Review: 2016 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touting
When the original Subaru Forester launched in 1998, it was somewhat of a square peg in a round hole. Body-on-frame SUVs ruled the day, with few consumers clamoring for a utility vehicle that was essentially a tall station wagon with all-wheel drive.
But the last two decades have shown that the Forester was simply ahead of the curve rather than some oddball idea. Car-based crossovers are now the hottest vehicles in the entire industry, with big, lumbering four-by-fours all but relegated to the annals of automotive history.
But can one of the grandfathers of the crossover segment still hang with the young bucks that have popped up over the last few years? Come with us as we find out.
What is it?
Now in its fourth-generation, the Forester is Subaru’s entrant into the fiercely competitive compact crossover segment.
Unlike the original Forester from 1998, the latest 2016 Forester, which was totally redesigned in 2014, features exterior styling that is more SUV-like than traditional station wagon. However, the Forester still retains a tall greenhouse that was a staple of the original.
The Forester is available in six different trims with two available boxer-four engines, but our 2.0XT Touring model represents the top of the heap. The 2.0XT Touring includes nice upgrades like a turbocharged engine and standard leather seating.
Not a whole lot has changed since the Forester was introduced a few years ago, but the 2016 model does usher in an upgraded head unit for Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system.
What’s it up against?
The Subaru Forester competes directly with vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue. However, few rivals can match the power of the 2.0XT’s turbocharged engine, meaning this particular trim of the Forester has few natural rivals.
How does it look?
The Forester 2.0XT is much more aggressive looking than its 2.5i counterparts thanks to a front end that features a large lower air inlet and distinct sculpting incorporated into the corners of its front bumper. LED headlight accents also give the 2.0XT a distinct look at night.
The 2016 Forester sports a sharply-raked windshield, but the rest of the CUV’s styling is pretty much a typical two-box design. As mentioned previously, the Forester has a tall greenhouse with plenty of glass, making outward visibility a strong suit of this compete ‘ute.
Being the sportiest Forester available, the 2.0XT does come with a few extra bling items, including 18-inch wheels and dual chrome exhaust outlets.
And the inside?
Anyone familiar with Subaru’s latest Impreza models will feel right at home behind the wheel of the Forester. Controls on the Forester’s center stack are logically arranged, with chunky dials making the HVAC system particularly simple to operate. Even the new touchscreen infotainment system has easy-to-use knobs for volume and tuning controls.
But even when you delve into the digital interface of the new Starlink system, everything remains easy to use. The 7-inch screen is clear and is generally receptive to inputs. The only real issue we came across was during the boot-up process. Sometimes it would take upwards of a minute before we were able to use the voice control for things like changing the radio station.
Sitting atop the Forester’s dash is a pair of hooded LCD screens. The monotone screen on the left side serves as the readout for the HVAC system, while a multi-color screen is used for auxiliary readout such as instant MPG. For those interested in the 2.0XT’s sportier side, the color LCD screen can display things like boost pressure and g-forces.
The Forester’s main instrument binnacle features a pair of dials for the tach and speedometer, with a center-mounted LCD screen handling fuel and other trip functions. Steering wheel controls are available for voice activation, Bluetooth phone calls and for our test car’s optional EyeSight adaptive cruise control.
Similar to the Outback, the Forester has an X-Mode button located just in front of the shift lever in the center console. Intended for use when the going gets tough, X-Mode optimizes the Forester’s all-wheel drive system and drivetrain for rugged terrain. The system also includes a hill decent function.
The Forester’s front seats are reasonably comfortable with a bit of bolstering, just in case you want to tap into its turbocharged engine and sport-tuned suspension. However, we’d appreciate a little more contouring that would help with long-distance comfort. Back seat room is generous with enough of space for two or three adults.
Although the Forester’s interior is user-friendly on the whole, it’s not without its flaws. For example, the rear cup holder in the center console is useless if the center armrest is extended forward — you’ll either have tell your passenger to leave the latte at home or be prepared to have a dangling arm. And the storage bin under that armrest isn’t very roomy. While the center storage unit in the Honda CR-V is large enough to swallow a purse, you’d be lucky to fit a small handbag in the under-armrest cubby in the Forester.
Other gripes include a speedometer that’s too tightly spaced to easily read at a glance and an interior design that’s already starting to feel behind the times. Given its sticker price, which is north of $36,000, we’d also like to see nicer materials used throughout the Forester 2.0XT Touring’s interior.
But does it go?
Some styling tweaks aside, there is only one real reason why anyone would consider the turbocharged Forester 2.0XT — for the way it drives.
Unlike the vast majority of the compact utility segment (and even the Forester 2.5i, for that matter), the Forester 2.0XT packs a potent turbocharged engine. Though displacing just 2.0-liters, the boxer-four cranks out a healthy 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The lone transmission choice is unfortunately a CVT, but Subaru’s unit is at least one of the better ones out there.
The Forester 2.0XT also benefits from a sportier suspension setup and Subaru’s signature all-wheel drive, in this case with Active Torque Split. The Forester 2.0XT rides on semi-low-profile tires mounted on 18-inch wheels.
As a result of those performance upgrades, the Forester 2.0XT drives very much like a tall WRX. Acceleration isn’t quite rally-car fast, but the Forester 2.0XT feels strong off the line thanks to its 258 lb-ft of torque, which comes on at a relatively low 2,000rpm. Darting through city traffic is a breeze behind the wheel of the turbocharged Forester. On the highway, the Forester delivers better passing power than rivals like the Honda CR-V and even the sport-minded Mazda CX-5.
The Forester 2.0XT can also hold its own when the road turns twisty. A Sport setting is available to sharpen the Forester’s throttle response while Sport Sharp, indicated by a S# on the steering wheel, cranks things up a little more. The sportier modes include a program to tell the CVT to act like a six- or eight-speed transmission, giving the Forester the feel of a more conventional vehicle. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are even included to help perpetuate the gearing farce.
Steering is quick and accurate with a decent amount of road feel. On-center feel is a little vague, but that’s to be expected in this class. Subaru’s all-wheel drive instills a little extra confidence as you hustle the Forester’s 3,450 pound frame down your favorite backroad.
When not bombing down a two-lane, the Forester delivers a quite ride that’s slightly firm yet still comfortable. Our tester was equipped with Subaru’s excellent EyeSight system, which uses twin cameras mounted at the top of the windshield for adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Unlike a few other systems on the market, EyeSight currently lacks the ability to steer you back in your lane, but we hear that capability will soon be added.
Although we didn’t venture off the beaten path, the Forester 2.0XT promises to be an above average off-roader thanks to its 8.7-inches of ground clearance and X-Mode function. We sampled Subaru’s X-Mode during our initial evaluation of the latest Outback and came away impressed with its ability to traverse steep and rocky terrain.
Fuel economy isn’t, however, a Forester 2.0XT strong suit. The EPA rates the Forester 2.0XT at 19mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, netting a combined rating of 21mpg. Our on-board computer showed a week-long average of 20.7mpg.
Leftlane’s bottom line
Just like the original, the 2016 Forester 2.0XT remains somewhat of an oddity, offering performance in a segment that largely sells on fuel economy. And that notion is reflected by the XT’s sale — although Subaru sells a boatload of Foresters these days, only about 10 percent of those sales are made up by the turbocharged XT.
So if you’re part of the minority that’s willing to sacrifice MPGs for a little F-U-N, the Forester 2.0XT, and its $3,000 premium, could be the vehicle for you. If you’ve never thought about 0-60 times a day in your life, you’ll likely be better offer with the cheaper and more efficient Forester 2.5i.
2016 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring base price, $33,795. As tested, $36,040.
Navigation+EyeSight, $1,395; Destination, $850.
Photos by Drew Johnson.
Review: 2016 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touting Reviewed by Drew Johnson on December 21 We test out Subaru’s sportiest Forester offering. Rating: 3