I’ve lived in Southern California for the past 17 years. I’m seriously in danger of falling out of touch with the weather – and when I say weather, I mean winter weather. So, I arranged a test drive of the newly refreshed 2017 Subaru Forester in Southeastern Michigan. In February. On purpose.
Go anywhere in the United States where winter is harsh, and you’re going to encounter a ton of Subaru vehicles. The Subaru sales juggernaut has seen sales increases every year since 2007, more than tripling over the last decade to 615,132 vehicles in 2016. 178,593 (29%) of those 2016 vehicles were Foresters, just a few thousand less than Outback (182,898 vehicles).
I’ve driven each of Forester’s four generations over the years, and I’m a fan. The constants through the generations have been solid: A compact, tall wagon-like unibody with decent ground clearance, a horizontally-opposed Boxer engine, rugged exterior, and standard all-wheel drive. What has changed is an ever-improving interior design and level of fit and finish, more power under the hood, much more sophisticated electronic safety systems, and continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVT) taking over from conventional geared transmissions.
When I picked up my test vehicle, a 2017 Forester 2.0XT Touring model with a base price of $34,295 ($36,765 as tested), I was a little bit disappointed. The car was fine – wearing a coating of Sepia Bronze Metallic paint, the Forester is an anti-fashion statement, heavy on function, light on ornament. Though it is a compact vehicle, it doesn’t seem small from the outside, and feels even bigger on the inside. Subaru has upped its game on interiors, with excellent materials selection, simple control layout and ample storage. I tossed my gear into the 31.5 cubic foot luggage compartment. No need to fold the second row of seats flat to access the available 68.5 cubic feet of cargo space.
I wasn’t disappointed in the Forester at all – I was disappointed in the weather. The roads were dry; there was no snow on the ground; temperatures were moderate, in the fifties. I had traveled over halfway across the country for winter, and Michigan was not obliging.
I put aside my displeasure with the meteorologists, and focused on my appreciation of the engineers instead. The 2.0-liter turbocharged Boxer 4-cylinder under the hood puts out 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and sends it through the CVT to all four wheels with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. I’ve never been a fan of CVTs in general, but this one’s quite good, with three drive modes (I; S; and S Sharp). Using the standard paddle shifters, the CVT emulates a 6-speed geared transmission in I or S mode, and an 8-speed in S Sharp mode. The bugaboos of CVT – thrashiness and droning – never show up, and the Boxer gets to show its stuff, with crisp, smooth acceleration and little turbo lag. The 2.0XT asks for pricey 93-octane Premium fuel in order to achieve its EPA rating of 23 mpg city/27 mpg highway/25 mpg combined, but it’s nice to know that the engine is rated as a Tier 2 BIN 5 Low Emission Vehicle (LEV II).
It’s also nice to know that advanced safety systems are available on the Forester. My test vehicle came with a $1,595 package of options that included Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver assistance systems. EyeSight includes pre-collision braking, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning and pre-collision throttle management. The option package also includes Subaru Starlink 7.0 multimedia navigation, reverse automatic braking and steering responsive LED headlights with high beam assist.
I spent three days driving the Forester all over the Detroit Metro area, from the Grosse Pointes to Chelsea, from Farmington Hills to Ypsilanti. The area’s notoriously rough roads didn’t bother the crossover at all. The 2.0XT trim level comes with 18-inch x 7-inch alloy wheels wrapped with 225/55 all-season tires, and they do a good job of crunching through potholes and rolling over crumbling pavement in relative quiet. I even explored some dirt roads in the rural areas west of the urban sprawl. In all situations, the Forester was a pleasure to drive. Despite its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and tall appearance, it hugs the road and never feels tippy or unbalanced. I spent hours driving and exploring, which can be a real test of seat comfort and ergonomics. At the end of each driving day, I was none the worse for wear, and neither was the Forester.
The interior of the 2017 Subaru Forester.
Still, I was disappointed in the weather. But be careful what you wish for. In the afternoon of my last full day in Michigan, Boreas (the Roman God of Winter) obliged with light snowfall that dusted the roads. The Forester’s LED headlights cut through the gloom, and the all-season tires kept me moving smoothly down the road.
The next morning, I had an early-morning flight back to sunny Southern California. Overnight, Southern Michigan had been transformed into a Winter Wonderland, buried under five inches of fresh white snow. Finally! I loaded up the Forester with my luggage for the trip back to the airport, a 27-mile journey. After sweeping the snow off of the crossover and scraping the ice off of the windshield and back glass, I engaged Forester’s X Mode, which promises more control over throttle, transmission shift points, all-wheel drive, brakes “and other critical systems to provide better wheel control on slippery surfaces” (per Subaru). Even with all-season tires, the Forester sailed through the powder on roads that had not yet been plowed, and performed without incident on freshly plowed slick highway surfaces. I felt confident behind the wheel, and best of all, safe in less-than-ideal winter weather conditions.
Even if I had not had the chance to drive in a snowstorm, I still would have considered my experience with the 2017 Subaru Forester a success. The crossover’s success and growing popularity is no surprise, and the latest Forester is the best one yet.
The 4th-Generation Subaru Forester has been refreshed for 2017.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
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