2018 Subaru Forester Buying Advice
This is the best compact compact crossover for you if you want this version of a great little SUV before it’s gone. An all-new Forester arrives for model-year 2019, leaving the little-changed ’18 to close out a design generation that was introduced for model-year 2014.
Forester is Subaru’s best-selling vehicle and ranks among the five most popular entries in the booming compact-crossover class. Yet, we believe it’s underrated. Unassuming and practical-looking, it’s actually among roomiest vehicles in the segment. It’s an unexpected leader off-road, too. And its turbocharged versions are the fastest vehicles in the class.
A Black Edition appearance package is newly available for 2018, imbedded navigation for top-trim models is now standard, and Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist system is updated. The changes follow a model-year 2017 revamp that improved the styling, enhanced safety features, and bolstered refinement. As before, Forester slots into the Japanese automaker’s crossover lineup between the midsize Outback and the similarly sized, but younger-trending Crosstrek.
Should you buy a 2018 or wait for the ‘19?
Buy the 2018 if you like its styling and engineering, because the redesigned ’19 will be a lot different. Buying an ’18 Forester would save you money, too, given the expected higher price of the ’19. And you’ll be able to take advantage of late-model-year-2018 closeout sales intended to clear inventories ahead of the next-gen’s arrival.
The 2018 lineup is again defined by Forester’s two available engines; both are four-cylinders with Subaru’s traditional “boxer” design. The 2.5i models come in four trim levels: Base, Premium, Limited, and Touring, with the Black Edition a new option for the 2.5i Premium. The more powerful and expensive turbocharged 2.0XT models return Premium and Touring grades; they account for about 10 percent of Forester sales.
In a class where competitors come standard with front-wheel drive and charge extra for all-wheel drive (AWD), every Forester has AWD as standard. And this is one of the few crossovers available with manual transmission; you can get it on the 2.5i Base and Premium models. All other Foresters have a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
Unchanged, aside from addition of the Black Edition. This reasonably priced package adds $1,150 to the 2.5i Premium model, dressing it up with 18-inch black alloy wheels and blacking out the grille, badging, mirrors, and fog-light trim. It’s offered with four exterior colors: Ice Silver Metallic, Dark Gray Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, and Crystal White Pearl. It’s available only on Premium 2.5i models with the CVT, but adds the shift paddles previously exclusive to 2.0XT Foresters. It also includes the steering-linked LED headlamps otherwise available on Premium models only as part of a $1,695 option package.
The Black Edition also adds exclusive black cloth upholstery with simulated leather seat bolsters, sliver stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift handle, and silver-metallic and gloss-black dashboard trim. It includes a rear cargo tray; a “welcome lighting” feature that automatically turns on the low-beam headlights when you remotely unlock the doors; and the All-Weather Package, normally $500 itself for heated mirrors, heated front seats, and a windshield-wiper de-icer.
Otherwise, the ’18 Forester carries over the subtle facelift it got for model-year 2017. That gave it a more substantial look, with a reshaped grille and front bumper and sleeker headlights. As before, the ’18 2.0XT versions are distinguished by black exterior accents, vertical front fascia vents, and a larger lower air intake. All ‘18s also benefit from the sound insulation added for ’17, plus the new steering wheel with easier to use audio, Bluetooth, and cruise controls. The top-of-the-line Touring versions can again be had in exclusive Sepia Bronze Metallic paint with their standard leather upholstery available in upscale perforated saddle brown with contrast stitching.
The ’18 Forester retains the boxy profile it’s had since its 2014 redesign. Against the baby-SUV look of most competitors, Forester seems little more than a puffed-up compact station wagon. Don’t be deceived. The high roofline and sober cabin design make it one of the roomiest — and airiest — crossovers in the class. Forester in fact has more passenger and cargo space than the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4.
The sole ’18 change is a minor tweak to the 2.0XT Touring model’s AWD system, where torque vectoring is now standard. It had been included only when you also ordered Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist system. Torque vectoring can direct power laterally, rather than primarily fore and aft, for better handling and stability on any surface.
Otherwise, Forester hews to an engine design that arranges cylinders opposed horizontally rather than in a V or inline vertically. The “boxer” nickname refers to the cylinders’ counterpunching movement. Also used by Porsche sports cars, this compact layout contributes to a lower center of gravity and benefits handling.
Forester’s 2.5i models use a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter with 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. That’s similar to the output of base engines in most competitors. Forester 2.0XT models have a turbocharged 2.0-liter with 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque and are among the most powerful crossovers in the class.
America’s few remaining stick-shift fans are heartened to know Base- and Premium-trim 2.5i Foresters come with a six-speed manual gearbox. Among direct rivals, only the Jeep Compass offers manual transmission in combination with AWD. A continuously variable automatic transmission is optional for Base and Premium 2.5i models and included with every other Forester. A CVT performs the duties of an automatic transmission, but without stepped gear ratios.
Acceleration with the 2.5i models is entirely satisfactory, even if around-town throttle response sometimes lags due to the CVT’s delay in harnessing engine power. By contrast, the 2.0XT models are genuinely quick, accelerating 0-60 mph in around 6.3 seconds. The Kia Sportage SX Turbo is the only other crossover in this competitive set below 0-60 in 7 seconds, at 6.9. Forester’s 2.0XT models are bolstered by specific CVT programming and steering-wheel “shift” paddles that mimic manual-type gear-ratio control to maximize throttle response.
They also handle surprisingly well. The 2.0XTs have a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels and tires, versus 17s on the 2.5i line. The 2.5i versions have less lateral grip turn turns and more body lean, but still exhibit good road manners. And all models absorb bumps well enough to count ride quality among their selling points.
