The Subaru Forester has been a shining star in the Pleiades Formation for quite some time now, representing a third of the brand’s sales each year over the last three years. That’s some pretty heady stuff, and when you’re about to change a popular model ― even if that change is a mid-cycle refresh as you see here ― you want to make sure that you keep its ethos intact.
With that in mind, we were dispatched to the wilds of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain region to put the updated 2017 Subaru Forester to the test. The craggy ground, muddy country roads, and open highways would be a good test of not only the Forester’s performance, but whether the compact CUV has managed to maintain its sense of adventure, as well. That, according to Subaru, is a big part of what makes the Forester so endearing.
Take a close look
The most obvious addition is an LED daytime running light treatment, but you’ll have to upgrade to the $35,795 2.5i Limited trim in order to get these. It’s one of eight available trims, starting at $25,995: 2.5i Manual, 2.5i Touring with manual, 2.5i, 2.5i Convenience, 2.5i Touring, 2.5i Limited, 2.0XT Touring, and 2.0XT Limited. The Touring and Limited models get a technology package option, which adds the EyeSight safety suite (pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, and lane keep assist) as well as the all-new reverse auto braking feature. The Touring package adds steering-responsive fog lights, while the Limited comes standard with steering-responsive headlights, plus new heated rear seats and a heated, leather-wrapped wheel, which is a Subaru first.
Regarding automatic rear braking: If the Subaru Forester senses an object when backing up at speeds between 1.5-8 km/h, it will automatically stop you. When travelling between 8-15 km/h, it will slow you down, but you’ll have to brake on your own to get it to stop completely. It’s effective almost to a fault; we didn’t need to be suddenly stopped when we were about to nudge a bank of tall grass, for example.
A selection of new wheel choices measuring 17” and 18” has also been added. Some of them are also given the dual-tone treatment, and all are designed to reduce drag and increase fuel economy. They’re mostly good-looking, save for the rent-a-special lookalikes on the base 2.5i model, seen here painted in silver.
A bit more going on inside
The big addition inside the 2017 Subaru Forester is the new Cognac Brown leather seating option, which is about as luxurious a hide as I’ve ever seen in a Subaru of any stripe. You’ll have to upgrade to the Limited trim to get them, not to mention the new 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, but they’re definitely representative of the cost of entry.
Also new and found on both the Touring and Limited trim packages is a colour TFT display located between the tachometer and speedometer. It displays the usual trip computer, audio settings, etc., but in some cases, the tech actually gets in the way a little. At one point, both my drive partner and I had a hard time finding something as simple as the coolant temperature gauge, for example.
If you select a lower trim, you’ll still get a digital screen there, but it’s smaller, looks more old-school, and doesn’t host as much data.
All 2017 Subaru Foresters get a central touchscreen display, which starts at 6.2”, but grows to 7” if you select the Limited trim. Either way, having the screen does a good job of adding a little flair to what is otherwise a pretty utilitarian interior. That’s kind of a Subaru thing, though.
Storage with the rear seats up is middling in the segment; however, folding the seats returns more cargo room than the rest of the competition. Meanwhile, the Forester’s boxy shape makes for a great view out both forwards and over either shoulder, and the relatively large side mirrors greatly reduce blind spots.
Quieter, safer, and more efficient
The refreshed Subaru Forester is no more powerful than the outgoing model as the engine tuning remains the same for 2017, meaning you get 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque if you select the 2.5L engine or 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft if you opt for the turbocharged 2.0L mill.
Subarus and their boxer engines have always been known for the offbeat warbles they present. While that’s not gone from the 2017 Forester, it’s been greatly reduced. My drive partner and I were pleasantly surprised when we fired up the Forester for the first time, because we were both expecting a lot more noise from under the hood. I actually found myself straining to hear the flat-4’s telltale report ― very impressive.
It doesn’t stop there, either. In an effort to make the drive as quiet as possible, sound insulation was added all over the place including around the transmission tunnel, cargo floor, dash, and even the front floorboards. It’s fantastically quiet in here, and far from tinny.
Of course, AWD comes standard on all trims. It’s a full-time system that splits power 60/40 (front/rear) most of the time, and up to 50/50 when needed. That’s with the continuously variable transmission (CVT); manual cars are locked at 50/50. Furthermore, when one wheel begins to slip, up to 100% of the available torque can be sent to the other side.
We had the chance to sample the 2017 Subaru Forester on all manner of surfaces, from loose gravel to deep mud and even loose rock. No matter the conditions, the Forester would pull, pull, pull. In fact, it leaves little to the imagination in that it’s almost too effective in its application. Don’t think you’re going to be pulling off any lairy, Word Rally-esque slides: Even when you press to deactivate traction control, the system steps in quite abruptly. The new model also features a quicker steering rack that makes adjusting the car on your own that much easier.
When it comes to slower progress on undulating terrain, you’ve got Subaru’s X-Mode function on all CVT-equipped units to make the goings easier. The torque shift becomes even more sensitive, and a hill descent feature is added to lock the Forester to about 20 km/h when descending. All you have to do is steer; the system does the rest.
Maintaining its identity
One of the main reasons why people keep returning to Subaru ― 25% of current-generation Forester customers considered nothing else before buying ― is that the brand tends to make good on its promise of catering to those with active lifestyles who are looking for good safety and reliability and a sprinkling of performance, too.
While it’s too early to know exactly how durable the new 2017 Subaru Forester is (98% of Subarus sold over the last 10 years are still on the road today, which bodes well for it), our first drive proved that the rest of those boxes were all ticked. Add slightly improved fuel economy (9.2L/100km down from 9.6 in the city, and 7.4L/100km down from 7.5 on the highway), and you’ve got a more compelling entry into the compact CUV segment.