The Subaru Forester has been a staple of Australia's mid-size SUV landscape for a long time, and this latest iteration breaks new ground with a larger body, new hybrid variants, as well as fresh safety and multimedia equipment.
But does it still deserve a place on your family car shopping list? We took one for a week to answer all your frequently asked questions so you can decide for yourself.
We like the Forester's huge interior space granted by its wagon-like body, its interesting and high-quality (if a little busy...) interior, its multimedia offering, its family friendly ride, as well as its standard safety suite and signature all wheel drive offered across the range.
The Forester looks tougher than most of its mid-size SUV rivals, mainly because it is. (image: Tom White)
We dislike that its range of variants are close together in spec and so a little confusing, its less than inspiring CVT automatic as the only transmission option, the relatively high road noise above 80km/h, and the fact that its safety suite can be a bit overzealous.
One of the biggest benefits of choosing the Forester over its notable Japanese rivals is its cavernous interior space. This is because Subaru has committed to a more wagon-like body, rather than the hatch-like shape chosen by many modern SUVs.
This means a relatively large boot space of 498 litres. It is edged out by the Toyota RAV4 (585L) and Honda CR-V (522L), but still possesses one of larger boot dimensions in the segment. Our luggage capacity test had it easily consuming our CarsGuide Luggage set, alongside some duffle bags, and you could easily fit a tool box with drawers back there.
Naturally, the Forester's cargo area is expandable via the brand's list of adventure-oriented accessories, including roof rack cross bars ($428.07) to match the standard-fit roof rails and a variety of Thule-branded roof boxes ($881 – $951).
A cargo liner (tray mat) is also available ($187.87 – as fitted to our car in the pictures), as well as a cargo net ($99). (image: Tom White)
The Forester has 498 litres of boot space with the rear seats up, or 1768L with them down. (image: Tom White)
Our luggage capacity test had it easily consuming our CarsGuide Luggage set, alongside some duffle bags. (image: Tom White)
A cargo barrier is also available ($902.53) as a genuine accessory, and every Forester ships standard with a retractable cargo cover that also has a slot for stowage under the boot floor.
A cargo liner (tray mat) is also available ($187.87 – as fitted to our car in the pictures), as well as a cargo net ($99) and extensive variety of sporting equipment roof attachments. There are no official drawer accessories for the boot area.
The Forester can be fitted with a tow bar kit at a cost of $984.34, which grants you a towing capacity of 1500kg braked or 750kg unbraked regardless of variant. The towball has a maximum download of 150kg. That's about average hauling specifications for the mid-size SUV segment, but not remarkable, though it must be said, pulling power seems good from the 2.5-litre engine size.
Carrying capacity (measured by subtracting the Forester's 2223GVM from its variant-dependent kerb weight) varies between 660kg for the base 2.5i or 581kg for the heaviest S Hybrid.
At the time of writing we had not conducted a Subaru Forester towing test review.
The Forester has a more complicated range as of 2020, thanks to the addition of two hybrid variants.
There are now six variants in the Forester range which vary in price from $34,690 for the base 2.5i to $45,990 for the top-spec S Hybrid. See our table below for a full price list breakdown.
All Foresters are all wheel drive and automatic. Non-hybrids are all powered by the same 2.5-litre boxer engine, while the hybrids have a 2.0-litre engine mated to an electric motor which resides in the transmission.
Keep in mind, all prices presented are MSRP, which differ from drive-away prices that include all on-road costs. Subaru offer a closer-to-reality RRP on their official website which varies by region.
The Forester is currently available in a range of eight colours, and every colour can be chosen as a no-cost option regardless of variant.
The standard shades of white (Crystal White Pearl), Silver (Ice Silver Metallic) and black (Crystal Black Silica) are available, alongside some interesting hues of blue (Horizon Blue Pearl), green (Jasper Green Metallic), Grey (Magnetite Grey Metallic), red (Crimson Red Pearl), and the less common bronze (Sepia Bronze Metallic).
