Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester Premier a very nice vehicle – but it isn't without its annoyances

By Jim Bray
March 17, 2022

The Subaru Forester was arguably the company's first SUV, though it may have seemed more like a tall wagon than a Sport Ute. Since then, the company has expanded its SUV offerings, but the Forester is still around and there are still a lot of things to like about it.

It's still my favourite Subaru, in fact, one which I would have put one on my short list back in the day had I been in the market. And the stuff that made that Forester so compelling then are still there: symmetrical all-wheel drive, good ground clearance, plenty of storage/hauling space and good driving dynamics.

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This current model is the fifth-generation of Forester and Subaru unleashed it on the marketplace in 2019. Typically, this means it's time for a mid-cycle refresh and that's exactly what Subaru has given it. There isn't a lot that's new, but the tweaks include a new bumper and headlights, a redesigned panel under the rear bumper and new trim around the rear window.

You also get some new materials and colours – at least you can on the top-line Premium trim level of Subaru's sample.

But this stuff is really just gilding the lily – and adding marketing opportunities for Subaru – for what was already very nearly a great car, er, SUV.

Alas, to remain competitive, Subaru has had to follow the stampede toward ever more aggressive and annoying nannies – billed as safety features – and this has led to the addition of so much crap that, having spent a week in the 2022 version, I wouldn't even head for the dealership to take a look.

Naturally, your mileage may vary, and judging from the number of Subarus I see in my own neighbourhood, obviously a lot of peoples' mileages do, in fact, vary. Fine. Be that way!

The Forester, available in trim levels of Base, Convenience, Touring, Sport, Wilderness, Limited and Premier, is a flexible enough solution that it should find broad acceptance. It has reasonable power - 182 hp @ 5800 rpm and maximum torque of 176 lb.-ft. @ 4400 rpm from its 2.5 litre direct injection, naturally aspirated (no turbo) horizontally-opposed "boxer" four-cylinder engine – and it also features one of the best CVT transmissions I've had inflicted on me. It acts almost like an honest-to-goodness automatic, even to its pretty good manual mode and paddle shifters.

CVT's usually send me heading for the hills – the way this vehicle's nannies do – but this is one with which I could actually live and drive.

The exterior is handsome and the interior is roomy and comfortable whether you're in the front or the rear seats. The driver's position is a particularly nice place to be, with a comfortable, power-adjustable seat and good access to all the controls without having to stretch too much. The Premium trim level gets an eight-inch touchscreen on the centre stack (lesser levels get a 6.5 inch one) and navigation is standard.

The screen's a tad busy for my liking – I like simple interfaces that don't require a lot of time with your eyes not on the road in order to operate it – and on this vehicle it can bite you in the buttocks when those previously pilloried "safety features" kick in.

Foresters can be obtained with Subaru's Enhanced X-MODE system, available in two versions. It's switchable via the centre console and lets you choose between snow/dirt and deep snow/mud settings. This came in very handy during my time with the Forester because we had really crummy winter conditions and the Forester proved to be wonderful on less than clean roads.

It would undoubtedly have been great without X-MODE, too, since the symmetrical all-wheel drive is an excellent place to begin anyway, but it's there and it works.

And I loved the Forester's suspension! Subaru appears to have tuned it for comfort, but that doesn't mean it wallows in the slightest. In fact, I thought the combination of extra ride height, MacPherson-type struts (with coil springs and stabilizer bar up front) and double wishbone (with coil springs and stabilizer bar "out back") toed the "wallow/whee!" line beautifully.

And now it's time to whine about the nannies. This Forester was inflicted with the latest version of Subaru's EyeSight monstrosity, apparently now updated with a wider camera view, auto emergency steering, and an electric brake booster.  The Limited and Premier models also get DriverFocus, which means the damn car actually monitors the position of your head and bitches at you if it thinks you're not looking at the road enough!  

I guess this is to prevent texting and driving, but the busy-ness of the centre stack LCD also meant the Forester would complain even when I was just looking for a virtual button to push. It is about the most annoying nannie I have ever experienced and I would be insulted to pay some forty grand for a vehicle that spends its time lecturing me on how to drive.

You can fool it – in my extreme maturity I'd drive along with my head tilted right but my eyes focused properly on the road. It fooled the Subaru every time and made me much less unhappy. Strike one blow for freedom! Next thing I'll be showing up at rallies!

There's also something called Gesture Control, and it works very well: I tried flipping the Driver Focus the bird and for some reason I couldn't lift my arm! Okay, I'm kidding.

But, yeah, I really hate this stuff. I hate even more having to pay for it when I wouldn't order the stuff in the first place.

You can turn it off, but in my experience with the Forester I had to turn the stuff off every damn time I fired up the vehicle. Talk about making something even more annoying! At least they stay off while you drive.

You also get the usual safety features that are pretty well industry-wide these days, stuff like Adaptive Cruise Control with Vehicle Hold, Pre-Collision Braking, Pre-Collision Throttle Management, Lane Centring Assist, Lane Keep Assist and Sway Warning, and Lead Vehicle Start Alert. There's also stuff like a rear-view camera, blind spot detection, etc.

Foresters start at $29,495 Canadian and you can option it up from there to the Premier trim level (starts at $40,595).

I really like the Subaru Forester, or I would if it didn't make me want to kick in its fenders every time I get out of it. But those nannies are, to me, a major deal breaker. I haven't spent 50 years honing my driving skills to have a stupid robot brain second guess me.

I have a wife for that!

It isn't just Subaru who are inflicting these annoyances on people, alas; it's pretty well industry wide. But the obtrusiveness of these ones, especially the head position monitoring – coupled with the fact that they don't stay off - makes these ones worse than most.

It's a shame, because otherwise this is a darn nice vehicle.

Copyright 2022 Jim Bray
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