Still something of a niche brand, but trying hard not to be, Subaru is on something of a roll these days. The company is slowly making long-awaited changes to the drivetrains and platforms of its fleet, but the 2017 Forester, well equipped as it is, continues to feature familiar hardware.
For instance, the 2.5L horizontally-opposed (flat) four-cylinder has been around for years, although its active valve control delivers excellent fuel economy at a predicted 9.2/7.4/8.4 L/100km, city/highway/combined. Standard transmission is a six-speed manual (6MT), but my tester was fitted with the optional CVT (continuously variable transmission) that true to the type, tends to moan and groan when encountering inclines. Forester can also be purchased in an XT version with a 250hp 2.0L turbocharged engine.
While the 2017 Subaru Impreza gets a completely new “global” platform that adds rigidity and quietness, the Impreza-based Forester continues to use the outgoing generation’s chassis and won’t be updated for a couple more years. Acoustic glass and additional insulation reduce the intrusion of noise into the cabin, which remains loud on the highway in my opinion (it’s road noise, not drivetrain noise).
That said, Forester has a lot to offer. Its 220 millimeter ground clearance and excellent all-wheel drive system allow it to punch way above its weight in off-road maneuvers. Forester impresses equally on snow and ice, being extremely stable and predictable. Combined with a set of winter tires, Forester is one of my favourite vehicles for winter driving.
News this year is the mild facelift and an “X-Mode” feature that allows the vehicle to control the brakes, throttle and other engine components to ensure improved traction in difficult driving conditions. Hill Ascent and Descent functions are thereby activated.
Seats are comfortable, driving position is good, as is outward visibility, and cargo capacity is excellent. Forester doesn’t tow much, however. It’s limited to 1,000 pounds unless your trailer has electric brakes, in which case Forester will tow 1,750 lbs.
You’ll need to buy the CVT-equipped models to get X-Mode, as it’s not available on 6MT models. It’s also worth knowing that Subaru’s more sophisticated all-wheel drive management system is not supplied with the manual transmission models either. They have all-wheel drive; don’t get me wrong, but not the version that “electronically manages a continuously variable transfer clutch – proprietary Subaru technology – [that] actively manages torque distribution based on acceleration, deceleration, cornering and available traction. This Active All-Wheel Drive system automatically transfers more torque to the wheels with the best grip should slippage occur.” The 6MT system is not electronically managed in this way.
Subaru’s clever “EyeSight” driver assist system is part of the Technology Package and is revised for 2017. It includes systems that provide intelligent cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, the latter with Reverse Auto Braking, which detects objects in the path of the Forester when backing up, and applies the brakes if collision is imminent. It’s a fine system, except for the intelligent cruise function that gives an audible “beep” every time the system automatically engages and disengages. It’s annoying.
Another gripe is the absurdly distracting dashboard with its multiple multicolour displays. At night there are so many illuminations that it becomes difficult to discern what information is being displayed. Add this to the overly sensitive touch-screens and you yearn for the accuracy and predictability of a simple knob or switch.
Looking out my window at the time of this writing, I see nothing but deep snow and more falling. I have to emphasize that the Subaru Forester is absolutely one of the best and most sure-footed vehicles in which to tackle such conditions.
In fact (this news just in!) Forester was voted 2017 Best New Small Utility vehicle by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (www.ajac.ca). Its top marks were garnered for value and off-road capability.
2017 Subaru Forester
Base price: $25,995
As tested: $33,295 (CVT transmission, Technology Package) plus freight/pdi