2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited Road Test

Subaru’s Forester has come a long way since a funky squared-off, raised wagon by the same name debuted in 1997. That model
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
The Forster’s rugged good looks are amped up in 2.0XT Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
did well for the brand and helped usher in the compact crossover SUV craze, but in 2002 the hard edges were smoothed out, refinements improved the cabin, and soon after a version of the WRX STi’s turbo-four was added to a new top-line XT trim that pumped up performance. The Forester grew up to true compact SUV dimensions in 2008 for the 2009 model year with the release of its third-generation, while 2013’s fourth-gen model, followed by its mid-cycle upgrade last year, returned some of its edgy, chunky original design elements, albeit in a larger more upright utility.

I’ve just scratched the surface of the many changes that joined those updates, plus numerous modifications in between, to the point that today’s Subaru is so far advanced over its predecessors it might as well be an entirely different SUV. Of course,
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
The Forester strikes a more traditional, upright pose than most competitive compact crossover SUVs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the same can be said of many popular cars and sport utilities currently available, but Subaru’s slow and steady embrace of the mainstream market, while still holding true to key elements of its idiosyncratic past, is wholly unique.

First off, while the Forester originated as more crossover than SUV, it now appeals to more dyed-in-the-wool SUV fans that have somehow been forgotten in a near global shift to car-based utilities. With many of its rivals becoming ever sleeker in their quests for more sport in the SUV equation, Subaru stays confidently upright in the Forester’s styling, as if it’s somehow capturing a lost youth it missed out on the first time around. As a fan of serious 4x4s from Land Rover’s original Series I and Defender to Toyota’s Land Cruiser FJ and BJ70, not to mention Mercedes’ Geländewagens old and new, I’m subconsciously pulled toward the Forester’s more
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Limited trim adds sharp looking LED headlamps. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
classic SUV lines, which were beefed up considerably for its 2017 refresh and get even more pronounced ruggedness when moving from the base 2.5i engine to the 2.0-litre turbo XT.

Yes, Subaru still uses its XT nomenclature, and both the 170 horsepower naturally aspirated base 2.5-litre engine with 174 lb-ft of torque, and the 250 horsepower direct-injected 2.0XT powerplant with 258 lb-ft of torque, which is one of the most powerful in the mainstream compact SUV class, are formed from the brand’s iconic horizontally opposed four-cylinder “boxer” design. This “H” engine lineup, which even includes a larger 3.6-litre H6 in Subaru’s Legacy and Outback, has been enhanced for refinement and fuel economy over the decades, with the Forester’s
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
2.0XT models get this sportier front fascia and other bodywork enhancements. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
2.5i good for a claimed 10.9 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.7 combined rating with its base six-speed manual, or 9.2 city, 7.4 highway and 8.4 combined with its optional automatic, a smooth and efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT) that goes by the name of Lineartronic, while this 2.0XT, which comes standard with the CVT, is Transport Canada five-cycle rated at just 10.2 city, 8.6 highway and 9.5 combined.

As you may have noticed I haven’t included FWD and AWD fuel economy comparisons, which is due to Subaru supplying all Foresters, as well as most every other vehicle in its ever-growing lineup, with standard all-wheel drive. No other vehicle in the mainstream compact crossover SUV class can say the same, not even Jeep. What’s more, Subaru’s unique engine design, which can be laid lower
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Stylish machine-finished 18-inch alloys with dark painted pockets are standard with the 2.0XT powertrain upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
in the chassis to in-turn lower the Forester’s overall centre of gravity for improved handling, also frees up space to allow for a better designed four-wheel drive layout dubbed Symmetrical AWD. As the name implies, Symmetrical AWD applies evenly distributed torque to each drive wheel. Full-time four-wheel motive power also reduces front-end lift and rear-end squat at takeoff, which would otherwise upset overall balance. Not a problem for the Forester.

The result is a compact SUV that inspires confidence in the kinds of slippery conditions that all Canadians have been experiencing so far this winter, and most suffer through every year. Along with the added inclement-weather grip, the Forester’s AWD aids stability in all weather conditions, even dry, improving high-speed handling for better performance whether on pavement or gravel, while ride quality remains comfortable for the class.

2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
If you see these "XT" initials on the tailgate and you’re driving one of the Forester’s challengers, don’t ask for a race. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
For those truly non-sticky situations, such as after a rainfall on a muddy backcountry road or when trudging out from a knee-high snow drift that forces most everyone else to get out and strap on chains, merely press the large silver “X MODE” button ahead of the Forester’s shift lever to engage Subaru’s unique off-road setting. It allows the engine, transmission and traction control modules to work in unison for real 4×4 capability, by applying even torque to all four wheels and not allowing those without grip to spin, which leaves you to simply add throttle and steer. X Mode stays engaged until your Forester passes the 40-km/h mark, at which point it disengages and all systems return to normal.

