2013 Subaru Forester SUV - FROM $21,295
It's neither the most efficient nor the most luxurious small crossover available, but the Subaru Forester will hold special appeal for those drivers who frequently enjoy the great outdoors.
What's New for 2013
For 2013, every Subaru Forester comes standard with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, as well as an iPod/USB audio interface. A new touchscreen audio system interface is also now available.
Small SUVs are primarily suburban runabouts. They need to have room for the kids, a Bluetooth connection for the phone and an elevated ride height for that commanding view of the road. Some are even designed for style or sporty handling. But tackling the great outdoors? That's pretty much unheard of these days. Yet the 2013 Subaru Forester remains a notable exception.
A rock crawler it is not, but its standard all-wheel-drive system that constantly shunts power to each wheel (rather than reacting when the front wheels slip) is well-suited for muddy fields or light sand. Should you actually encounter a few rocks, the Forester provides about 2 more inches of ground clearance than the average small crossover. It's well suited for the things you bring along as well, with a huge cargo area and especially useful roof rails that make it easier to carry bikes, kayaks or whatever other outdoorsy leisure equipment you might possess.
What's more, the Forester is an appealing choice even if the closest you'll ever get to the great outdoors is watching the movie starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. It has the aforementioned suburban-friendly attributes, plus handling that's in fact quite sporty. And that huge cargo area is just as good at bringing home a TV from Best Buy as it is hauling camping gear from Yosemite.
Now, the 2013 Subaru Forester does have its drawbacks. The cabin is down-market compared to competitors like the Ford Escape, GMC Terrain and Honda CR-V, with cheaper plastics and some questionable fit and finish. Its four-speed automatic transmission also sets it back in terms of fuel economy and acceleration. True, the turbocharged 2.5XT model is one of the quickest in the class, but the base four-cylinder is one of the slowest.
If you find this problematic but still like the Forester's outdoorsy resume, we suggest checking out the similarly priced Subaru Outback, which features a more refined interior and a more advanced transmission. It doesn't provide that same high-up commanding view, but it's got the same ground clearance, the same all-wheel-drive system and even more cargo capacity. So whether you're looking for something that can take you fly fishing or simply want a pick that will comfortably take the kids to school, Subaru at least gives you two solid choices.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Subaru Forester is a compact crossover SUV available in six trim levels: 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, 2.5X Limited, 2.5X Touring, 2.5XT Premium and 2.5XT Touring. The X and XT indicate different engines.
Standard equipment on the 2.5X includes 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Alloy Wheel package adds 16-inch alloy wheels and roof rails.
The 2.5X Premium adds on 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, upgraded exterior trim, roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, an eight-way power driver seat (plus two-way lumbar), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a reclining rear seat. The 2.5XT Premium is virtually identical, but has a more powerful engine and isn't eligible for the following options. The All-Weather package (standard with the manual transmission, optional with the automatic) adds heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. The Plus package adds foglamps and a touchscreen audio system interface. A TomTom-sourced navigation system can be integrated into this interface.
The 2.5X Limited comes standard with the automatic transmission and the above packages. It also adds automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a cargo area tray, a rearview camera and a six-speaker sound system that adds iTunes tagging capability.
The 2.5X Touring adds xenon headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a one-touch folding rear seatback, upgraded gauges and a subwoofer for the six-speaker sound system. Besides its engine, the 2.5XT Touring is virtually identical.
The 2.5X Limited and both Touring trims can be equipped with a different navigation system that includes a larger touchscreen display and satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2013 Subaru Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive. The 2.5X trims feature a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (or "boxer") four-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission with a hill holder function is standard on the 2.5X and 2.5 Premium trims. A four-speed automatic is optional on those trims and standard on the others. In Edmunds performance testing, a 2.5X with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 10.1 seconds, which makes it one of the slowest small crossovers. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined regardless of transmission.
The 2.5XT trims get a turbocharged version of that same engine. It produces 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. The four-speed automatic is standard. In Edmunds testing, it hit 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which actually makes it one of the quickest small crossovers. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19/24/21.
Every 2013 Subaru Forester includes antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is optional. In Edmunds brake testing, the Forester came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, an average distance.
In government crash testing, the Forester received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for frontal protection and four stars for side protection. In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Forester received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2013 Subaru Forester features a pleasantly styled and highly functional cabin design, though materials quality is mediocre and fit and finish is a little hit-or-miss. Controls are at least straightforward for the most part, and easy to access. What the Forester lacks in interior ambience, however, it makes up for by being one of the most spacious vehicles in the segment. Like the Honda CR-V and Kia Sorento, it straddles the line between compact and midsize SUVs.
The Forester's split-folding rear seat with optional reclining seatbacks deserves special mention here. The term "throne" appropriately describes this seat, as the cushion is so high that rear passengers will feel as though they're looking down on those in front. All but the longest of leg will actually be able to rest their hamstrings flush against the cushion -- a rarity in motorized conveyances without wings or bathrooms. The middle rear seat, however, is compromised by its dual purpose as an armrest and cupholder, making it more of a hard, segmented bench.
The cargo area is generous, boasting 33.5 cubic feet of space with the 60/40-split rear seatback raised and 68.3 cubes with it folded. The Forester's boxy shape also makes it well suited for hauling large bulky objects.
The 2013 Subaru Forester has much better outward visibility than you'll find in its sleeker rivals. Wind noise is detectable, but not any more intrusive than is typical for this type of vehicle. The Forester's crisp steering and tight turning circle make it surprisingly maneuverable in close quarters, while its all-wheel-drive system and generous ground clearance lend it a fair amount of off-road capability. One of the most comfortable rides in the segment is another boon.
The Forester's spongy brake feel and powertrain options are less praiseworthy. While the 2.5XT's turbocharged four-cylinder makes the Forester one of the swiftest SUVs in its class, the base four-cylinder is one of the slowest. Fuel economy is also unremarkable. Much of the blame can be placed on the four-speed automatic transmission, which is practically an antique given that even five-speed automatics are now behind the times.