There are currently no shades of gold or brown, and unlike the more youth-focused XV, the Forester is not available in orange.
What features come standard with the Subaru Forester?
From the base 2.5i Forester up, every car gets the brand's symmetrical all wheel drive system with X-Mode terrain control, a 6.5-inch multimedia (MFD) touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ and Bluetooth support (higher grades get an 8.0-inch system with inbuilt GPS satellite navigation system), steering responsive LED headlights, six-speaker stereo (higher grades can have an eight-speaker Harmon-Kardon branded set), multi-function displays in the dash and instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control (there is no basic air conditioning in the Forester range), 17 inch alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers, as well as a smart key system with keyless entry and push button start.
Foresters from the 2.5i premium up gain a powered tailgate, and the top-spec car is available with an electric (non-panoramic) sunroof.
From the base 2.5i Forester up every car gets 17 inch alloy wheels. (image: Tom White)
On the safety front, even the base Forester gets the EyeSight safety system including auto emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keep assist (lane assist) and lane change assist, lead vehicle start alert, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control. Higher specs also gain reverse emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, and several driver attention alert features.
All Foresters also get bonus items like torque vectoring, hill start assist, hill descent control, parking sensors (but no auto park assist), reverse camera, and even a full size spare tyre and alloy wheel (except for the hybrid variants which only have a tyre repair kit).
Of course, expected standard items like electric power steering, ESP, ABS, hill holder, traction control and seven airbags are all present and accounted for.
Despite its apparent off-roading intent, Subaru does not offer a diff lock with the current Forester, nor is there a more limited slip differential.
On the safety front, even the base Forester gets the EyeSight safety system. (image: Tom White)
Features that can be upgraded from Subaru are mainly restricted to aesthetics, like trim upgrades and STi-branded performance-look items (including alloy wheels from 17-inches up), as well as roof rack accessories, a tow bar, and cargo area accessories. Unusually, Subaru offers an official camp awning canopy accessory ($515.06).
Despite its apparent mild off-roading ability compared to many mid-size SUV rivals, Subaru does not offer official underbody protection or bash plates (although there is an aesthetic 'bumper under guard' accessory), bull bar or nudge bar, a snorkel, winch, light bar, spotlights, down-sized 16 inch alloy wheels, or other more hardcore off-roading accessories. If you really want to extend the Forester's abilities you'll be left shopping with third parties.
The top-spec car is available with an electric (non-panoramic) sunroof. (image: Tom White)
Subaru does offer wheel-mountable temporary side steps, rubber mats, and mud guards.
There is also a notable lack of sport editions for driver enhancement this iteration, with the discontinuation of the turbocharged XT variant. This means no official front spoiler or rear spoiler or rear diffusers, side skirts, body kit, or the once-popular Momo steering wheel upgrade, although a list of STi-branded accessories can be optioned.
Thankfully the headlights do not need to be upgraded, with all models scoring LED headlights and daytime running lights (much better than xenon or halogen), and all grades get keyless entry and push-start ignition (although the forester does not seem to have a feature to have the doors lock automatically while driving).
The 2.5i comes with steering responsive LED headlights. (image: Tom White)
There is no 'luxury pack', 'premium package' or a pack of the STi-branded accessories. Higher grades gain the more luxurious features like leather seats, a (non panoramic) sunroof, power tailgate, heated front seats, and tinted windows. No Forester gets a heated steering wheel.
There's a rudimentary tool kit with non-hybrid models for changing wheels, and every model gets a sunglass holder, and even the option for a garbage box on the passenger side.
Our favourite accessories for the Forester include the roof cross bars ($428.07), cargo barrier ($902.53), tow bar ($984.34), rubber floor mats (good for muddy or sandy trips - $204.39), 18-inch STi alloy rims in gunmetal (stands out - $4279.11 – Silver and Black also available). Although the available items may differ depending on which of the trim levels is chosen. There is no official seat belt extender attachment for larger baby capsules, although the Forester does have dual ISOFIX points on the outside seats.
