The current, square-backed generation never blew anyone away with a progressive design or cabin quality, but its strengths become apparent as you sift through the glut of other small crossovers on the market. The five-seat crossover comes in 2.5X and 2.5XT editions — the X tells you it has a normally aspirated engine, while the XT represents a turbocharged four-cylinder. The X can be had in base, Premium, Limited and Touring trims, while the XT comes in Premium and Touring forms. All versions have standard all-wheel drive. We evaluated a 2.5X Touring this time, but we've driven the turbocharged version in years past.
Subaru deserves praise for blending competent handling with reasonable ride comfort though that's a relatively recent phenomenon. Go back a generation, and many Subarus handled well but they rode firmly. In contrast, this Forester sucks up uneven asphalt and spits little of it into the cabin. It's soft over grooved pavement and potholes alike. Driven back-to-back with eight other crossovers in our $29,000 SUV Shootout, I deemed the Forester nearly as comfortable as the Ford Escape and Dodge Journey. If it weren't for the Subaru's incessant road and wind noise, it might lead the class.
A soft ride often makes for foggy reflexes, and that holds true here: Today's Forester doesn't carve corners as expertly as its firm predecessor did. Given the current competition, however, it still impresses. Our test car exhibited some body roll in hard corners, but the steering tracks the course well, with satisfying weight, feedback and turn-in precision. In tight quarters, the Forester's exemplary 34.4-foot turning circle is handy, but some may wish for more power assist at low speeds.
Subaru pairs a more advanced version of its full-time all-wheel drive with the automatic transmission (a stick shift is offered on the 2.5X base and Premium), which amplifies the fun. Leave the family at home, and you can actually kick the tail out and drift this thing — a maneuver most crossovers are utterly incapable of pulling off. Well done.
Though its displacement remains about the same as before, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder is new this year. Even so, it remains in the junior varsity league of acceleration. Hamstrung by a low-tech four-speed automatic, it pulls the Forester through each gear in more of an 8K relay than a 100-meter sprint. Ascend an on-ramp, and you feel 1st gear wind out ever so gracelessly, until finally handing the baton, exhausted, to 2nd. Then the climb begins anew.
At least it's an intuitive transmission, kicking down gears on the highway with little delay. The drivetrain's 170 horsepower rating is identical to last year's 2.5-liter, but combined EPA gas mileage with the manual or automatic is now 23 mpg. That's a 1-mpg improvement over last year's drivetrains, and it's competitive with other all-wheel-drive crossovers.