All of this advanced driving kit might sound as if it’s connected to a rugged, truck-based SUV, but today’s Forester is based upon Subaru’s well-proven small car platform architecture that also underpins the previous-generation Impreza and Crosstrek
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Subaru has gentrified the Forester’s interior over the decades, this latest version especially upscale in Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
(Subaru’s new scalable, modular Global Platform won’t impact the Forester until a complete redesign arrives for 2019). This means it’s a rigid, lighter weight unibody design that also provides more room inside than traditional SUVs.

Yes, the Forester is spacious. Most anyone should fit comfortably up front, the 10-way powered driver’s seat, which comes standard on everything above the base model, providing ample adjustment including powered lumbar support, and the tilt and telescopic steering column capable of long enough travel to satisfy those with slightly shorter torsos/arms than legs, like yours truly.

When the driver’s seat was set up for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame I found
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
A colour trip computer joins an even more colourful multi-information display atop the dash, and a large touchscreen just below. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the second-row seat just behind roomy enough too, with about eight inches ahead of my knees, plenty of space for my feet while wearing boots, and another four inches above my head, while air space between body and door panels never made my shoulders and hips feel congested. Three adults abreast wouldn’t be an issue, but you get the comfort of a nice, wide flip-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders if only two are in back. Parents will appreciate that the child seat anchors have been improved across the entire Forester line for 2018, and are reportedly easier to use.

The tall side windows and large panoramic sunroof overhead gave my Limited model an airy greenhouse effect, this trim line particularly well-equipped with steering-responsive LED headlights, a heatable steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 0.8-inch larger 7.0-inch infotainment system featuring a premium quality high-resolution touchscreen with tablet-like multi-gesture tap, swipe and pinch capability, very accurate navigation
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
The mostly analogue gauge cluster is highly legible in all lighting conditions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
with detailed mapping, SiriusXM Traffic, an upgraded Subaru StarLink apps and services bundle, Siri Eyes Free, MirrorLink smartphone connectivity, a superb sounding eight-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system with a 440-watt eight-channel amp, plus leather upholstery, two-position driver’s seat memory, two-way heated rear outboard seats, one-touch folding rear seatbacks, and more, all for $35,795 plus freight and fees with the 2.5i powertrain and $37,995 with the 2.0XT.

The sunroof actually gets pulled up from lesser Touring trim, which starts at $30,495 in the 2.5i and $33,995 with the 2.0XT, this model also adding its windshield wiper de-icer to Limited trim, plus an electroluminescent primary gauge cluster with a colour TFT multi-function display, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone auto climate control, illuminated vanity mirrors, reclining rear seatbacks,
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
This is one of the more fully featured multi-info displays in the class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
a powered tailgate with memory height function, side/rear vehicle detection, and a stainless exhaust tip, while along with the powered driver’s seat the Forester’s $29,195 just-above-base Convenience model adds auto on/off for the headlights, fog lamps, a rear rooftop spoiler and more to the $25,995 base model’s heated power-adjustable side mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, steering wheel controls, cruise, 4.3-inch colour multifunction display atop the dash, filtered air conditioning, backup camera (albeit with dynamic guidelines all the way up to Limited trim), Bluetooth with audio streaming, StarLink smartphone integration with Aha radio, HD radio, a USB port/iPod interface, aux input, satellite radio (with three free months), heated front seats, roof rails, the usual active and passive safety features including an airbag for the driver’s knees, etc.

2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Subaru has made big improvements to its Starlink infotainment system in recent years. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
It’s not until moving up to the sportier 2.0XT powertrain that 18-inch machine-finished alloys become standard fare, not to mention larger 316 x 30 mm front and 278 x 18 mm rear brake rotors, a re-tuned sport suspension with chassis bracing, and a high-torque CVT with steering wheel-mounted paddles. This is also when the front and rear fascia designs get exclusive sport elements, an intercooler duct gets added to the hood, the stainless exhaust tip doubles, and yet more metal brightwork decorates the exterior.

My 2.0XT Limited tester also received a very reasonably priced $1,500 EyeSight package that’s available on 2.5i/2.0XT Touring (for $2,800) and 2.5i Limited trims as well, which adds proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, steering
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Subaru’s navigation proved easy to use, fast, and very accurate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
responsive fog lamps (with Touring models only), adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane keep assist (which functions over a wider speed range for 2018), lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, and reverse automatic braking, while the Limited with EyeSight gets exclusive automatic high beam assist.

Subaru has done a good job of gentrifying its Forester over the years, with this latest model the most refined yet. This includes reduced noise, vibration and harshness levels as part of last year’s update, while it also gets a fully padded soft synthetic dash top that folds over the top half of the instrument panel and all the way down each side of the centre stack, the lower portions of which appear like handles
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT is amongst the best of its ilk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
with stylish perforated pleather and metallic detailing. Glossy piano black lacquer and metallic trim spans from just left of the driver, across the instrument panel to the right door, while nice satin-silver detailing trims the door panels that are also finished with contrast stitched armrests, perforated leatherette inserts and door pulls, plus soft uppers.

