2016 Subaru Forester XT Review: A WRX For a Family of Five

wheel-to-wheel

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In the ever-evolving automotive mosh pit, car manufacturers jostle and elbow their way to the forefront of the show powered by increasingly fuel-efficient, turbocharged engines, electric superchargers, and a hefty punch of autonomous safety. It’s a full-blown fray in every way, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the crossover slam dance, choreographed by every automaker out there.

Maybe I’ve attended too many metal shows, or perhaps that last rockabilly rendezvous inspired me to rethink my life choices, but as the old saying goes: “Old punkers never die. They just stand at the back.” This is just exactly what the Subaru Forester has done. It’s pretty much seen it all, and refuses to retire, because nobody messes with the veteran standing by the sound booth. In this game, seniority rules when the show is about to start.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

When I say that the Subaru Forester is a genuine “OG” of the crossover car world, I’m not kidding: The first time Americans got the chance to get their hands on one was way back in 1998, and almost 20 years later, it stands strong as a balanced representation of what the crossover market once was and has become. It’s pretty amazing to think about how far things have come since the first generation emerged, with the turbocharged, 2.0-liter XT Touring model seen here offering us the most advanced blend of power, safety, tech, and practicality to date.

Once laughed at for being a funky, box-shaped serving of “wannabe SUV,” the Subaru Forester has nearly single-handedly molded the modern day crossover market into what it is today. While some may argue that it is not nearly as good as it was when turbos first began making their appearance on the platform, there is no denying the strength of this latest version. So it has a CVT transmission, a taller ride height, and an all-around larger footprint. That’s practically every other crossover in the first row at the rock show as well, so we can’t be too overly judgmental there either.

All of this leads us back to where we started, with the question of whether this aging metal head can still throw down with all of the upstarts on the market today. What was once a simplistic market where the Forester only had to contend with cars like the Toyota RAV4 and Lexus RX 350 has unfolded into a free-for-all, and while many buyers may look toward the newest offerings from other manufacturers, the rugged Forester still stands stronger than ever at the back of the crowd.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

The Subaru Forester has obviously changed quite a lot since its early bread box days, and while the 2016 model may not be a massive variation from the outgoing model, it doesn’t look overly tired or dated. With the XT version’s unique front fascia, tubed LED lighting, five-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels, tight belt line, and subdued servings of chrome, the Forester XT is a well balanced blend of appropriate ride height, proportioning, angularity, and simplicity. It may not be the most attractive or memorable vehicle on the road today, but neither is it at all offensive to the eye, which is a welcome relief considering the over-saturation of the segment within which it lies.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ The minimal usage of unpainted lower plastic trim pieces is welcome, and even though plastic trim is still present, not seeing it wrap around the wheel arches makes all the difference in the world.

+ Tubed LED running lights are angular and aggressive, making the fascia appear a tad more formidable.

+ The proportions on the Forester are pretty spot-on, and either from afar or up close it does not appear ungainly or undersized in any regard.

– The XT is the turbocharged, top-mount intercooled version of the Forester, and to this day I still feel that without a hood scoop, it looks a bit naked.

– While the LED lights up front look great, the rear of the vehicle seems a bit unremarkable without them. A similar set of tubed taillights would solve this issue instantly.

– The XT is the sportiest model of the Forester Subaru makes, yet it still looks pretty plain stylistically. A unique, XT aero package would be great to see going forward — though its status as a sleeper is commendable.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

Taking a strong pull from the same jug that the capable WRX sips from, the 2.0XT Forester is a turbocharged boxer crossover that flip-flops between quiet and confident, and raucously irreverent. At first glance, its Sport Lineartronic CVT transmission may not seem like much to mention, but put it in “S” or “S#” mode, and you will quickly realize that this isn’t your typical slushbox. Strong and succinct, this is an engine transmission setup that doesn’t bore, reinforcing the rule of thumb that the XT model is the only way to go when shopping for a Forester.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ The Forester XT’s twin-scroll, turbocharged boxer 2.0-liter offers 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, all of which is fantastically balanced.

+ While a Sport Lineartronic CVT transmission may sound droll on paper, in the real world it offers six gears of shift-ability in “S Mode” and eight options in “S# Mode,” either of which can be controlled via the Forester’s tight-snapping paddle shifters. Go ahead and jump between the two. You will feel the difference.

+ Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system continues to rule the roost, both on and off the pavement. From rainy days on the highway, to slippery slides in the mud while in “X-Mode,” there is plenty of traction to be had in the Forester, regardless of what conditions you may encounter.

– After having more fun than imaginable in the turbocharged, six-speed manual version of the Jeep Renegade, I was left a bit bored with not having a clutch to play with in Subaru’s sportiest variation of a crossover. Forester needs a manual.

– Despite all of it prowess and prestige, this version of the Forester only has a 21 mile per gallon EPA average, a number that rivals what is typically found in modern V8 and supercharged V6 cars.

– In order to get a turbocharged 2016 Forester, buyers must plop down $33,795. That’s a lot of money considering the base model with the manual gearbox we want costs just $22,395.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

Featuring an interior that is bigger than ever before thanks to its lower belt line and larger proportions, the 2016 Forester offers a truly spacious cabin along with all kinds of thoughtful touches that give this car a cockpit that is all its own. From a sunroof that is about the size of Texas and an all-weather load floor that is super low to red interior lighting and snazzy leather stitching, there is a lot to love on the inside of this clever contraption.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Roomy regardless of whether you are driving or in the backseat, with its over-sized windows all around and massive sunroof, the Forester’s cabin feels anything but restrictive with driving visibility being outstanding in nature as well.

+ Smoked dome lights, red glowing controls, heated front seats, brushed silver plastics, piano black touches, and sturdy-feeling control knobs and paddle shifters all make the XT feel like the version to buy.

+ Loads of well-placed switches and a well-designed center stack pull the eye toward the dash, a place that is enjoyable to look at during nightly escapades.

– Aluminum sport pedals, interior LED lighting, and front seats that are not ventilated are all things that a top-of-the-line model should probably have these days. The seats are heated, though.

– For as well stitched as those leather seats are, they seemed unnecessarily firm, and after a couple hours of driving you will notice this.

– There are some odd miscues on the interior outside of a few cheap plastic pieces, with the empty areas toward the bottom of the center stack and the exposed base of the steering column being two of the key offenders. Even worse is the placement of the lane departure and collision warning buttons right where the sunglasses holder belongs!

2016 Subaru Forester XT_12

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

Being that this is the Touring version of the Forester, I got to tinker with all kinds of tech-savvy Subie advancement which proved to be both clever and confounding in various forms. The Starlink hi-res audio system was fantastic, being able to pinch and zoom on maps was great, all of the app support was fantastic, and the use of Harman Kardon audio components and 4G LTE capabilities put the icing on the cake. Variable cruise control, lane departure and collision warning systems, and steering response fog lights were all present, and having a stolen vehicle recovery system was a neat feature to find on this car along with the smartphone app for unlocking and locating the vehicle. Naturally, there were a few hiccups — the automatic tailgate was a chief culprit, and not having a blind spot warning system was a surprise given how much other tech is here already.

15TDI_StarlinkKiosk005 2

Source: Subaru

Tech pros and cons

+ Apps like Pandora and Aha are nice additions to all of the MID info found above the center stack, where drivers can follow wheel torque numbers and angles, boost levels, and all manner of engine diagnostics.

+ The center storage unit may be a hair small, but it’s deep and offers two USB ports, an auxiliary jack, along with a 12V plug for good measure.

+ Harman Kardon audio components and numerous safety features from Subaru’s Eyesight system are awesome to have for the very reasonable $1,395 additional cost.

– The MID between the gauge pods is non-adjustable, so don’t bank on seeing your speed digitally with this one.

– Auto door locks and the electronic lift gate didn’t always want to engage, requiring me to manually open them the majority of the time.

– Not having a blind spot warning system on a car today is a big mark against it, especially for commuters who regularly use busy thoroughfares.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

Poised and powerful, the Forester XT is far more fun to drive than its homely appearance might suggest. With many of its components being borrowed straight from the wily WRX, you can see why. The ride is secure, even though it is higher off the ground, the brakes are solid, as they are borrowed directly from the WRX, and the 2.0-liter engine is just a joy to hammer on no matter what conditions you may find yourself in. The cabin is a hair noisy at higher speeds, and as I mentioned earlier, those leather seats could stand to be a little softer, but overall this is a great crossover for someone who enjoys driving.

Crisp responses on both the steering and throttle side of the equation, compounded by world-famous all-wheel drive capabilities, and the use of “S# Mode” for unadulterated gear shifting all add up to a pretty well-balanced automobile. Top that with some clever center stack MID tech, a navi/back-up camera with a crisp display, a well-proportioned steering wheel, and some seriously solid audio components, and the Forester XT is a joy to jump into day or night, rain or snow, mud or tarmac.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

I have always been a fan of the Forester XT, and over the years I’ve been a bit dismayed by how pedestrian-looking it has become (and that Subaru has denied us the ability to buy one with a manual gearbox). This is a car that deserves a full-blown STI incarnation, yet somehow we just ended up with CVT transmissions and a bunch of tech that is nice but primarily non-performance oriented.

But after driving the 2016 Forester XT, with its clever performance modes, additional safety features, and snazzy interior, I can safely say that I can kind of see why Subaru never felt the need to give us a STI version. Americans don’t really care about high performance crossovers like they do sports cars. So maybe by focusing on fixing the few quirky oversights I found and slight tech glitches Subaru could then offer a Forester that is headache-free. The automaker is so close to getting it right too, as this version is almost exactly on the money in every way. But with its sub-par EPA efficiency rating, slightly high sticker price, and non-sporty exterior, the regular Forester still seems like a safer bet for the money for the average buyer, especially when enthusiasts typically just go for the WRX anyway.

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