Subaru's full-time all-wheel drive powers all four wheels all the time, helping the crossover claw its way through muck that stops part-time all-wheel-drive systems cold. It's only after driving other crossovers through heavy snow near our Chicago offices — or, more accurately, going nowhere at all in a few of them — that I fully appreciate the Forester's resilience. An impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance (8.9 inches with the turbo) really helps when you're trying to get through the deep stuff.
Appreciated all year-round are the Forester's sight lines, which are free of the descending rooflines, tiny rear-quarter windows and massive roof pillars seen elsewhere. The Forester easily won a blind-spot evaluation among small crossovers two years ago, and I'm confident it would still win against today's competition.
The rectangular cargo area offers a modest 30.8 cubic feet behind the backseat and 63.0 cubic feet when that seat is folded down. Both figures are at the low end of the segment. Without the Forester's headroom-robbing panoramic moonroof, the base 2.5X has a more competitive 33.5 and 68.3 cubic feet, respectively.
Interior quality has never been Subaru's strength, and the Forester needs work. Cabin materials improve on the Escape's industrial plastics, but other competitors — particularly the Chevy Equinox, Journey and Honda CR-V — have handsomer finishes and more appealing controls. The Forester's feel a generation old: a crummy headliner, undersized stereo knobs and a flimsy keyfob.
Our test car's leather seats were supportive during twisty roads and highway cruising alike, but the driver's seat needs a longer adjustment range. At 5-foot-11, I could have used another inch or two of rearward travel. Legroom and headroom in the backseat is good, but the seat could sit a bit higher off the floor — an issue that dogs many small crossovers. There's also a footwell-robbing center floor hump in back, something many other crossovers avoid.
Safety, Features & Pricing
With top scores in all evaluations, the Forester earned Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but received just two out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new side-impact pole ratings, which simulate a sideways encounter with a tree or telephone pole. The Forester scored better in NHTSA's remaining evaluations, including a more conventional side-impact test, earning it an overall score of four out of five stars. Standard equipment includes the usual complement of front and side airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.