What are the key stats & specs of the Subaru Forester engine?
The regular Forester range is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder 'boxer' horizontally opposed non-turbo engine with output ratings of 136kW/239Nm.
Hybrid variants instead have a smaller 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine reducing power and torque outputs to 110kW/196Nm. The smaller-sized engine is supported by a 12.3kW/66Nm electric motor housed inside the transmission.
Subaru says its X-Mode all wheel drive system is enhanced in hybrid variants thanks to the instantaneous torque provided by the electric motor.
The regular Forester range is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder ‘boxer’ horizontally opposed non-turbo engine with output ratings of 136kW/239Nm. (image: Tom White)
For those interested in discontinued Forester variants, the 2.0-litre boxer diesel four cylinder (discontinued 2018) produced 108kW/350BNm with either a six-speed manual or CVT auto. It was equipped with a diesel particulate filter to control emissions.
The discontinued-in-2018 2.5-litre turbo-petrol variant had max outputs of 177kW/350Nm standing as a more performance-oriented option.
Subaru never offered a factory Forester with a supercharger, although there are aftermarket kits available for such an upgrade.
Is the Subaru Forester 4WD and can you use it off-road?
The Forester looks tougher than most of its mid-size SUV rivals, mainly because it is, but it's no replacement for a hardcore off-roader like a ladder-chassis based SUV with low-range (something with aftermarket kit like a dual battery, for example), so know that in terms of off-road capability, it has its limits.
That said, a 500mm wading depth without a lift kit is not bad, nor is the 220 ground clearance (mm).
All Foresters are all wheel drive (there are no front wheel drive or 4x2 versions) via Subaru's X-Mode computer-controlled terrain response system.
All Foresters are all wheel drive (there are no front wheel drive or 4x2 versions) via Subaru’s X-Mode computer-controlled terrain response system. (image: Tom White)
Our off-road test proves that this system is strong for mild off-roading needs, as long as you don't get too ambitious. Stay away from deeper mud, steep inclines, or slippery surfaces that would usually require a low-range 4x4 system or locking differentials.
Foresters ship with highway tyres, so if you're planning on hitting the mud, the cheapest way to enhance the amount of available traction will be a set of all terrain tyres.
The Forester does not have sufficient room in the engine bay for a dual-battery setup for keen campers, so keep that in mind.
Which configuration of the Subaru Forester is the best?
An easy question. You cannot go past the base 2.5i for value. It is all the car most people will need (complete with luxuries like LED headlights, all wheel drive , and an impressive active safety suite) at the compelling price of $34,690.
The base car compares the best to most rival models, although the top-spec 2.5i-S is not outrageously priced, considering its formidable features, at $42,990.
The Forester looks tougher than most of its mid-size SUV rivals, mainly because it is. (image: Tom White)
When comparing models, value makes a little less sense for the hybrid models (either as a mid-spec L or top-spec S), which have a less powerful engine, smaller fuel tank and no spare wheel, and require a several thousand dollar premium vs their 2.5-litre non-hybrid counterparts, which the drop in fuel consumption cannot make up for.
This has not dissuaded fleet buyers of hybrid Subarus, as the initial supply of hybrid cars was easily exhausted.
What is the difference between a Subaru Forester and an Outback?
Good question. The Forester is taller and has a larger cabin space, whereas the Outback can be more thought of as a raised wagon version of the Liberty sedan. That having been said, these two wagon-like SUVs more or less live in the same category.
The Outback comes at a price premium, and has a more luxurious (albeit, older) interior, and more road-focused handling (thanks to its Liberty underpinnings) as opposed to the Forester's more adventurous and SUV-like setup.
The Outback is due to get a new generation in the near future, and the divide between the two models should become more apparent then.
Fuel mileage seems to vary greatly on driving style given the Forester's CVT automatic. Hybrid variants only reduce fuel usage to a claimed 6.7L/100km which is a small reduction given a significant increase in price.
