Subarus have a reputation as hardy vehicles, favored by mountain climbers and snowboarders, but that doesn't mean they have to be spartan. Driving the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited, I enjoyed Internet-sourced weather and news in the dashboard, an adaptive cruise control system that let me go for miles and miles without touching brake or accelerator pedals and even a liftgate that opened at the touch of a button.
The Forester is a relatively small SUV, although it still has seating for five, with looks that echo its original boxy design from the late '90s. The design looks more function than form, as the roofline holds its height all the way to the rear liftgate, improving cargo and interior space. With the sunroof option, as in the model I drove, there is only 31.5 cubic feet of cargo area, taller than it is deep. But put the rear seats down, and that opens up to 68.5 cubic feet, plenty of room for camping gear or flea market finds.
The base Forester, with a 2.5-liter engine, manual transmission, and all-wheel drive, goes for $23,245, but you won't find the high-tech convenience features I mentioned above available in it. At the Limited trim model, with a base price of $29,645, you can add the navigation and Eyesight package for an additional $2,145. That put the total for the one I drove at $31,790.
In the UK, you find the base Forester model, powered by a 2-liter diesel engine, for £24,995. In Australia, the starting price for a Forester is AU$28,990, and that's with a 2-liter gasoline engine.
The optioned-up dashboard in the example I drove had a 7-inch touchscreen showing Subaru's StarLink system, bundling navigation, stereo, hands-free phone, and app integration. Soft-touch buttons on either side of the display give quick access to a home screen, navigation, apps and satellite radio data services. It seemed odd there wasn't an audio button, although buttons on the steering wheel let me cycle through sources, skip tracks and change volume.
Maps in the navigation system look modern and show street names as easy-to-read pop-up labels. With the destination set and a long trip on the freeway ahead of me, the nav system gave me plenty of detour suggestions for slow traffic ahead. While I like a system that aggressively tries to keep me out of traffic, these suggestions would probably become annoyingly frequent in a place like Los Angeles. Destination input options included address entry, points of interest and browsing the map, all of which worked well, but there isn't an online destination search option.
App integration worked with my iPhone plugged into the car's USB port, and supported Pandora, Aha and Subaru's own StarLink. Aha does have limited online destination services, but not a free-form search. StarLink included a news feed, weather, and its own interface for playing music from my phone. MirrorLink-enabled phones aren't common in the US, but the Forester supports that phone-mirroring technology.
The range of audio sources offered Bluetooth streaming, HD radio and a USB port for drives and iOS devices. The same package that gave this Forester adaptive cruise control and navigation also brought in a Harman Kardon audio system with 440 watts. The sound comes through nice and clean, but falls short of audiophile quality.
These dashboard conveniences suit the Forester nicely, especially the onboard navigation, as this car makes a good companion for road trips well out of data coverage areas. The Forester has almost plush seats, leather-covered in the example I drove, and a reasonably soft suspension allowing for many miles of driving comfort.
The standard engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, in a flat or boxer-style configuration, delivers a modest 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. Coupled with the continuously variable transmission (CVT), standard in Limited trim, I could put it at half throttle and maintain good, steady speed up steep San Francisco hills. Under hard acceleration, the engine sounds rough, but the engine note smooths out at a constant rate of speed.
With that CVT, the Forester is a get-in-and-go type of car, with a very easy driving character suitable to just about any driving situation. And the fuel economy, at 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, won't be too painful for road trips and the daily commute. Even with San Francisco's tortuous traffic and hills, I turned in an average of 26.4 mpg after a week of driving on everything from freeways to city streets to a little bit of dirt road crawling.