2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The refreshed Subaru Forester XT gets some slight tweaks to enhance the appeal of the dirt-road eating, go-faster SUV.
2016 Subaru Forester XT Premium
Price $47,990+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety 5 star ANCAP Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (boxer) petrol Power/Torque 177kW/350Nm Transmission CVT Body 4595mm (L); 1795mm (W); 1735mm (H) Weight 1657kg Fuel Tank 60L Thirst 8.5L/100km (combined)
The Subaru Forester is an icon of the SUV set. It was first revealed as a concept in 1995, before going on-sale in 1997, and intended to capitalise on the success of the Subaru Outback in America, a vehicle that was promoted with the help of our very own Crocodile Dundee.
Based on the Impreza platform there have been four generations of Forester with the Japanese car maker recently refreshing the current fourth-generation model earlier this year. With every generation, the Forester has either grown bigger or taller, and sometimes both, while the square edges of the first Forester have been successively softened and rounded until we arrive at the vehicle we have here today (See below for a gallery).
What is it?
The 2016 Subaru Forester was refreshed in February this year receiving minor detail changes inside and out to all but the Forester XT and Forester 2.0i-L. But it was to the suspension that the biggest improvements occurred, with Subaru sending engineers Down Under to sort out the ride and handling of this mid-life update.
Beyond that, the Subaru Forester still does what it’s always done and that is provide room for an active family that wants to keep going when the bitumen runs out. Thanks to its permanent all-wheel drive, high-set driving position and excellent all-round vision, the Forester remains one of the most awarded Subarus and, indeed, most popular too.
What’s it like?
For a start, the running changes to the Forester were much needed. See, it seems that not a week goes by where the thing doesn’t have a new contender in its segment and, with the powerhouse that is the Mazda CX-5, Subaru needed to do something to get attention back on its SUV.
The bread and butter models have all been tweaked and visually to a greater degree than the Forester XT Premium we’re testing. This model shares its 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with the WRX, although in Forester guise it makes less power. On offer from 5600rpm is 177kW (down from the 197kW in both the WRX and Levorg) and 350Nm of torque from 2400-3600rpm. This is mated to a CVT which when Sport Sharp (S#) is selected via the Si-Drive system (there are two other modes, Intelligent and Sport) the transmission will do its best to simulate an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with eight preset ratios.
And, on the whole the CVT does a good job, although in either normal or Sport Sharp mode the transmission is nowhere near as good as it is in either the WRX or the recently launched Levorg. Indeed, when left to its own devices the CVT will slur its way through shifts and feel peaky into the bargain. It also emits a lot of noise, although whether this is all the fault of the CVT and maybe also an element of turbo whistle which merges to leak into the cabin as a whine, is up for debate.
This ‘transmission’ noise leaking into the cabin is in spite of Subaru fitting thicker glass and beefier seals to filter out road and engine noise. On the whole it works with most noises, beyond some wind whistle and the CVT whine being all but eliminated.
But, back to then engine, there’s plenty of grunt available and so the Forester, even with the family on board, always feels perky enough to keep up with and move past traffic. That said, the CVT does sometimes trip itself up requiring a decent shove to get at the right amount of grunt, although if you’ve selected S# it’s throttle pick up and response is much keener.
Where the fourth-generation Forester came in for some criticism when it was first launched regarding its ride and handling, Subaru has spent a great deal of engineering effort to retune the thing for this mid-life update. And, with a fair amount of the criticism emanating from Australian motoring scribblers, Subaru sent its engineers Down Under to fiddle and test with the Forester’s suspension. And they’ve done a good job.
It means you now get a better, more consistent ride across a variety of surfaces. Indeed, the Forester XT offers a comfortable and reasonably flat ride with the dampers able to provide decent support on the black top. One issue, though, is that the suspension isn’t particularly long legged and, so, when on rutted dirt roads the ride can become a little crashy. Fortunately, though, the secondary ride is pretty good and any bangs and crashes tend to be heard rather than felt.
