The 2016 Subaru Forester is a solid, practical and flexible crossover sport utility vehicle that endears with its easy-to-drive nature, off-road capability and generous cargo area.
The nicely sized Forester also appeals because of its affordable base pricing -- $23,245 with six-speed manual transmission (manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge), and $24,245 with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic.
Also, the 2016 Forester earned five out of five stars in federal government crash tests that measured occupant protection, continuing its high rating since the 2014 model year. It's also a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which puts reliability at better than average.
All told, it's little wonder the Forester is Subaru's top-selling model in the United States, with sales up 9.4 percent this calendar year from last.
Subaru offers two engines in the compact Forester.
A 2-liter, turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder makes 250 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds starting at a low 2,000 rpm in the Forester 2.0XT. This model's starting retail price, including destination charge, is $30,045 and it carries a federal government fuel economy rating of 25 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel.
The more popular engine is the base 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, non-turbocharged four cylinder, which is rated at 25 mpg to 27 mpg in combined city/highway travel, depending on whether the engine is mated to a manual transmission of a more fuel-optimizing CVT.
Still, in the test 2016 Forester 2.5i Limited with CVT, the driver never saw anywhere near this kind of mileage. It averaged 21.3 mpg, which translated to only 338 miles per 15.9-gallon tank in the test Forester.
The 2.5-liter engine sounded good, and when pressed hard to accelerate, the engine wasn't buzzy but forceful. Alas, the CVT didn't give a "natural" automatic transmission feel. In more leisurely driving, as the vehicle would accelerate, the transmission would drone some and the driver noticed there wasn't quite the feeling of the transmission settling into a set gear.
All Foresters, including base models, come standard with all-wheel drive, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, rear-vision camera, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning and AM/FM radio with CD and MP3 players.
The test vehicle, the Limited, included nice appointments such as moonroof, 10-way power driver's seat, leather-trimmed seats, tinted privacy glass and heated front seats. An optional Harman Kardon audio system produced strong tunes, but the station presets didn't tell the name of each station, only its location on the dial.
Another complaint: The power rear liftgate seemed slow to rise compared with power liftgates on many other SUVs.
Still, there's no denying the Forester offers good room for front- and back-seat passengers, and everyone sits up from the pavement and gets decent views.
Cargo space expands to a full 68.5 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down, which is surprising for a vehicle that's only 15 feet long and has good maneuverability.
Just don't expect the Forester to get any looks from passers-by other than perhaps current Forester owners. The vehicle's exterior is rather plain, and without roof rails, can look like a tall station wagon, rather than an SUV.
Subaru's all-wheel drive can move this vehicle in a variety of road conditions. Drivers don't have to do anything, the vehicle senses loss of traction and adjusts. In fact, Foresters can be quite at home traveling dirt paths and some other off-road terrain.
For 2016, Subaru also offers StarLink Safety and Security system that includes two-button access to emergency or roadside assistance as well as 4G LTE capability.