Subaru Forester — Loaded with safety

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If we had to offer up an example of automotive technology trickle down we would use the 2016 Subaru Forester, one of the best small family crossovers on the market. It can be purchased with cutting-edge safety and convenience features generally not available in other mainstream vehicles at any price, and accessible only as expensive options in many higher cost cars and trucks.

Current mainstream staples such as a backup camera, keyless entry and electronic stability control belonged exclusively to high-end vehicles in the last decade. The next wave of technology now making its way to the masses includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and collision mitigation, and lane departure warning.

Count the Forester, starting at around $23,000, still ahead of the onrushing competition with a package that includes all these features for $1,895. It's called the EyeSight Driver Assist System — offered since 2014 — and can be purchased on all but the base trim level. And new for 2016, Forester models equipped with EyeSight also get another trickle-down from the luxury ranks, Steering-Responsive Fog Lights, which use the pre-aimed fog lights to individually provide enhanced illumination in the direction of a turn.

There's even more new technology available for 2016. The Safety Plus package includes SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, maintenance notifications, a monthly vehicle health report, and diagnostic alerts. For even greater peace of mind, there's an advanced package that includes a stolen vehicle recovery service, vehicle security alarm notification, remote lock/unlock, remote horn and lights and remote vehicle locator.

Even with all this good stuff at a very affordable price, Subaru inexplicably does not offer what is turning into another common and useful trickle down safety feature, blind spot monitoring.

Perhaps the biggest news for the fourth generation is that the Forester gets two new transmissions, and a new engine. The outdated four-speed automatic has been replaced with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the five-speed manual has been dropped, replaced by a new six-speed. Both transmissions yield much better fuel economy. Mated to the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the six-speed (which we also drove) is EPA-rated at 22 city/29 highway, and the CVT at 24 city/32 highway and 27 combined.

While the standard engine retains the same horsepower (170) and torque (174 pound-feet.) buyers can now opt for considerably more performance with a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pumping out 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque called the 2.0XT that should prove popular with 0-to-60 time measured in the mid-sixes.

Our 2.5i test vehicle came with the standard engine mated to the CVT, and we were impressed with its capability in all driving situations. The numbers bear out our seat-of-the-pants observations, 0-to-60 in around 8.5 seconds. The new CVT works well, a solid improvement over the outgoing four-speed.

Forester’s exterior dimensions have grown slightly with excellent headroom and rear-seat legroom up a whopping 3.7 inches. Cargo capacity has grown from 68.3 to 74.7 cubic feet.

The interior has a straight-forward appealing look. A large analog speedometer and tachometer flank an information screen that includes an odometer and gas gauge. Steering wheel controls with cruise and audio are helpful. We were impressed with the large climate control knobs, but not so much with the audio function embedded in the navigation screen. Once radio pre-sets are chosen, they can be accessed by arrows on the steering wheel. A large storage area is located on the center stack convenient for everything from a cellphone to a small purse, and includes a coin holder.

An additional dashboard feature is a small screen atop the center stack that serves as a backup camera (note the word small) and at other times dispenses such information as time, outside temperature, gas mileage and climate control settings.

The Forester comes in six trim levels starting at $23,245 and working up to the top 2.0XT Touring starting at $34,645. The Premium trim begins at $26,145, the Limited at $29,645, and the Touring with the 2.5-liter four at $31,645.

Standard equipment across the lineup is generous and includes full power accessories,  all-wheel-drive, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rearview camera, 6.2-inch touchscreen with smartphone app integration, and a four-speaker sound system with HD radio, CD player and iPod jack. Move up one trim level to 2.5i Premium at $24,320 and roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, eight-way power driver's seat, a larger 7-inch touchscreen with upgraded graphics, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio.

Our test car was the 2.5i Premium with the EyeSight system and navigation for a bottom line price of $28,540.

Base price: $23,245; as driven, $28,540
Engine: 2.5-liter flat four
Horsepower: 170 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 174 foot-pounds @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 180.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,296 pounds
Turning circle: 39.6 feet
Luggage capacity: 34.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 74.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 32 highway, 24 city, 27 combined
0-60: 8.5 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson

The Good
• All-wheel drive standard
• Roomy passenger compartment
• Cutting-edge safety available
• Improved gas mileage

The Bad
• Blind spot monitor not available

The Ugly
• Price can exceed 35 grand in top trim