Car Reviews

2015 Subaru Forester diesel CVT review

Robert Pepper’s 2015 Subaru Forester diesel CVT  review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

Editor's Rating

How we rated the 2015 Subaru Forester Diesel 90%
The Forester boasts segment-leading rough-terrain capability, is an easy drive and a very comfortable ride. Despite recent minor updates It is let down in places on the interior, but overall remains a solid buy and good value. The softroader market is crowded, but there's still only one Forester.

On the outside

Over the years the Forester has lost a bit of its raised-roadcar look and now is a bit more of a classic SUV shape.  It now looks modern, but unremarkable.  Still,  it is readily identifiable as a Forester, and that is a name which means much more to the average Aussie than many other nameplates in the class.


On the back of our test car is a small diesel badge, but it doesn’t tell you that the vehicle is the 2.0D-S CVT automatic rather than the 2.0D-L model below it. 

Room & Practicality

Starting from the top we have a set of roofrails.  These aren’t particularly useful by themselves, unlike the equivalents on the Outback.  Moving inside, we find this Forester has a keyless entry system; grab handle to unlock, touch finger on handle to lock.  You never need to see the key.

The driver and passenger seats are comfortable enough, and electrically operated in our S model (but not the L).  There is no memory option.

In the front you feel a little short-changed for storage.  There is a centre console, with a lift-out tray.  There’s smallish door pockets, a glovebox and a sunny holder in the roof – and that’s about it.  There’s a single 12v socket with a little cubby space for phones or similar, but you do get another 12v in the centre console and a USB port.

Moving into the second row and instantly the children notice there is no 12v socket, nor heating or cooling controls.  Moans ensue, and for a change they have a point.  At least they won’t be short of space, there’s plenty of it in the second row despite the Forester’s relatively small exterior dimensions.  There’s a second interior light well positioned for the second row, and a fold-out table if there’s nobody in the centre. In our S model there are two seatpockets on the back of the front row seats, the L model gets just the one.

While the Forester is 5 seater, the second-row centre is uncomfortable.  The seatbelt also resides in the roof as opposed to the seatback and this makes loading the rear to the top more difficult than it should.  It also means threading the belt through a guide, connecting part of it to a special buckle, and then using it. If you want to release the belt to retract it back into the roof you need something like a car key to operate the special buckle…with keyless entry cars we have been robbed of car keys!!! (not really true, there is an emergency key inside most keyless fobs). 

Anyway,  the second row has the belt too high up the chest for small children.  Same problem as the Outback.  Kids are fine in the outer seats.


The rear seatbacks can be folded down with a 40/60 split, with the 40 on the passenger side.  There is a release at the top of each seatback and one per seatback set into the cargo area.   With the backs down there’s about 1750mm of loadspace, although it’s not flat.

The rear cargo area is 900mm deep, and a bit of a mixed bag.  There is a 12v socket which is good, but there’s just one miserable little light which is, inexplicably, on the side of the bay not in the roof.  Doesn’t light up much at all.

The cargo floor is also raised, probably to clear the full-sized spare which lies at an odd angle.  This loses you a valuable 20-30mm of vertical storage space.  The cargo floor is removable to access the spare, and within the spare cavity there is lots of extra room for gear you might rarely need.  You could even pull everything out, including the foam inserts, and really use all that space. Unlike the Outback there is no hook to hang the cargo floor on when raised. 


There is a cargo blind, pictured above.  If you don’t want it then it stows away under the false floor.   Good to have the option.

The rear tailgate is electric, and quite slow.  It works well enough though, and has a memory position so it doesn’t need to be raised all the way.  It can be operated from a button near the driver, the keyfob or by pressing the tailgate button.  The tailgate does allow good access to the rear of the car.  The L spec models don’t have the power tailgate option.

Overall, the Forester is not bad on the practicality front and there are no major problems.  However, it being both a Subaru and a Forester I had high expectations and felt a little disappointed to find so many things which could easily have been done better.

On the inside

A change in the last couple of years has been to update the infotainment unit, which is “much more schmick” according to a user familiar with the previous system.  It is touch screen, and reasonably easy to use although not quite as feature-rich as the one in the Outback 3.6R.  It’ll do Bluetooth audio streaming, navigation and all the usual controls, as well as Pandora music streaming control.

The steering wheel is full of buttons – 17 or 21 depending on your count.  There’s a few more than necessary, for example two buttons to call and hang up the phone instead of one.  Still, with a bit of familiarity it does work quite well.  A good move is the display panel up top, which means you don’t need to look down a long way to find useful information.  There’s another, more basic display on the instrument panel.  The displays work well enough, but have the appearance of being designed by a desk jockey without having really been tested in the field – the graphics can be a bit small and not all the information crammed onto the screen is useful.  It must be said that Subaru are not alone in this sin.


There is a handbrake instead of an electric parkbrake.  The former takes up more room, but is likely to be the more reliable unit.

