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

Find the best demonstrator car deals for Practical Motoring readers around Australia on our Live Deals website. 


    July 1, 2015 at 3:27 pm — Reply

    THAT’s what I call a proper 4×4 test, well done team PM
    Be warned the diesel version of any Subaru is a problem waiting to happen, backed up by nobody better than Subaru themselves on its own website where it states the diesel is unsuitable for city use!!
    Roll on FB16 Turbo
    PS/ Please do something with your INSANE service costs and intervals, it is 2015…

    • July 1, 2015 at 5:20 pm — Reply

      Subaru’s points were more about diesel in general and some even apply to petrols. Thank you for the compliment.

    • off the beaten track
      July 2, 2015 at 8:33 pm — Reply

      Other manufacturers have the same DPF issues as well – the difference is that Subaru admits it .

      Buyers that mostly do short city trips would be well advised to do some research before buying diesels regardless .

  2. Jonathanward
    July 1, 2015 at 5:13 pm — Reply

    The best test yet anywhere. I recently changed my 2.0 litre diesel BMW X3 for a 2.0 Litre diesel Forester and look forward to driving the Subaru every day which was not the case with the BMW which had awful run flat tyres and very heavy steering The Subaru puts a smile on my face. I know Subaru owners are ‘different’ and I appear to have joined them, gone native in fact. The Forester is nearly £10,000 cheaper than the X3 and a pleasure to drive. Just one example; speed sign recognition an extra £250 for German cars and included as standard on the Forester – open roof £1600 but also standard on the Forester, I could go on.

    • July 2, 2015 at 9:04 pm — Reply

      Thanks. Subaru definitely have a following, and deservedly so. Check out the white Forester in the pics in the review, that’s quite a machine! BMW has an amazing AWD system, but ruin it for offroad or remote work with no clearance and runflats.

  3. Larry Richelli
    July 1, 2015 at 10:18 pm — Reply

    Oh how the US would like to have the diesel. I have a 2015 forester and am loving it but PLEASE Subaru Please.

    • July 1, 2015 at 10:21 pm — Reply

      You guys don’t seem to like diesel very much. Don’t know why, we reckon it’s great!

      • off the beaten track
        July 2, 2015 at 8:22 pm — Reply

        Very thorough off road review ,well done . Should have filmed it and put it on you tube .
        .Being a diesel with all that low down torque , i’m surprised to learn it’s torque limited in CVT form .
        That test hill is one serious climb , i’ve got the XT with the CVT and i don’t think i would take that on .And i agree that they’re good on sand ,but not quite up to Fraser Island though .
        Would like to see how the Land Rover Discovery Sport compares over the same roads . I suspect the Landy will be better -but by how much is the question?

        • July 2, 2015 at 9:10 pm — Reply

          Thanks OTBT.

          The CVT is torque limited as even a weedy 250Nm engine becomes mighty
          once you add the magic of a 2:1 or 3:1 reduction ratio. Also, low
          range allows engines to develop their best torque at very low speeds.
          Without low range you have to do a lot of work well below best torque

          Fraser is quite rutted (not been for a while, but I am reliably informed) and the Forester might bottom out a bit if loaded. Otherwise I would have no qualms at all about driving in in sand, although I’d prefer the 17″ tyres, and probably start pressures at 16psi.

          I have not offroad-tested the Sport but I expect it would better the Forester because it has an electronic locking rear differential, more grunt, lower gearing, and even better traction control. I think the difference woud be noticeable. Not taking anything away from the Subie, but it’d be a case of good and very good.

          The likes of the CR-*, Volvos, CX-whatever would be left floundering in both their wakes, of that I am certain. I’ve driven an XC-90 offroad and it didn’t cope very well at all.

      • July 18, 2015 at 7:28 am — Reply

        I’ve read & heard of horror stories about Forester DPFs fouling & needing dealer attention. An acquaintance was told his needed replacing at huge expense – luckily it came under warranty.

  4. Jonathanward
    July 3, 2015 at 1:27 am — Reply

    Why are Subaru’s so very much cheaper in the US than in the UK and, apparently, Australia?