Regardless of variant, the Forester is able to consume base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol, as you no longer need to worry about diesel fuel consumption.
The Forester doesn't have a dedicated eco mode, but it helps to mitigate fuel consumption slightly through its 'intelligent' rather than 'sport' drive mode, and all cars come with an auto start/stop system.
The diesel version of the Forester was discontinued along with the last-generation car in 2018. Subaru globally discontinued the diesel version of its boxer engine, instead choosing to pursue hybrid and fully-electric (EV) vehicle technology, so it is obvious which technology won in the diesel vs petrol debate.
The brand stated at the recent launch of the hybrid Forester that it would keep and electrify existing nameplates rather than introduce new ones, so we wouldn't be surprised to see the next-generation car become fully electric or at least be offered as a plug in hybrid.
There is no LPG version of the Forester, and the turbocharged XT variant was discontinued along with the diesel in 2018.
All current Foresters are capable of running on base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol.
Users on some sites have reported unusually high oil consumption and a dash rattle as main complaints (although these are anecdotal).
Models in the past have had similar oil consumption issues to do with the design of horizontally opposed engines.
As far as diesel engine problems, the now-discontinued turbo diesel model had notable issues around its diesel particulate filter (DPF), with some owners and outlets claiming the DPF needed to be prematurely changed at a high price. A common diesel problem not restrained to Subaru.
While diesel problems are no longer relevant, automatic gearbox / transmission problems are not unknown with earlier models, both CVT and torque converter, with Subaru even being forced to extend the warranty on some models for the US market (although these specific issues may not apply to Australian cars which were built in Japan).
Some overseas sites have reported rear suspension issues on previous-generation vehicles, although these are also not guaranteed to apply to Australian-delivered models.
As far as further transmission issues go, clutch problems seem to be limited to much older models from 2009 and earlier. The manual transmission has now been discontinued.
While our research across forums and user complaint sites seems to have the Forester sealed relatively well against rust, keep in mind many Foresters live along Australia's easternmost coastal destinations, where it is worth checking if salty air has had its effect.
Subaru currently offers capped price servicing on new Foresters for the first five years. Maintenance costs come in at $346.39, 584.45, $350.97, $750.71 and $351.00 for each year respectively for an average yearly spend of $476.70. The Hybrid carries an extra charge of roughly $4 per service. These costs are inclusive of expendable fluids like engine oil.
The Forester, regardless of variant requires servicing every 12 months or 12,500km whichever occurs first.
According to our Subaru Forester problems page, the current-generation Forester does not appear to have had our readers submit any issues of note. Keep in mind that the current car has only been on the market since 2018.
Foresters up to 2015 may be subject to an airbag recall, and the same vehicles may have a brake light failure recall. Check with Subaru or the ismyairbagsafe portal to see if your car is affected.
All Subarus are now covered by a five-year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise. (image: Tom White)
Anecdotally, Forester owners seem to be happy, with the only minor anecdotal reliability issues we've spotted on our site and on productreview.com.au restrained to a dash rattle and unusually high oil consumption (a known issue with many horizontally opposed engines). The Forester maintains a relatively high 4.2-star rating at the time of writing from owners on productreview.
If major problems come up with durability of the current model, you will be able to find them on our Subaru Forester problems page.
Does the Forester have a manual or automatic transmission?
The current-generation Forester is offered only with a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Manual transmission variants were discontinued some time ago, and according to the brand, are not set to return. In terms of the manual vs automatic debate, only a tiny percentage of models sold would have been manuals anyway.
How good is the Forester's sound system & Infotainment set-up?
Subaru's Forester, regardless of variant, comes with a single radio CD player (CD changers and CD stackers have gone the way of the dodo...) player, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth support, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and as standard six speakers.
These features are hosted on a 6.5-inch multimedia touch screen, and some functions can be controlled through the multi-function displays (MFD) of which the Forester has two.
The Forester can have an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen in higher variants, as well as an eight-speaker Harmon-Kardon branded sound system with subwoofer and amplifier.
Connectivity-wise, there is one primary USB port and an auxiliary jack. There is no DVD player option for rear seat occupants like some vehicles have had in the past.
The Forester is a strictly five-seat vehicle in either cloth or leather (but no sport seats), with no seven-seat version currently existing.
Subaru does offer a larger SUV with third row seating exclusively to the American market called the Ascent, and while the brand's Australian arm is confident it would sell a lot of them, it currently has no plans to import it like it once did with its predecessor, the Tribeca.
All Forester variants have an extensive list of active safety features as part of the brand's 'EyeSight' safety suite including auto emergency braking (works up to 65km/h detects pedestrians and cyclists), lane departure warning with lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, brake light and lead vehicle start alert, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.
Higher variants gain adaptive LED headlights, reverse auto braking, and surround camera views. All foresters have an excellent reversing camera.
The Forester has seven airbags, consisting of dual front, dual front side, dual curtain side airbags, and a driver's knee airbag.
Subaru Australia does not offer an extended warranty beyond this, even promotionally, although some dealers may offer their own warranties. Keep in mind these will fall outside the backing of Subaru Australia.
All Subarus are now covered by a five-year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise. (image: Tom White)
In terms of resale value, a Glass's Dealers Guide spokesperson told CarsGuide last year that brands like Mazda, Subaru, and Toyota historically hold their value well, going so far as to single out the Forester as being "very strong on used-car values."
It is impossible to tell what the staying power of the current Forester will be with rapidly changing tastes in the industry, but available Glass's Guide data indicates that Subarus are amongst the best re-sale performers overall with an average of 56 per cent value retention over three years/60,00km.
The quality of the fittings is up to the usual high Japanese standard. (image: Tom White)
Not very since the discontinuation of turbocharged variants.
The 2.5-litre Forester variants have a claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of 9.5 seconds. It's hardly speedy, and there's no extra horsepower to be had elsewhere in the range. We don't expect a return of the turbocharged XT any time soon.
The Forester is a confident and comfortable SUV from behind the wheel. Its light Subaru Global Platform underpinnings and "90 per cent new" 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine make for a lighter and more playful drive than you might expect from a mid-sizer.
The ride is excellent and family friendly regardless of variant largely thanks to balanced suspension across its wagon body. The Forester has independent front and rear suspension, which is soft enough to deal with bumps and corrugations, but not so much so that it causes too much body-roll in the corners.
One thing to note is that the Forester doesn't even pretend to be performance-oriented, and that suits its character well with a spongey ride and acceleration which is satisfactory but not exciting.
From the base 2.5i Forester up, every car gets multi-function displays in the dash and instrument cluster. (image: Tom White)
Performance figures would suggest the 2.5-litre engine mated to an often-derided continuously variable automatic is not much to be going on with, but it's the responsiveness of this engine at low speed that will keep drivers happy.
While this family-friendly tune keeps the Forester reasonably quiet around town, there is a notable increase in road noise and cabin noise once you go past the 80km/h mark. This is not unexpected, but handled much better in European and some Japanese rivals.
There's plenty of airspace provided by the Forester's huge windows, which make its large body surprisingly easy to manoeuvre into tight parking spots and allows plenty of visibility for changing lanes on busy arterial roads.
The Forester has a modern interior that feels more fresh and better appointed than some notable rivals. (image: Tom White)
Despite its all wheel drive underpinnings and low-set boxer engine, the Forester even manages to have a not-terrible turning circle of 10.8 meters, which makes tight manoeuvrability surprisingly good.
Overall, family buyers will be happy with the Forester's compliant, predictable and comfortable drive experience.
Subaru's Forester continues to be an excellent choice as a family hauler, with loads of room, a comfortable ride, and a more focused range of variants to suit most buyers.
It's a shame that the top-spec turbo variants were discontinued, and the value proposition of hybrid variants is questionable. That having been said, the standard all-wheel drive and commitment to high-end safety tech are excellent bonuses in a busy mid-size SUV landscape.