A year ago, Subaru redesigned its Forester crossover SUV, adding sharper styling, a roomier and nicer-looking interior and enhanced fuel economy. The 2015 Subaru Forester is essentially unchanged, but that’s not an issue as this is still one of the better choices for a small crossover this year.
Part of the Forester’s fuel economy secret is its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), replacing the conventional automatic in the previous model. But the standard manual transmission is more efficient, too, boasting six speeds instead of five for improved cruising efficiency. As usual, the Forester also comes in turbocharged XT trim, which offers impressively quick acceleration along with a still respectable EPA fuel economy rating.
The Forester’s interior design is nothing special, but it does provide ample room for bikes, tents, canines and other tools of the trade among Subaru’s loyal fans. Safety is another draw with the Forester; it boasts near-perfect crash test scores as well as an available low-speed frontal crash mitigation system, which is a feature more commonly found on luxury cars than affordable family crossovers such as this.
Understandably, though, Subaru isn’t the only automaker offering a quality crossover at this price. The Ford Escape and 2015 Mazda CX-5 handle better on-road and have nicer interiors, while it’s tough to beat the all-around appeal of the nicely packaged Honda CR-V. If it’s off-road credentials you’re after, the Jeep Cherokee is certainly worth a look. Given the high quality of the competition, we certainly recommend shopping around. But if you’re looking for serious space and standard all-wheel-drive traction, the 2015 Forester is an excellent all-around solution.
The 2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i won’t set any speed records with its 170 horses, and although the CVT performs well for the breed, it still lacks the responsiveness of a good conventional automatic. Still, this powertrain’s extraordinary fuel economy gives it an edge over most rivals. If you’ve got the need for speed, the 2.0XT’s turbocharged engine delivers some of the quickest acceleration times found in this class.
In normal use, the Forester serves up a cozy drive with either the 17-inch or 18-inch wheels. Subaru loyalists will be pleased by the noticeable reduction in road and wind noise for this generation. However, while the 2015 Forester’s handling is stable and composed, there are no sporting pretensions here. Rather, this crossover trades on its extra dollop of off-road capability, which comes via generous ground clearance and a driver-selectable "X Mode" that maximizes traction in the dirt.
The 2015 Subaru Forester is a compact crossover available in six trim levels. The 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 2.5i Touring all come with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, while the 2.0XT Premium and 2.0XT Touring come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
Standard equipment on the 2.5i includes 17-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a color multifunction display, a rearview camera and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary sound jack and iPod/USB connectivity.
The 2.5i Premium adds 17-inch alloy wheels and roof rails (optional on the base 2.5i with CVT), rear privacy glass, a panoramic sunroof, a 10-way power driver seat (with power lumbar adjustment), a rear armrest with cupholders, reclining rear seatbacks and a six-speaker stereo system with HD radio. An All-Weather package (heated side mirrors and heated front seats) is standard if the manual transmission is specified, but it’s an extra-cost option with the CVT.
The 2.5i Limited makes the All-Weather package standard and adds automatic headlights, foglights, an adjustable-height power rear liftgate, a rear roof spoiler, automatic climate control, an upgraded instrument cluster, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a cargo area tray.
The 2.5i Touring throws in a premium eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control and a one-touch folding rear seatback.
Moving to the 2.0XT Premium brings all the equipment of the 2.5i Premium, plus the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and CVT, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust outlets, the All-Weather package, a rear roof spoiler, alloy pedals, an upgraded instrument cluster and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 2.0XT Touring offers the same upgrades as the 2.5i Touring.
Optional on the Premium (except with the manual transmission), Limited and Touring trims is a 6.1-inch touchscreen navigation system with voice controls, satellite radio and Aha smartphone app integration. The Limited trim’s navigation system includes the Harman Kardon sound setup. All of these trims are also eligible for the Driver Assist Technology package, which integrates adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking functions.
The various textures and accents dispersed throughout the 2015 Subaru Forester’s interior deliver enough visual appeal to keep pace with other affordable crossovers. But make no mistake: The Forester maintains the simplicity of Subaru’s design philosophy. Aside from three large climate control dials and steering-wheel-mounted multimedia controls, there’s not a lot going on here unless you add the optional navigation system. Unfortunately, that system’s touchscreen interface comes up short in terms of both graphics and functionality when compared to today’s best.
Where the Forester shines is in its refreshing focus on functionality. Elevated stadium-type rear seating enhances thigh support and affords a better view, while the Forester’s rear legroom is only about an inch shy of what you’ll find in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan. This sense of space is reinforced by a huge cargo hold that yields 74.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. That’s nearly 4 more cubic feet than the Honda CR-V, which has traditionally been at the head of this class. The caveat is that you’ll need to stick to the base model if you want the big number, as models with the panoramic sunroof drop to 68.5 cubic feet due to a lower roof height.
Every 2015 Subaru Forester includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a rearview camera. Lane departure warning, frontal collision warning and a frontal collision mitigation system with automatic braking are available via the Driver Assist Technology package.
In SUVS brake testing, a Forester 2.0XT stopped from 60 miles per hour in 119 feet, a good number for this class. A Forester 2.5i (with the 17-inch wheels) made this same stop in 126 feet, which is a little worse than average.
In government crash tests, the Subaru Forester earned a top five-star rating for overall protection in crash tests, with four stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Forester a top score of "Good" in the moderate overlap frontal-offset, small-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact, roof strength and head restraint/seat tests. The IIHS also gave the Forester’s optional frontal crash mitigation braking system a top score of "Superior."
Every 2015 Subaru Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive. The 2.5i Touring, 2.5i Limited and all 2.0XT models have an additional driver-selectable mode that optimizes various functions to improve traction on slippery surfaces. These models also include hill descent control.
The 2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i features a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard for the 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims, with a CVT optional. The higher trims are CVT-only.
The EPA rates CVT-equipped 2.5i models at 27 miles per gallon combined (24 city/32 highway), a laudable achievement for an all-wheel-drive crossover. If you get the manual transmission, the numbers drop to 25 combined (22 city/29 highway). In SUVS testing, a CVT-equipped Forester 2.5i Limited accelerated from zero to 60 miles per hour in 9.0 seconds, which is about average for a base-engine AWD crossover in this segment.
More performance is available if you choose the 2.0XT. Its standard turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder churns out 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and comes only with the CVT. In SUVS testing, a Forester 2.0XT Touring accelerated from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.3 seconds, a quick time even for a crossover in this class with an upgraded engine. The 2.0XT could also impress on the fuel economy front; the EPA estimates 25 miles per gallon combined (23 city/28 highway), though our test car struggled to match these numbers in real-world driving. The other downside is that the 2.0XT can haul just 1,500 pounds — same as the base Forester.
Roomy interior; admirable fuel economy; availability of a stout turbocharged engine; standard all-wheel drive; great safety scores and available advanced safety features.
Competitive fuel economy, a spacious cabin and available turbocharged power make the 2015 Subaru Forester a solid pick for a small crossover SUV.