    • July 3, 2015 at 9:51 am — Reply

      Good question Jonathan, and one where the answer perhaps lies in free-trade agreements?

  5. botond
    July 3, 2015 at 2:41 pm — Reply

    S vs L: I would need to be PAID $6000 to take all that useless “fruit” that is only a bunch of potential source of faults.

    • July 3, 2015 at 3:43 pm — Reply

      Hi Botond, what would you spend that extra $6k on? Mods for the Forester?

      • panther063
        July 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm — Reply

        With an extra $6,000 it can be set up the way it should have been.
        A small lift to increase clearance, alloy bar on the front, instead of plastic, better choice of wheels and tyres, tow bar ….

        • July 8, 2015 at 5:04 pm — Reply

          UHF radio, roofracks, storage system….;-)

  6. panther063
    July 8, 2015 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    Nice review, I’d like to see this done with off road tyres and in the manual for comparison.

    • Off the beaten track.
      July 20, 2015 at 6:19 pm — Reply

      The manual doesn’t have X mode , but the VDC should be good enough to maintain traction across all 4 wheels . IMO , better bash plates and lower gearing ,or preferably low range , would make the Forester diesel the pick of the mid-sized off-roaders . It’s a decent SUV now .

  7. Simon Rooke
    July 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm — Reply

    I’m pretty sure all automatic/CVT Foresters (petrol and diesel) use the ‘Active Torque Split’ system, whereby the drive to the front differential is fixed and there is a computer-controlled clutch pack that varies the engagement of the rear prop shaft. The manual ones (petrol and diesel) use a centre differential with a viscous coupling. That is, the AWD system depends not on the engine (as suggested in the article) but by gearbox type.

    Thank you for an informative review. I am considering a 2.0D-L CVT to replace my aging 2002 Forester XS manual and want something that is at least as off-road capable as my current car, so it is good to see the new one evaluated thoroughly in this regard.

    • July 23, 2015 at 5:48 pm — Reply

      Simon you could be right. Subaru has conflicting documentation on the subject, specifically whether the diesel autos use the active torque system. Regardless, I do not consider it a feature worthy of spending extra for, but I will get a definitive answer.

      • Simon Rooke
        July 24, 2015 at 11:32 am — Reply

        Thanks a lot for the reply Robert. Yes, from discussions with other owners, I believe both systems are fairly evenly-matched in terms of capability even though their respective mechanical arrangement is quite different. Cheers.

  8. David
    December 18, 2015 at 4:22 pm — Reply

    Finally, the comprehensive review I’ve been looking for, Thank you! You actually challenged it offroad which is the whole point of a raised 4WD SUV. Note S also has a sunroof over L. Interested to hear you’d get the CVT over manual since no low range. I thought the diesel manual might just get away without low range. I’m sure the high torque CVT will be reliable but I wish I could do it all with the manual!

    • December 18, 2015 at 4:38 pm — Reply

      Thanks David, we do our best, check the other reviews eg Jeep Renegade, Outlander..all to the same level of detail.

      Offroad – manuals MUST have low range otherwise clutches need to be slipped. Autos can rely on torque convertor slip instead, although not for extended periods due to overheating issues. However, vehicles like the Forester are not designed for the duty cycle of something like a low range vehicle eg Pajero, Prado.

  9. ramjet
    May 1, 2016 at 9:20 am — Reply

    Why would you recommend 17in wheels over 18s? Especially for off road, where bigger is always better. Surely the rim size is not so unique that it is that hard to find a reasonable tyre in 18in?

    • May 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm — Reply

      The rim size is only relative to the tyre. A 17 or 18″ rim option uses the same diameter tyre, but there’s less sidewall with the 18″. Hence the recommendation, and also because the 17s are cheaper.

  10. soobaman
    February 12, 2017 at 11:16 am — Reply

    You don’t need a key or similar to unsecure the middle row belt as the belt is designed in a way so that that part of the permanent fitting can be used to “unclick” it. It’s in the User Manual or ar least it is for the 2016 model.

  11. soobaman
    February 12, 2017 at 11:20 am — Reply

    Middle seatbelt rather tham middle row! I agree that it is hard to understand why they use this roof-mounted seatbelt design.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper