Review: 2016 Subaru Forester epitomizes family fun

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Everything about the Forester aims towards family hauling with that Subaru "go there, do that" mentality(Credit: Aaron Turpen/Gizmag)

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The 2016 Subaru Forester has six trim levels, two engine choices, five doors, all-wheel drive, and a family-friendly interior. It promises everything you need for a night, day, or weekend trip out to the theater, to grandma’s house, or to your favorite lake. Everything about the Forester is aimed towards family hauling with that Subaru “go there, do that” mentality.

Subaru is an interesting little company in the automaking business. It's known primarily for two things: all-wheel drive and high reliability. It's also known, among automotive buffs, for its expert use of boxer-style horizontally opposed engines and its plain interiors. Subaru owners themselves are generally known for wearing sandals and a high percentage chance of labrador retriever ownership.

In the Subaru model lineup, the Forester fits somewhere above the Impreza and a bit sideways of the Outback. It is the roomiest and most ergonomic of the family-oriented Subaru models and promises as much versatility as a small crossover can have.

The base level 2016 Subaru Forester comes equipped with a new 6.2-inch touchscreen interface for the latest Subaru Starlink software, but moving up to the Premium trim upgrades to a 7-inch touchscreen with voice commands and a new suite of safety tech.

The technology in Starlink is good and much more than expected in an entry-level crossover like the base model Forester. When upgraded with the larger screen, however, the 2016 Forester’s Starlink system becomes easier to use thanks to intuitive smartphone-like pinch and touch commands. The base model Starlink includes app integration for Aha, Pandora, iHeartradio, and Stitcher, while the upgraded option adds better graphics on that larger display and improved safety options.

This added safety comes through the Starlink Safety Plus telematics system, which includes emergency assistance and automatic collision notification. Adding Security Plus as an optional upgrade brings remote services (door unlocking, vehicle location, stolen vehicle recovery, etc.) as a premium-style concierge offering. Also optional is the much-recommended EyeSight driver-assistance system that adds some of the best adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, forward collision crash mitigation, and automatic braking on the market. The new EyeSight system is much smaller and less intrusive than previous models, with the dual cameras sitting above and to either side of the rearview mirror.

Powering the 2016 Subaru Forester is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder horizontally opposed engine that outputs 170 horsepower (127 kW) and 174 pound-feet (236 Nm) of torque. The base model comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission with an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) as the automated transmission upgrade. Trims above the Premium level have the CVT as standard with no manual transmission option.

New for this generation is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer-style engine that outputs 250 hp (186 kW) and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque. This turbocharged four has the CVT as its only transmission option. All-wheel drive is, of course, standard on all Forester models, no matter the engine or transmission choice.

Fuel economy is very good in the 2016 Forester and, even more important, it’s achievable. The EPA ratings for the Forester start at 25 mpg combined (9.4 L/100km), with 22 mpg (10.7 L/100km) in the city and 29 mpg (8.1 L/100km) on the highway for the manual transmission. The CVT upgrades those numbers to 27 mpg (8.7 L/100km) combined (24 mpg city, 32 highway) and the 2.0-liter engine upgrade sees 25 mpg (9.4 L/100km) combined (23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway). In our week with the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring model, we averaged 27 mpg (8.7 L/100km) overall, peaking at 27.8 mpg (8.5 L/100km). We were not driving it with fuel economy as a primary goal and had mixed passenger loads and some offroad included in that, so we consider the MPG returns to be very, very good.

After nearly 300 miles (483 km) of driving in the 2016 Forester, we grew to really appreciate its interior as well. Seating is very good at all points with plenty of headroom, legroom, and shoulder space available throughout. The large doors with tall openings are a first sign of the ergonomics that went into the design of the Forester’s interior. The higher seating position of the rear seats also makes them more comfortable, which was another nice touch. The interior of the Forester may appear plain on first glance, but there are a lot of little details that make this one of the best family-friendly interiors on the market.

Installing child safety seats, for example, is a cinch. Even with the overhead tether that our seats employ, which often make installation a yoga exercise to find the clip and get it installed, things are a breeze here. Headrests easily pop off to make reaching over and hooking onto the seatback-positioned anchor simple. There's no throwing it over and climbing in the back to get the anchor right. Parents will also appreciate the simple, tough materials and lack of extensive nooks and crannies in the back. Your first time vacuuming the vehicle will illustrate why that’s such a great thing.

In the cargo area of the Limited and higher trims is a cargo area rubberized tray (also added with the All-weather package). This is a big cargo mat with lips on the edges, moulded to the Forester’s cargo space. This reduces sliding when cargo is placed back there and catches liquids, which will be much-appreciated the first time a gallon of apple juice falls onto the egg carton on the way home. It’s also a perfect spot for wet gear from the lake or even your wet and muddy canine friend.

The 2.5-liter Forester with the CVT is a solid choice for those interested in fuel economy and A-to-B functionality. It adds little pep and not a lot of fun to the driving experience, but it gets the job done and still retains that "go anywhere" Subaru capability. We drove a 2015 model with that powertrain and were satisfied with its overall package.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged option added for 2016, though, brings a lot of spring to the Forester’s step. The suspension is tuned to adapt to the sportier output of the new engine and the CVT is programmed to offer better response and faster RPM boosting when pressed. This means a much more engaging drive for the crossover, though it’s still just shy of being "sporty" when compared to more sport-tuned models like the Mazda CX-5 or the new Hyundai Tucson with its dual-clutch transmission option.

We consider the 2016 Subaru Forester to be a solid, well-rounded, and very capable option in the small crossover market. Those who understand the Subaru persona will inherently love the Forester. Those who do not will grow to love it quickly once they’ve spent some time in it. The lack of “wow” when first viewing the Forester, as with most Subaru models, quickly becomes an appreciation for its more grown up, but not necessarily boring, nature.

Product page: Subaru

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