That might sound like more of a kick than a pat on the back, but it’s worth mentioning the Forester which is going up against the Mazda CX-5 offers a more compliant and insulated ride than that car, and is more confident on dirt than the VW Golf Alltrack we recently tested.
The electromechanical steering is light but consistently weighted and there’s enough feel to keep keener drivers connected to the doings of the front end. Indeed, in this mid-life update, Subaru tweaked the steering from a 15.5:1 ratio to 14:1 to give it a more direct and quicker action. It worked.
Where the old Forester used to push wide when hurried through corners, this tweaked Forester XT feels a little more agile; more resistant to body roll mid-corner and is less likely to run wide of the corner when pushed, but that’s in part down to the adoption of Vehicle Dynamic Control on the XT Premium we tested. There’s enough grip from the permanent all-wheel drive (and the active torque split on the XT), and enough feedback through the steering that it should keep those actually interested in driving interested on a winding road.
You can now confidently say that Subaru has exorcised the Forester’s ride and handling demons. So, what exactly did it do? Well, the engineers changed the front and rear damper force, fiddled with the spring rates for the front and rear, although the springs are still the same size as before, and added new bushes and added a thicker stabiliser bar. In all, the aim was to improve rigidity and tighten up body control.
As important as the ride and handling is on the Forester XT, it’s how well it accommodates a family that most will judge it on. And on that score the Forester does well. Climb in behind the steering wheel and you’ll find a nice high-set driving position that, via the electric seat adjust, can be raised even higher… indeed, almost no vehicle this side of a Range Rover offers such a commanding driving position.
Vision all the way around from the driver’s seat is excellent, although the reversing camera leaves a little to be desired. Some we’ve used recently offer a beautiful clear picture even in low light, but the camera on the Forester XT becomes grainy in anything but bright sunlight.
Over in the backseat and due to the scalloped out backs of the front seats there’s more than enough legroom for two adults, the middle seat is more of a perch as the transmission tunnel robs legroom. There are ISOFIX mounting points on the two outboard seats, and three top tether mounts, although to be fair you’d probably only comfortably fit two child seats across the back.
The back seats are 60:40 split fold and while they don’t fold totally flat (the seats can be dropped via two boot mounted levers) they do increase the boot from 422 litres to 1474 litres. And because of the boxy design of the Forester the boot space is quite usable. Our test XT Premium gets an automatic open/close tailgate and I found it to be more annoying than useful; I’m just on six-foot tall and my head brushed the tailgate when it was opened and because of the curve of the door, I had to duck slightly to avoid scalping myself. Personally, and I get the argument for them, I could have done without it. Under the boot floor is a full-size (18-inch spare wheel).
Subaru’s mutlimedia system is good but it’s off the pace in terms of not offering, say, Apple Car Play or Android Auto integration. And this is something Subaru won’t offer until the new-generation Impreza is launched later this year – this connectivity will then roll out as the rest of the range is updated. Beyond this gripe, the system couldn’t be simpler to use. There are shortcut menu buttons along the side of the touchscreen panel, the sat-nav is clever and quick to respond, and the fact the climate control is separate from the unit is a big tick in my book.
The Forester XT Premium gets Subaru’s clever EyeSight system which works very well and isn’t as easily tricked by non-line lines on the road as some systems we’ve experienced recently. That said, last week when it snowed up in the Blue Mountains, the EyeSight system would intermittently deactivate and then reactivate a minute or two later, and then turn itself off again, and so on. This behaviour occurred, on and off, for a good couple of days. Given I’ve never experienced it before in an EyeSight equipped car, my guess is that it was a one-off glitch.
And this brings me neatly to safety. The Forester offers permanent all-wheel drive, airbags, adjustable front seat belts, daytime running lights, stability and traction controls and, on the Forester XT Vehicle Dynamics Control which will brake the inside wheel when understeer is detected to help push the car into the corner. It gets a reversing camera, rain-sensing wipers with de-icers, dusk-sensing headlights, and more. The Forester achieved a five-star rating in 2013 with a score of 35.74 out of 37.