The Subaru Forester debuted back in the late 1990s as one of the first compact crossover SUVs. It had the rugged style of a traditional SUV but shared its basic engineering with Subaru's Impreza sedan and wagon. That combination gave it nimble road manners but standard all-wheel drive for greater traction in inclement weather or for some recreational off-road fun.
Current Subaru Foresters have evolved along with the crossover species. They're now larger and roomier and have more features and better-appointed interiors. Subaru design is still relative conservative, with subdued cabin decoration and upright exterior styling. New or used, the Forester offers easy maneuverability, sure-footed handling in any weather and solid build quality.
Current Subaru Forester
The Subaru Forester is available in six trim levels that are generally divided into models powered by a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (boxer) four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and those powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter version rated at 250 horsepower. While 2.5-liter Foresters are available with a six-speed manual transmission, most buyers will choose the optional continuously variable automatic transmission. All models equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo engine come with the automatic.
The 2.5-liter engine is available in four trim levels ranging from a base model through Premium, Limited and Touring editions. The turbocharged engine is available only in Premium and Touring models. The base Forester is decently equipped, but go with the mainstream Premium trim level for alloy wheels, roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, a rearview camera and a power driver seat. Moving up to the Limited and Touring will get you features such as a power liftgate, leather upholstery, a navigation system and additional advanced driver safety features.
In reviews, we've found the Subaru Forester one of the more capable models in its class. Forester 2.5i models provide respectable power, and the 2.0XT is one of the quickest small crossovers you'll find. On-road handling can be lackluster, but the Forester's off-road abilities are among the best in the class. We also like the Forester for its roomy cabin and high fuel economy with the 2.5-liter engine.
Used Subaru Forester Models
The current Forester represents the fourth-generation Forester, which was introduced for 2014. Compared to earlier Foresters, this generation is a bit roomier and more fuel-efficient. Only minor changes have occurred since, but be on the lookout for improved touchscreen technology in the 2016 models and a more thorough refresh in 2017 that included more advanced driver safety aids and revised exterior styling.
The third-generation Subaru Forester was produced between 2009 and 2013. It was the first Forester that was more like a crossover SUV than a tall wagon. Where the second-generation Forester was still awkwardly gangly in its appearance and a bit too small for many families, the third one was more appropriate for North American markets and consumers. It felt like a grown-up SUV.
The third-generation Forester came in multiple trim levels. The 2.5X had a 170-hp four-cylinder engine paired with either a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic transmission. The XT models got a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine rated at 224 hp, and the automatic was standard. Like all Subarus, all third-generation Foresters were all-wheel drive.
The base model was decently equipped with power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning and Bluetooth. Stepping up to the Premium trims added items such as alloy wheels, a sunroof and reclining rear seatbacks. The upper Limited and Touring trims carried equipment including xenon headlights, a rearview camera, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, automatic climate control, a navigation system and an upgraded stereo.
This generation of Forester had crisp steering and a tight turning circle, which made it maneuverable in close quarters. It also benefited from Subaru's renowned basic off-road abilities and one of the most comfortable rides in the segment. The 2.5X was pretty slow, though, so look for a turbocharged 2.5XT if you can. Note that both had below-par fuel economy.
The second-generation Subaru Forester was produced from 2003 to '08. Although it didn't look much different from the previous version, improvements included more interior room, a stiffer body structure, a revised chassis and more standard feature content.
Performance for the second-generation Forester ranged from adequate to exciting. Most Foresters sold from 2003 to 2005 came with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine good for 165 hp, while the 2004 and '05 XT models featured a 210-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. This model was a hoot to drive, especially when fitted with the five-speed manual gearbox. From 2006 and later, the standard Forester engine made 173 hp, while the turbocharged XT version swelled to 230 horses.
Originally, this Forester came in base 2.5X and upgraded XS trims, with the XT (later XT Limited) arriving for 2004 and the XS L.L. Bean trim for '05. The latter was a bit fancier thanks to some extra features and special styling details. The XS was replaced a year later by the X Premium Package, followed for 2007 by new models known as Sports X and Sports XT. Despite all these trim name changes and additions, the XT never wavered from being the more powerful and better-equipped Forester.
In reviews, our editors praised this Subaru Forester for its peppy performance, classy cabin and sharp handling. Consumer comments were mostly favorable as well, with many owners noting the vehicle's comfortable seats, the sure-footed nature of the AWD system, generous stowage and large moonroof. Downsides to this model include sluggish response from the automatic transmission, more road noise than expected, and a stiffer ride than in many competitors of the day.
The first-generation Subaru Forester bowed in 1998. With SUV-like styling cues on its tall wagon body and the confidence-inspiring grip of its all-wheel drive, the original Forester was an instant hit. Performance from Subaru's 165-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was snappy for the time, and back then, it packed the most power you could get in a small SUV. Other strong points for the original Forester include comfortable seats, plenty of storage options, impressive crash test scores and composed handling that shamed its rivals of the day, including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
As this generation ran toward its end point (2002), it received improvements such as upgraded engine performance (the torque rating went up) and additional luxury appointments (including leather seating).