Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Subaru Forester XT

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

The 2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT is perhaps the most Subaru of all the Subarus. Gruff, rugged, and packing a potent little powerplant that elevates it above its competition, the XT is something of a cult classic in SUV land.

Couple a Forester with winter tires and your ability to get through the worst of winter is laughably good.

The Forester is also a little dated now. And it’s the next in line for the updates that have come to the Impreza and, perhaps more importantly, the Outback. The bigger SUV’s newer infotainment system and interior sets it apart from the Forester, which doesn’t even have Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Fuel-efficiency-wise, the Forester hasn’t yet made the leaps forward other, newer Subaru powerplants have. Official ratings are 10.2/8.6/9.5 L/100 km city/highway/combined. Decent, but not exactly class-leading.

I finished the week on 11.3 L/100 km, and had to put premium fuel in it. Now, I could have put regular in – it will run, but premium is recommended and really, it’s what you should run if you want the best performance. Full disclosure: there is a chance my hefty fuel consumption number is connected to my enjoyment of the XT’s turbo flat-four growl, and the resulting forward momentum. Your mileage is likely to vary.

And it’s the 2.0L turbo flat-four that makes the Forester fans salivate. It’s also the distinguishing factor that gives the Forester its star power.

This 250 hp, 258 lb-ft engine really is a gem. The numbers don’t do it justice, particularly when you factor in the SI-Drive modes. Press the S# button and you call up a more aggressive throttle map, one that is represented by a graph in the small TFT screen nestled between the large analogue gauges. The best mode is obviously S# – but as I just mentioned, that one does come with an invoice when you get to the fuel station.

Even with a CVT the Forester feels willing, lurching forward with all the eagerness of an adolescent Jack Russell terrier. The punchy engine shuttles 60 percent of its power to the front wheels most of the time, and sends up to 50 percent of it rearward when called upon. Coupled with brake-based torque vectoring control, this is a very good AWD system, but the hoon in me always wishes for a little more rear-wheel bias.

Skids aside, couple a Forester with winter tires and your ability to get through the worst of winter is laughably good. The addition of X-Mode means access to hill-descent control, for those times when the cottage laneway is steeper than you’d like it to be.

The CVT by the way, has paddles which allow you to “shift down” – effectively forcing the CVT to pick up a different ratio. They are good for those of us who like to fiddle with things while we drive. The rest of you will probably leave them entirely alone.

The Forester’s handling surprised us in our 2017 SUV comparison test, and I was once again impressed by how well it responded to my inputs and maintained a line on the road. The steering never gets busy or vague, but I’d like more weight to it – if only to counteract my ham-fistedness.

Ride comfort in the Forester is intriguing. The suspension is compliant and stable. It absorbs the road well without hiding it from the driver. But the ride is let down by the influx of road and suspension noise. So even when the suspension is doing its best job of cocooning the occupants against potholes and ridges, it can’t hide its workload from their ears. This is in contrast to the wind noise, which in the Forester is less than I was expecting.

Too long; didn’t read: You’ll be comfortable, but you’ll hear the underside of the car working.

Our tester came with Subaru’s excellent EyeSight suite of technologies. The dual cameras in the top of the windshield read the road and power the adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-keep assist, and Vehicle Ahead Start alert. Separate sensors and radars power the reverse automatic braking and blind-spot sensors. The adaptive cruise is a very smooth and clever system. It manages the gap to the car in front gently, and rarely slams on the anchors the way other systems do. It has been programmed to recognize that sometimes folks dive into the safety gap you’ve built and responds appropriately. It does beep a lot, but you can turn that off.

Other very welcome niceties include the massive sunroof, heated steering wheel, and steering responsive headlights. Resident headlight connoisseur, Justin Pritchard, is one big fan of this lighting system.

I touched already on the 7.0-inch infotainment system with Starlink – but the advent and popularization of Android Auto/Apple CarPlay systems has rendered this one outdated. Next year’s model will almost certainly have the newer system, and I believe strongly that it is worth waiting for.

If you came for the cargo space, you’ll stay for the one-touch seat-folding in the trunk area. The cavernous 892 L trunk (1,940 with the seats folded) epitomizes “greater than the sum of its parts”. The boxy shape, large tailgate opening and long, flat floor means you will be hard-pressed to find something too big for this area.

Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and I quite like the Forester’s abrupt styling. The interior is bland in black, and the multi-stacked screens are convoluted. The top one does have a very cool boost gauge graphic though – and I left it on because it made me feel like I was in a racecar. Cars should always be themselves. Unless they can be a racecar. Then they should be a racecar. That’s what the bonnet scoop is for, right?

The Forester 2.0XT makes a connection not only to Subaru’s winter prowess, but also to the performance reputation stoked and cemented by the WRX STI, all while packing bulk practicality and high-level safety content.

The result is an SUV that is somehow not an SUV. Even though it is.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders H4
Peak Horsepower 250 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Peak Torque 258 lb-ft @ 2,000–4,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.2/8.6/9.5 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 892/1,940 L seats down
Model Tested 2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT with EyeSight
Base Price $39,495
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,725
Price as Tested $41,320
Optional Equipment