The aforementioned leather-wrapped steering wheel rim is thickly padded, and therefore feels both sporty and comfortable in the hands, while the shifter is clad in leather as well, plus features a contrast-stitched leather boot. Perforated leather covers the seats, except for the bolsters that are finished in solid leather with contrast stitching.

2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
X Mode really helps get the Forester out of slippery situations. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Ahead of the driver is an analogue dual-dial primary gauge setup with a large colour multi-information display at centre, although this latter item is more of a trip computer than a full multi-information display. Instead, the complete MID sits overtop the centre stack, providing a colour analogue-style digital clock, an exterior temperature readout, a L/100km average indicator, HVAC info, and more. You can delve deeper into the system for fuel economy and range info, which includes detailed graphs for immediate and average fuel economy, a tire pressure graphic, IG sensor graphic, and more.

I’ve already gone over much of the infotainment system’s features, so suffice to say it’s a very good up-to-date design that’s easy to operate thanks to touch-sensitive
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
The seats are comfortable and visibility excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
buttons down each side for accessing the home screen, map and navigation, apps, info, plus forward and reverse seek/track, while simple yet elegant metal dials allow for audio volume and tuning control. Just below, Subaru circles each of the dual-zone auto HVAC interface’s three rotating dials with nicely knurled metallic grips, while a glossy black background benefits from brightly coloured temperature indicators. It’s a really good-looking design, as is the entire centre stack.

This can be said of the overall interior too, with even the cargo compartment finished fairly well for this volume-branded class. The powered tailgate is painfully slow to open or close, although on the positive it doesn’t resist if you’d rather do so manually, while my tester’s cargo floor was protected with a fitted rubber tray, a
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
This is what Subaru simply calls a sunroof. Big isn’t it? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
good way to keep the carpet underneath looking new for the life of the car. That load floor features chromed tie-down hooks at each corner and a hinged floor that lifts to expose a removable styrofoam compartment tray for stowing oily rags and/or valuables, this sitting atop the spare tire.

Cargo capacity measures 726 litres (25.6 cubic feet) behind the rear seats and under the retractable cargo cover, 974 litres (34.4 cubic feet) when factoring in the area above the cargo cover, and 2,115 litres (74.7 cubic feet) when the 60/40 split rear seatbacks are lowered. This said the rear subwoofer eats some gear-toting space away from Limited models, which only provide 892 litres (31.5 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks and 1,940 litres (68.5 cubic feet) when they’re laid flat. In order to lower them, you can either
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Rear seat roominess and comfort is impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
unlatch them via organ stop-style pulls atop the seatbacks, or release them with levers on each cargo area sidewall, at which point they fall completely flat.

At the other end of the Forester is the aforementioned scoop-adorned aluminum hood, and while I don’t normally comment on engine covers, the Forester 2.0XT’s is particularly nice. I like seeing this level of detail under the hood, as it shows Subaru’s pride in this uniquely impressive power unit. Along with some nice louvres and a bright silver “SUBARU BOXER DIT” plaque, a large grated-silver opening provides access from the forced air above. Only a quad of downdraft Webers would look better, but of course that’s only a whimsically misguided thought from a vintage fanatic.

2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
The rear seatbacks fold flat automatically by pulling levers on the sidewalls, opening up a lot of cargo space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
these small yet thoughtful details that make the Forester 2.0XT Limited special, and in my opinion lifts it above many of its compact SUV peers. Subaru even went so far as to improve the seatbelt reminder alert for 2018, a model that won’t be with us for much longer. That said the price of this model with the EyeSight package included is $39,495 plus freight and fees that push it well over $40k. Fortunately there’s no extra charge for any of its seven exterior colour choices, or for that matter its black or brown interior themes, but the Forester is entering compact luxury SUV territory either way.

Yet that’s ok. Subaru is one of few mainstream brands that have managed to develop some real premium cachet, this achieved by sticking true to their engineering principles while delivering superior performance both on and off the road,
2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Limited
Even the 2.0XT’s engine cover is special. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
impressive interiors with leading edge electronics, impressive comfort and convenience features, top-tier advanced driving assistance systems, and the best resale and residual values in Canada, as we learned last year when Subaru earned Best Retained Value for Overall Brand in the Car Category from Canadian Black Book, as well as best Mainstream Brand in ALG’s 9th Annual 2017 Canadian Residual Value Awards.

For these reasons and more, Subaru has enlisted a large, loyal following that appears to be growing with every passing year. I recommend you take a close look at a Forester if you’re in the market for a compact SUV, as you’ll likely appreciate what you find.
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