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Review: 2016 Subaru Forester for climbing mountains amid family life

2016 Subaru Forester

Neil Vorano/The Globe and Mail

Life comes at a slower pace in the Maritimes than other locales across Canada. Maybe it's the fresh sea air that calms a person's soul; maybe it's the rolling countryside and nearness to nature. Even the drivers will stop to let pedestrians cross the road; everyone has time for a friendly wave.

And so, apart from a tire blowout on a lonely country road, it all made for a relaxing drive in Subaru's compact crossover, the Forester, across New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. And the Japanese car maker took the relaxed Maritime attitude with its update of the crossover for the 2016 model year – there aren't many major changes, but little ones that make the Forester more appealing in a crowded crossover market.

2016 Subaru Forester for The Globe and Mail Neil Vorano for The Globe and Mail

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The drivetrain offerings are the same, the exterior is identical and the trim levels stay where they were. What is different is the welcome lighting, a one-touch turn signal, steering-responsive fog lights and some interior trim bits.

The biggest change, however, would be the audio systems, with a base 6.2-inch display and an optional seven-inch display, along with Bluetooth, satellite radio and the usual goodies. The larger one can be pinched and swiped like a smartphone display, making it one of the more intuitive systems on the market. Surprisingly, the base model 2.5i comes with just four speakers, but the top models rock out with a Harman Kardon eight-speaker setup.

Why just the incremental changes? The Forester comprises about a quarter of all Subaru sales in Canada (sales figures are expected to hit 15,000 this year), so the company wants to get it right. But as the saying goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And since this model debuted about two years ago, the Forester has become a solid offering, especially when you count in its all-wheel drive and stellar record of reliability. Subarus of the past were more cult favourites of the outdoors set, but the company has managed to keep those people while going more mainstream. And you just can't do that without a good product.

You'll like this car if ... You have dreams of climbing mountains amid your daily family life.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $25,995, as tested: $37,995
  • Engine: 2.5-litre boxer four-cylinder, 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged boxer four-cylinder
  • Transmission: CVT, six-speed manual
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 city; 8.6 highway, premium gas (2.0-litre)
  • Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander

RATINGS

  • Looks: In a sea of generic crossovers, the Forester doesn’t exactly stand out. That doesn’t mean it’s not a handsome car, it’s just that the segment has a common formula in its designs.
  • Interior: Subaru’s biggest drawback is its interiors; its cars suffer from mundane design and cheaper plastics here and there in the cabin, and the Forester is no different. It’s not bad, but it just feels generic.
  • Performance: The 250-horsepower 2.0-litre is a big step up in performance, though the model it’s available in is almost $10,000 more than the base 2.5i. Steering is light and the suspension soaks up bumps. The AWD offers a surefootedness even on the sloppiest, muddiest roads.
  • Technology: The steering-responsive fog lights aren’t just to help you see the road, they’re to help the Forester’s Eyesight emergency braking and adaptive cruise control system – the same system that helps the car earn a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS.
  • Cargo: You may not be Bud the Spud, but you could put a heck of a lot of potatoes into the back of this rig.

The Verdict

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8.0

A drive in the Forester will surprise a lot of people who go blindly to Honda and Toyota.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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