Performance, ride and handling

On the blacktop The Forester has very good visibility as the driver sits quite high, and that continues around the vehicle – it is easy to see what’s happening in any direction you look.  The steering wheel is both reach and height adjustable, as it should be (but isn’t always) on modern cars.  The steering itself light but quite feelsome, and although this is a turbodiesel automatic there’s little lag between pressing the accelerator and moving off at a brisk pace.  The diesel CVT is responsive, and relatively quiet and refined.  It becomes a little raw towards the top of the rev range, but that’s not a place you need to visit very often.  The ride is certainly above-average comfortable and nothing will upset it, as you’d expect from a Forester.  Overall, the car is a very easy, safe and comfortable vehicle to drive, but certainly not one that will excite.   RMP_7193 I say this every time I write a Subaru review, but their all wheel drive system is brilliant and not just marketing spiel.  Most other “all wheel drive” cars in this class are on-demand; they drive the front wheels, and only power up the rears when there’s trouble.  Subaru drive all four wheels, all the time and this gives a surety of handling and grip the on-demand systems cannot match, no matter how many slogans their marketing department invents.  In practical terms around towns you’ll be happy with this system on wet roads, and in all sorts of other situations such as pulling out quickly from a dirt driveway.    In carparks the reversing camera is useful and shows fixed guidelines, not ones that change direction as you steer the car.  The turning circle is 10.6m, good for the class, and that’s also where the great all-round visibility works to advantage, aided by a higher ride height than a normal roadcar.  The Forester is not a big car either, so nobody should be complaining it is hard to drive.   On the dirt Subarus always handle dirt roads well due to their suspension and all wheel drive system.  Earlier today Editor Bober wrote something about no performance car being able to handle the dirt.  I said “except for the WRXes” – and he had to agree.    This Forester is no exception, and delivers assured handling and ride no matter how rough the road.  You can flick the transmission into Manual mode and select gears yourself for a little extra control.   Frankly, it’s hard to think of a car that does dirt roads better than the Forester, or Outback come to that.  Braking, ride, handling…it’s all well above average on brown tracks.   IMG_7047   Offroad The Forester is one of the most capable offroaders in its segment, but I disagree with Subaru’s website statement that is is a “highly capable offroader”.  The Forester will not keep up with the likes of the Pajero, Prado or more its size, Grand Vitara.   But let’s talk about what it can do in the rough, and that is much more than most in its class.  Subaru have fitted the vehicle with X-Mode  (full explanation in the Outback review) which is short changes the traction control and throttle settings for better performance in the rough.   X-Mode includes a hill descent control system.  This is smooth and effective, individually braking each wheel to good effect and going a long way to negating the lack of low range on descents.  We put the Outback down very slippery, muddy hills and it worked well, so for the Forester we found a steep hill.  Now we can confirm the system lowers the car under nice stable control even when the hill is a sharp descent.  There is no speed change function via the cruise control, you do that via the brake pedal.   IMG_7604 When parked facing downwards on a steep hill, as the parkbrake only works on the rear wheels it is impossible to secure the vehicle unless you put it in park.  This is not an uncommon problem these days, but it’s not much of an issue for the Forester as it’s not really designed for extremely steep hills.   To work out how well the X-Mode traction control systems does it job we put the Forester on the Hill of Truth.  Here you see the result:   IMG_7467   That is a far steeper hill than most owners would attempt, but we need to see what the car can do.  You can see that there are two spinning wheels – front right, rear left.  This is good.  That means the torque is being distributed correctly front/rear.  An on-demand car would have stopped before this point, with both front wheels spinning, which leads to the front end sliding around, the car slewing sideways and on a steep hill that is the last thing you want.  So, X-Mode does its job.   When we stopped the car to come back down unfortunately the centre differential in effect disconnected, which meant we locked the front wheels while the rears still rotated, which led to a loss of steering control.   The hill descent system could be used, but the target speed is a bit too quick in reverse to be comfortable.   On this hill we also find the Forester is power-limited, like just about all cars without low range.  This means you can get into situations where there’s traction at all four wheels, but the transmission refuses to turn the wheels because it’s just too hard.  Soft sand is another example.   Still, with a bit of momentum the Forester made it to the top.  We didn’t go over the top as it’s pretty sharp and the car lacks ramp angle.   Now on to more Forester-friendly terrain. Have a look at this:   IMG_7546 IMG_7589 Very slowly the Forester drove up and over that rise.  Believe me, there are lots of softroaders that simply could do not do that at a dead crawl, you’d need to throw them up the slope and with it what little clearance you have would disappear.   Even this simple ditch below challenges most modern softies.  Not hard, but the Santa Fe (as just one example) would have struggled, and required more momentum to cross.  IMG_7362 The throttle is also tractable, with enough torque on tap for many offroad situations.  The good visibility helps, as does the turning circle and relatively small dimensions.  The Forester is pretty nimble, so it can quickly accelerate for ascents like this one:   RMP_7373 Of course, clearance limits are reached sooner rather than later, but at least the underside of the vehicle is well tucked up, and there’s robust plastic protectors around the sills to take a scratch or minor scrape but don’t expect it to stand up to a real beating or rocks.  This is the sort of thing Subaru does well.   IMG_7677 The diesel Foresters get a viscous limited-slip centre differential which splits torque 50/50 front/rear, whereas the petrols get Active Torque Split that can vary torque front/rear.  Having driven an Outback with Active Torque Split again I come to the conclusion that these clever front/rear torque distribution makes little difference and you’re just as well off with a simpler system.  Traction control across axles is excellent, trying to do it across front/rear axles isn’t as clever.   There are lots of people using Subarus for outdoor activities and offroading.  This has given rise to numerous owners clubs, specialist mechanics, forums and accessories – this sort of support is not available for the likes of the CX-9, CR-V and the Santa Fe.  It is worth bearing in mind when considering what you might end up doing with the vehicle.


