Forester First Drive: Why Reinvent the Wheel?

Subaru's compact SUV gets small improvements where they matter most

2025 Subaru Forester driving
  • There’s a new Forester in town, fully redesigned for 2025.
  • The Forester has new looks, a refined interior, and a (slightly) updated engine.
  • Its interior is much nicer on higher trim levels.
  • The Forester lineup will soon expand to include hybrid and Wilderness models.

What you really need to know about the 2025 Subaru Forester boils down to this: Subaru didn’t reinvent the wheel with its popular small SUV. Instead, the automaker simply made the existing wheel a lot better. The latest Forester is still roomy and versatile but it's also more stylish, more enjoyable to drive, and better equipped than the previous generation that debuted in 2018.

The body structure is new, and Subaru says it has a lot more structural adhesive and welds for a quieter, more pleasant driving experience. For styling, there are slimmer headlights and a larger grille. In back, new lights frame a new bumper with large “FORESTER” lettering. To our eyes, the new Forester looks pretty sharp. But one thing that hasn’t changed (much) is the Forester’s dimensions. Subaru says this is about finding the right size for the SUV and not about making it bigger unnecessarily.

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2025 Subaru Forester engine

Same ol' engine, with a few small updates

The 2025 Forester is powered by an updated version of its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. For 2025, it produces 180 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, which is essentially the same as before. But according to Subaru, the engine makes more of its power at lower rpm, so it feels punchier off the line, and many of the engine's parts have been updated to make the engine more efficient, more reliable and lighter.

The engine is mated to an old Subaru favorite: a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and standard all-wheel drive. On Sport trim levels and up, owners get paddle shifters on the wheel, allowing them to simulate eight fixed transmission ratios, up from seven last year. Other changes include revised tuning to the standard all-wheel-drive system for better stability while cornering and a new steering system derived from the Subaru WRX that provides better precision and feel.

Subaru has also said that a hybrid version of the Forester is coming but complete information on its power and mpg isn't available yet.

2025 Subaru Forester wheel

Quieter, but kind of pokey

The biggest shift comes in the way the Forester goes down the road, or rather, the way in which you don’t notice it going down the road. Subaru’s body structure enhancements have seemingly paid off because the new model is noticeably quieter on the road.

At highway speeds, road and wind noise is barely noticeable thanks to more sound deadening in the roof, under the floor, and in the firewall. We’re big fans of the Forester’s new seats, too, as the increased back and thigh bolstering helps hold you tight both on winding roads and on backcountry trails. Subaru’s revisions to the Forester's CVT also mean the car’s powertrain is quieter — in most cases. Floor it, and you'll still hear a rather noisy and prolonged groan as the Forester accelerates. We wouldn’t care so much if the Forester had more power. As it is, this is still one of the slower small crossover SUVs on the market.

2025 Subaru Forester driving

What about off-roading?

The Forester is still one of the capable small crossover SUVs where the pavement ends. For 2025, Subaru’s X-Mode all-wheel-drive software is more widely available; only the base model does without it. The X-Mode drive modes are useful depending on terrain (Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud) and will noticeably change the all-wheel-drive system’s behavior to help you out when you need extra traction in slippery conditions. As before, the Forester has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which we found to be enough for the majority of light-duty off-road obstacles. More than anything, the Forester’s off-road capability is limited by its all-season tires, which quickly give up when things get too slippery. Expect an upcoming Forester Wilderness to remedy that.

How comfortable is the Forester?

The Forester’s new seats do a lot more than hold you in. They also feel more supportive than previous iterations. Lots of adjustability means just about anyone can get comfortable. The story is largely the same in the back. While the 2025 Forester’s back seats aren’t as heavily revised as the fronts, there's plenty of room for adults and children alike.

The Forester’s ride never feels too soft or too stiff. Off-road, the suspension does a good job of keeping out most unwanted impacts, but occupants will still feel the trail under them. Crucially, the Forester is not so numb that it’s difficult to tell what’s happening under the tires. This is also true on paved surfaces, and while most big road imperfections are still there, a lot of the little stuff gets filtered out. Combine this with the SUV’s much quieter interior and it feels like you could spend hours at the wheel without much issue.

2025 Subaru Forester interior

A much nicer interior

The Forester’s interior quality and updates are a big part of how pleasant it is to spend time in the SUV. Various trim levels have their own accents that help make the space feel special, such as bronze accenting in the Sport trim or suede accents on the seats in the Touring. Speaking of the Sport trim, Subaru has given it the StarTex faux leather seating surfaces from last year's Wilderness trim. The material feels durable, and the easy-to-clean nature of it fits with the Sport trim’s more active vibe. Touring and Limited trims swing more toward luxury with leather upholstery and, for the Touring only, ventilated front seats. Other changes include a new dash with more soft-touch plastics as well as some fun Easter eggs like paw prints embossed on the interior door panels and a small bird printed on the windscreen. Overall, the changes make the Forester a more cohesive SUV, and the space is a much nicer place to spend time thanks to the updates.

The cargo space sees some changes, too, with 74.4 cubic feet of space should you put the rear seats down. It’s more than enough room for almost any gear you might carry. Subaru also tells us its owners love to use roof racks and has made roof rails standard as a result. The cargo space also features new screw-in mounts with hooks for mounting accessories.

2025 Subaru Forester infotainment screen

Familiar tech

Subaru's latest 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen now comes standard on all Forester trims save for the base model, which gets a pair of 7-inch screens. It's certainly an upgrade compared to the previous model's 7-inch or 8-inch touchscreen, and it includes wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The resolution for the 11.6-inch screen isn't particularly sharp, but the large screen provides plenty of room for maps, music, podcasts and more.

For 2025, the Forester gets updates to its driver assistance technology. Subaru says the Forester is better at detecting objects for the adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning systems. A new emergency stop feature will monitor drivers while adaptive cruise control is in use and, should they become unresponsive, issue a series of escalating alerts before finally stopping the car and unlocking the doors. There's also a new surround-view parking camera system and a digital rearview mirror that allows you to see out of the back even if your normal view is blocked.

2025 Subaru Forester rear 3/4

Only a little more expensive

Given the raft of updates, it’s not surprising to see the Forester’s pricing rise. Subaru says that 90% of models sold will be Premium and above trims, but those that do end up with the $31,090 base model (including $1,395 in destination charges) will feel left out — and left with a $2,650 price hike from last year’s model. Much more content is packed into the Premium trim, which starts at $33,390. The story is much the same for successive trims, like the Sport ($35,890), which adds bronze accents and StarTex upholstery among other items, and the Limited ($37,390) with its leather seats and heated steering wheel. The range-topping Touring model starts at $41,390 and adds in the Forester’s most luxurious items, like a Harman Kardon sound system and a surround-view camera.

Edmunds says

There’s a lot of competition vying for your dollar. More automakers are making off-road-themed versions of their small SUVs too, but it's nice when Subaru gives it to you right out of the gate. Based on our initial impressions, the Forester is easy to recommend. But if the lackluster performance or lack of a hybrid powertrain (for now) gives you pause, then you'll want to check out other options including the Kia Sportage, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-50 and Toyota RAV4. Ford's Bronco Sport also continues to be a key rival because of its off-road capability.