2021 Subaru Forester Review

2021 Subaru Forester - Compact Subaru includes sure-footed traction


While the world wrestled with a global Pandemic in calendar year 2020, Japan's most nimble automotive company did what it does best....sell sure-footed diminutive automobiles.  

Subaru is one of a few select automotive companies whose percentage share of the U.S. automotive market actually rose from the previous 12-month period; quite an accomplishment as mass business shutdowns, supply-chain shortages and assorted job layoffs created economic havoc.  

The miniscule movement measured a mere 0.1 percent higher; but a jolt in the right direction none the less. As of December 2020, Subaru's percentage of the U.S. auto market reached 4.2 percent.  A decade earlier the number rested at 2.3 percent.

Subaru never swayed from its core beliefs of long-term target marketing, simple, easy-to-remember tag lines and a lineup of all-wheel drive products welcome for those residing in the upper Midwest.

While total U.S. sales did drop by 12 percent in 2020 (to 611,942 units), the drop measured less than many of its larger rivals.

One way Subaru stands apart; a pared-down lineup of midsized or smaller vehicles.  No pickup trucks or un-garage-able, body-on-frame Sport Utility Vehicles reach dealerships. Instead, expect sedans, wagons and five-door crossovers designed to grip and priced within the middle class mindset.

All-wheel drive comes standard in every Subaru, save for its low-volume two-seat BRZ outlier.  However, not every all-wheel drive system is created equally and Subaru offers several technically divergent all-wheel drive opportunities depending upon the model selected.  

The symmetrical all-wheel drive standard in our Forester tester couples with a CVT automatic transmission to continually power all four wheels and automatically transfer torque to the wheels with the best grip. The torque split gets based upon feedback from acceleration, deceleration and available traction.

Look under the hood for another Subaru fun fact.  All vehicles boast horizontally-opposed, longitudinally-mounted four-cylinder 'Boxer' engines, also known as 'flat four' where pistons situate flat at 180 degrees, riding shallower in the upfront engine compartment. This results in a lower center of gravity translating to enhanced and notable handling and agility.

The 'Subaru Loves Pets' marketing initiative encourages pet adoptions and lends a helping paw to potential pet parents pondering a pooch. A series of canine-intensive, low dialogue,  slice-of-life TV ads dove tail with pet adoption road shows popping up at major auto shows throughout the year, including Chicago's summer of 2021 special edition.

Subaru's best-selling vehicle for a number of years here in the states has been its compact five-door, five-passenger Forester, accounting for approximately 20 percent of sales. It's currently enjoying a fifth generation cycle launched in the 2019 model year.  Expect minimal updates in 2021 save for adoptive LED headlamps and a visual/audio 'check the back seat' reminder when switching off the engine.

Returning with five trim level choices (Base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring); a base Forester starts at $24,795 with standard all-wheel drive, competitive within the segment. The fully-loaded top-tier Touring offers no factory option package while the four lower trims each offer one package apiece easing the dealership transaction process.

Our 'Sport' tester included a $29,395 starting price and a $32,090 bottom line while featuring the one available option package ($1,645) and $1,050 destination fee.   The package featured a power rear lift gate with adjustable height memory, upgraded nine-speaker sound system and reverse automatic braking. The power lift gate comes standard in Limited and Touring models.

Sport trims include orange spot color swaths gracing lower side cladding, front and back bumpers along with top-side roof rails. Inside, this same hue highlights side air vents and console between front buckets.

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder Boxer represents the sole powertrain opportunity in all trims pumping out a respectable 182 horses and connects up with a continuously variable transmission.  In general CVT's prioritize fuel economy over sportsmanship with their extensive range of gear ratios rather than four or five planetary forward gears. Forester's CVT is no exception.

The engine also takes a short 'nap' at prolonged red stoplights to conserve fuel and jumps back awake when lifting the right foot off the brake pedal.  This standard star/stop technology may also be switched off via a dashboard button.

Forester earns high marks for a goodly number of radar-centric safety features standard in all trims, marketed under the 'Eyesight' umbrella. This includes lane keep assist, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control which automatically and conveniently speeds and slows based on the distance of the vehicle in front.  Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert come standard in Sport, Limited and Touring trims.

The fuel tank holds 16.6 gallons of regular unleaded and MPG numbers checking in at 26 miles per gallon city and 33 highway, decent considering standard all-wheel drive which historically lowers such estimates.

With a generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance, its stance is high enough to tackle gentle off-roading and convenient enough to make entry and exit a breeze.  Plus elongated side windows coupled with a low belt line and large rear gate glass minimize blind spots when piloting. It measures in as one of the roomiest compact crossovers allowing three adults in row two thanks to 40 inches of leg room and a spacious 76.1 cubic feet of cargo volume with second-row seats folded.

Higher level Forester trims include X-Mode standard; it's a software program assisting the powertrain during off-road situations. A button push summons lower gear ratios to generate extra low-speed power, minimize wheel slip and summon hill decent control by automatically applying the brake during steep downhill inclines. However, only "Sport" trims add a Dual Mode X-Mode version with a deep snow/mud setting when extra wheel spin is desired to maneuver out of an assortment of drifts. Think of Forester as a compact-sized light-duty, off-road companion.

The topside center dashboard includes a deep-set, brimmed, rectangular, multi-paneled digital display window controlled via a steering wheel button stationed at three o' clock. It's a separate unit from the mid-size 8.0-inch in-dash touch-sensitive screen primarily operating the sound system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibilities and Bluetooth technology standard across all trims and working in tandem with downloadable phone apps.  The colorful in-dash screen includes large icons and a crisp, high-resolution rear-view camera feed with a pair of sizeable tactile twist dials controlling volume and selections.

Below the screen reside three tactile twist dials with interior push plates controlling HVAC controls. An electronic push button start button locates on the dash right of the steering column.

2021 Subaru Forester

Price as tested:  $32,090

Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder

Horsepower: 182

Wheelbase: 105.1 inches

Overall length:  182.1 inches

Overall width: 81.3 inches

Overall height:  68.1inches

Powertrain warranty:  Five years/60,000 miles

Fuel economy:   26 mpg city 33 mpg highway

Assembly:  Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.