This car was a bit below par for Subaru.  A few things felt a bit flimsy – paddleshifts and some switchgear – and in general the feel was not of a premium car, just a serviceable one.   Part of the doorhandle split (see gallery below for image), but it was banged back into line.  In fairness, the car was on a sideslope but even so it shouldn’t have happened.   Still, the drivetrain and mechanicals seem to be very sound with the exception of not overheating the CVT transmission by too much slow, high-stress work.   You know the Forester is built to do this:   IMG_7707 Our test route did not include any sand, but we know from previous experience that will be no problem for any Forester, these new ones included.  Ground clearance is a healthy 220mm, but that will reduce rapidly with a load.  Approach angle is a limiting factor, but not as bad as the Outback.

Pricing & Equipment

Pricing is now good value, considering you are getting a capable, reasonably practical vehicle with the typically excellent resale on all Subarus and Forester in particular. 

The cheapest Forester is $29,990 for a 2.0 petrol manual, rising too $47,990 for the 2.0 petrol XT automatic.  Our test car is a diesel S auto model for $39,490.   The manual is $2k cheaper, and if you don’t plan on much offroad would be worth considering – without low range, always go for autos if you ever want to do anything like the work in the pictures above.  The diesel is about $3k more expensive, a little hard to tell as there’s not always direct trim equivalents to the petrol versions.  The diesel is worth it if you want to tour long distances as the 60L fuel tank is not generous.  If you don’t need the range stick with the petrol.  The diesels are actually marginally quicker 0-100 than the petrols, either 2 or 2.5L, all around the 10 second mark.

Our test car is the 2.0D-S, and the model below is the 2.0D-L.   The L model loses heated and electric front seats, has a lower-grade infotainment unit and runs 17″ not 18″ rims.  The S has better headlights which are also dusk sensing, and seat pockets on the back of both front seats, an electric tailgate, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and various minor trim touches.  The basic capability of the vehicle is unchanged.  If you intend to use your Forester offroad then you’ll want the 17″ rims not the 18 as they work better in the rough and there is more choice of aftermarket tyre.  The L model is $35,490 vs $41,490, a difference of $6k which is quite an ask for the extra kit.

Range-toppers are the XTs which run a turbo for 177kW and do 0-100 it in 7.9 seconds, but they require 95RON petrol so not a great option for touring.  Fun for short range though.

Old and new. The car on the right has been extensively modified  for offroading.


As usual with Subarus there is a full-sized alloy spare, which means you can roam Australia in considerably more safety that those cars that rely on space-savers or repair kits, which is a disappointingly large number of softroaders these days.

The 2015 Forester has been ANCAP tested and scores 35.64 out of 37 for a 5-star rating.

There is no EyeSight AEB and active cruise control system on the diesels as of yet.

The two outer second-row seats can take ISOFIX childseats.  All three second-row seats can take child seats and have restraint points on the back the seat.

2015 subaru forester diesel 2.0D-S cvt

PRICE :  $41,490  (+ORC) WARRANTY : 3 years / UNLIMITED km SAFETY :  5 star (35.64 / 37, tested in 2015) ENGINE : four-cylinder 2.0-Litre diesel turbo BOXER POWER : 108kW at 3600rpm TORQUE : 350Nm at 1600-2400rpm 0-100km/h :  9.9 seconds TRANSMISSION : cvt with 7-speed automatic, paddle shifts, viscous centre diff with limited-slip DRIVE :  all wheel drive with X-mode offroad system GROUND CLEARANCE : 220mm BODY :   4595 mm (L);  1795 mm (W),  1735 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE :  10.6 m WEIGHT :  1633 kg SEATS: 5 TOWING : 750 kg unbraked,  1800 kg braked, max TBM 180kg FUEL TANK : 60 litres SPARE : full-size alloy THIRST : 6.4 L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : diesel

 RMP_7346 Thanks to Damian Stock and Stephen Whittaker for their assistance with this review.  Oh and Luke Watson too.

Subaru Forester diesel CVT photo gallery: interior

Subaru Forester diesel CVT photo gallery: exterior

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper