I keep hearing such good things about the Subaru Forester: It gets a 5-star rating in government crash tests, and it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, so it’s hard to beat for safety. Forester owners I’ve talked to seem to love theirs. I wanted to try it out for myself, though, especially since my husband and I are in the market for a secondary car to replace our existing Honda Civic. Could the Forester be a contender?
Here’s a quick video overview, with more detailed information below.
Vehicle Features and Driving
I drove the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited for a week. As I’ve mentioned in other vehicle reviews, I’m not a “car person” in the sense that I know a lot about fuel injectors or rear suspension. But I do know what I like, and I like a vehicle that feels responsive, as the Forester does.
First, this thing has amazing acceleration. I’d barely touch the gas pedal and it would take off—but not in a bad way. It was nice knowing I could pull out into traffic without worrying about my engine lagging behind. I didn’t do anything crazy, but it handled turns nicely, too. I’m not the kind of person who typically says, “Wow, I really enjoyed driving that,” but I really enjoyed driving that.
The safety features are a big consideration with the Subaru. Foresters equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight technology earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick+. (Foresters without EyeSight are still a Top Safety Pick, just not a “plus.”) EyeSight technology is available on mid-level trim options, which is nice considering that some manufacturers offer similar safety packages only on their top trim levels.
EyeSight includes a frontal crash avoidance system that alerts drivers (through a sound and a dashboard light) when they get dangerously close to a vehicle or object in front of them. If necessary, the vehicle will apply the brakes to avoid or minimize a collision. Also included with EyeSight is a lane departure warning. If the vehicle detects dedicated lanes in the road, it can alert drivers when they veer over the lines.
The warning systems in the Forester seemed a bit more subtle than in some other cars I’ve tested. They’re still noticeable but not startling.
The Adaptive Cruise Control, which allows you to set your speed but then slows down or stops the car based on traffic ahead of it, worked perfectly the few times I tried it out. You can adjust your following distance (close, far, or in between) to your preference.
The only feature the Forester lacked that I would have appreciated is a blind-spot detection/avoidance system.
One other nice safety feature of the Forester was adaptive headlights. My husband took the car out at night and came home to report that the headlights were flashing on and off. After doing some research, we realized it was actually the fog lights. When the headlights are on and the car turns or goes around curves, the fog light on that side of the vehicle lights up to give the driver a better view and a bit more reaction time in case something is around the bend. We were surprised that even just a slight turn of the steering wheel would activate the lights—it worked even on very subtle curves in the road, not just on tight curves. I wouldn’t say the feature was distracting, per se, but it was unusual for us. I’m sure it’s the kind of thing we would have gotten used to and not even noticed after a while.
The Forester’s fuel economy is 24 MPG city/32 MPG highway, for a combined MPG of
Car Seats and Kids
The rear seat has three seating positions with lap-shoulder belts. The outboard seats each have a full set of LATCH (lower anchors and top tethers), while the center position has a top tether anchor.
Like many small/midsize SUVs and sedans, the Forester’s back seat isn’t particularly wide. Two passengers (in car seats or not) can fit easily in the outboard seats. The tricky thing is fitting someone/something in the center. That seating position is quite narrow, especially with car seats or other people in the outboard seats. My 11-year-old was able to squeeze in there, but not happily, with car seats on both sides of him. Here are my three kids, in a backless Graco TurboBooster, a seatbelt, and a Diono Pacifica.
Getting three car seats in there is possible, but not easy. I was able to come up with a couple scenarios using the seats I had on-hand, and there are probably more possibilities that use seats I didn’t have. Part of my problem is that I needed to have a booster (and my seatbelt-only kid) in the mix, which makes things harder because kids need room to access the seatbelt buckles. Certain combinations of three narrow harnessed seats (like Diono convertibles, the clek foonf or fllo, or something like the Cosco Scenera NEXT) would probably work.
I had some “success” with the Cybex Soultion Q-Fix, a BubbleBum, and a Pacifica. I put “success” in quotes, because you can see that the large side bolsters on the Q-Fix would make things pretty uncomfortable for a kid riding in the BubbleBum. However, you can see that a booster without the giant sides would probably work quite nicely there. (You’d want to make sure to reattach the center headrest, too.)
With the Pacifica and an IMMI Go, there’s a decent amount of room on the side, where a narrow-ish seat (or an adult/child who passes the 5-step test) could probably fit.
I did manage to get a decent 3-across with a TurboBooster, the Pacifica, and a Joovy Doll Seat 😉
In non-three-across situations, I really didn’t run into any issues. Everything I tried fit quite nicely. The Diono Pacifica did need the optional Angle Adjuster to give front seat passengers enough room, but that’s typical with that car seat.
Even though they’re very narrow seats, you can see that the Combi Coccoro and the Pacifica don’t leave much room for anything else, although a seatbelted person or a kid in a BubbleBum might fit okay.
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight fit rear-facing in a more upright position with plenty of room for the front passenger.
The GB Asana also fit fine with room for the front passenger.
The top tether anchors are located on the back of the seats and are easily accessible. My only real complaint is that the lower anchors are located behind fabric panels, which makes the anchors difficult to access. It was a minor annoyance when using regular LATCH straps, but was a more significant annoyance when using rigid LATCH because it was hard to access both anchors at once. When I installed the clek oobr and Cybex Q-Fix I needed to spread the fabric and partially insert each connector, then push them on somewhat blindly since I couldn’t see where the anchors were, especially not at the same time.
The anchors are also located higher than the seat bight which didn’t really prove to be a problem, but you can see how the Q-Fix’s connectors are angled significantly upward.
The Forester manual DOES allow borrowing outboard anchors for use in the center, but ONLY if the child restraint also allows it. (The distance between the anchors is greater than the standard 11 inches, so keep that in mind, too, when determining if your child restraint allows borrowing anchors in the center.)
Subaru says to raise the center headrest when installing child restraints in that position. The manual also says to remove the outboard headrests in the outboard positions to allow the top tether to attach properly. (Removing the headrests also tends to allow child restraints to sit more flush against the back seat.)
Comfort and Convenience
The adults had no complaints about comfort. The driver’s seat included power adjustments for the usual positions, including height (which I appreciate as a shorter person).
There is a center console, which isn’t the biggest I’ve ever seen but is pretty standard for the size of the vehicle. There’s also a little cubby under the dashboard in the center, which was nice for sunglasses, hand sanitizer, and other little things once might need quick access to.
The touchscreen for navigation, audio, etc. was straightforward and easy to use. I was able to pair my phone via Bluetooth in a matter of seconds and had no issue playing my music through the car’s sound system.
We did run into some difficulties changing the time. (We had the car during the Daylight Savings switch.) On the touch screen, we were able to set our time zone, and toggle between “on,” “off,” or “auto” for Daylight Savings. None of those settings wound up changing the time displayed on the dashboard. (My husband leafed through the manual while I was driving and saw that changing the time would have involved finding and pushing buttons somewhere. I meant to go back and figure it out, but I never did.)
I consider the cargo space reasonable-to-generous for this size vehicle.
There’s also a small bit of storage that can be accessed by lifting the floorboard (which I forgot to take a photo of). It’s not a huge space, but it was perfect for storing the headrests that I removed for car seat installations.
- Lots of safety features: adaptive cruise control, adaptive headlights, front-collision avoidance, lane departure warning
- Easily accessible top tether anchors
- Excellent Crash Test Results
- Good cargo space
- Lots of pep in the drive
- Very narrow center position in the back seat
- Fabric-covered lower anchors
- No blind-spot detection
The Subaru Forester is a solid, no-nonsense vehicle. It’s going for substance, not flash, and I appreciate that in a safe family vehicle. I like that its EyeSight safety features are available on mid-range trim levels, and it was an absolute pleasure to drive. A family with one or two kids would likely find a Forester a formidable option. It’s possible, but not easy, to fit three kids in the back, and that becomes even more difficult once one of the kids needs access to seatbelt buckles, so keep that in mind as you think about your growing family.
I drove the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited with the added multimedia and EyeSight packages. MSRP for the model I had is $31,790.
Other than getting use of the vehicle for a week, CarseatBlog did not receive any compensation for this review, and all opinions expressed are my own.
I believe that 2017 models have blind spot detection option.
The Outback is even more carseat friendly too! Love it!
FYI: It depends on what seats though and where you need the space. Assuming the Outback’s 2016 ceiling height is still shorter than the Forester (like in 2015), the Forester is better for tall boosters (unfortunately, a lot of vehicles don’t like tall boosters, especially with this slanting ceiling trend). But the outback is wider, right, so better for 3 across. Subaru, please oh please make a vehicle with both the height and the width! 🙂 I’d love something that fits both tall seats and does 3 across better.
This link shows how the lower anchor covers fold down in an Impreza which works the same as in the Forester: http://www.edmunds.com/subaru/impreza/2012/long-term-road-test/2012-subaru-impreza-latch-anchors.html
The lower anchors are actually SUPER easy to access. The fabric covering is attached with velcro at the top. If you just tug on the flap, the whole thing folds down so you have a big open hole to access the anchors.
This is what I was scrolling down to say. You just open the fabric flap and the anchor is right there. Also, check out the fabric flaps over the buckles, allowing you to hide extra buckles out of the way when not in use. For example, when only using the outboard positions, you can let that shoulder belt retract into the ceiling (detach from left seat buckle with key) and lift the fabric flaps to rotate both middle position buckles into the seat, allowing the outboard buckles more flexibility and making it really easy to buckle boosters into them.