When the snow flies or the pavement ends, Foresters are remarkably proficient. In this class, only Jeep’s Cherokee and its redesigned 2017 Compass even come close. Forester and Cherokee in fact lead the segment with 8.7 inches of ground clearance. A big help in rough going is Subaru’s X-Mode off-road traction system. It’s standard on all CVT-equipped Foresters except the Base 2.5i. Activated by a console button and operational below 18 mph, X-Mode calibrates the powertrain and brakes for optimal control on steep hills and in rugged terrain.
EyeSight and imbedded navigation are now standard on Touring 2.5i and Touring 2.0XT models; these features had been optional in a $1,595 package. In addition, Premium models equipped with EyeSight gain the automatically dimming high-beam-headlamps and autonomous reverse braking that had been part of EyeSight when fitted to Limited and Touring models.
A praiseworthy suite of safety features, EyeSight is available on all but the 2.5i Base model. It includes lane-maintaining automatic steering, over-the-shoulder blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and autonomous emergency braking that can
automatically stop this Subaru to prevent a collision with a vehicle or object ahead or when reversing. Model-year 2017 Foresters equipped with EyeSight and the steering-linked LED headlamps earned coveted status as Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ vehicles.
EyeSight will connect with smartphone navigation apps, but for provide GPS mapping when you’re out of cell range, you’ll need the imbedded nav system. It’s standard on Touring models and optional on the 2.5i Limited, at $1,350 in combination with the Harman/Kardon audio upgrade and $2,945 with EyeSight. Unfortunately, the system’s controls, graphics, and refresh rate are a generation behind most rival navigation technology.
All ’18 Foresters come with a rearview camera and the automaker’s Starlink infotainment interface. Starlink enables hands-free smartphone linking and streaming, integration of apps such as Pandora, and USB iPod control. Base models have a 6.2-inch Starlink dashboard screen, other Foresters a 7-inch display with text-messaging capability.
All but the Base 2.5i version come with a panoramic moonroof, a power drivers’ seat, and automatic climate control. On 2.5i Premium models, the All-Weather Package is standard with manual transmission and a $500 option with the CVT.
Split/folding 60/40 rear seatbacks are standard, and Limited and Touring models come with a power liftgate. Premium 2.5i-model Foresters equipped with EyeSight are available with the power liftgate for an additional $450. In the 2.5i line, Premium models come standard with the 17-inch alloy wheels that are optional on the Base model in place of 17-inch steel wheels.
The Limited 2.5i includes leather upholstery, power driver’s power lumbar, silver-and-black interior accents, and body-colored mirrors with integrated turn signals. It also comes with lane-maintaining automatic steering and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection.
Touring models include all that, plus a high-watt Harman/Kardon-brand audio upgrade, pushbutton ignition, memory power driver’s seat, keyless entry with pushbutton start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a heated rear seat, and a heated steering wheel.
Base-price increases average a modest $250 or so for Base through Limited models, while Touring versions increase $1,835, reflecting in part this year’s addition of navigation and EyeSight. Overall, ’18 Forester prices continue to track slightly higher than front-drive versions of comparable rivals but draw even with those of AWD versions.
Adding to Forester’s value equation are resale values among the highest in the segment. Note that base prices here include the automaker’s $950 destination fee.
The 2018 Forester 2.5i Base model starts at $23,710 with manual transmission and at $24,710 with CVT. Premium 2.5i models begin at $26,610 and $27,110, respectively. The Limited 2.5i is priced from $30,310 and the Touring 2.5i from $32,170.
In the 2.0XT line, the Premium starts at $30,410 and the Touring at $37,005.
It took until just a few years ago for Forester’s fuel-economy ratings to come abreast with those of key competitors – a sore spot for a brand whose buyers tend to be environmentally conscious. But Subaru modernized its powertrains, and Forester’s mileage now is competitive with even the front-drive versions of its main rivals.
The 2018 Forester 2.5i models rate 22/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 26/32/28 with CVT. The 2.0XT models rate 23/27/25 mpg. Subaru recommends premium-octane gas for this turbo engine.
Subaru will replace the 2014-2018-generation for 2019 with a successor that should benefit immensely from the automaker’s modern Global Platform. Ride, handling, even quietness should improve. We’ll expect an upgrade from the current the cabin’s rather austere design and materials, too.
The base engine could use more punch, and we hope Subaru doesn’t simply borrow the Impreza’s base 2.0-liter four-cylinder; it has an anemic 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. We’d welcome the Impreza WRX’s turbo 2.0-liter boxer, however: it would give the 2018 Forester 2.0XT models some 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet. A CVT will continue in most ’18 Forester models, with return of a manual transmission uncertain.
Styling should be far more dramatic, picking up some cues from Subaru’s recent Viziv concept crossover. That means pronounced fender blisters, a slight sheet-metal kick-up near the rear roof pillar, and more rugged-looking body cladding. Look for a larger but simpler trapezoidal grille wearing a single horizontal-bar insert. Expect more deeply scalloped fasciae front and rear, and headlamps collared by LED daytime running lamps.
The 2018 Forester is better than the…
All-new 2017 Jeep Compass, which beats it for interior décor and matches it for off-road prowess, but falls behind for on-road performance; the Ford Escape, a similarly aged crossover that handles well, but feels cramped and is underpowered in all but its most expensive form; Hyundai Tucson, a sound package with no off-pavement pretensions in need of a smooth, responsive powertrain.
The 2018 Forester not as good as the…
Honda CR-V, redesigned for model-year 2017 and the class standard for all-around compact-crossover goodness; the Mazda CX-5, the segment’s style leader and a pacesetter for road manners, but getting a gray in the temples; and the Jeep Cherokee, included here for those who really will use it off-road, although steer clear of the feeble base four-cylinder engine.