By on October 16, 2015

2016SubaruForesterXT_(3_of_14)

2016 Subaru Forester XT

2-liter DOHC horizontally opposed 4, intercooled/turbocharged (250 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm; 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 2,000-4,800 rpm)

Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual modes, all-wheel drive

23 city/28 highway/25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

24.6 mpg on the 65/35 city/hwy “getting lost in suburbia” cycle (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: 7-inch Starlink Multimedia Navigation, EyeSight Driver-Assist System, Steering Responsive Fog Lights, Auto Dimming Compass Mirror.

Base Price (Forester XT): $34,645*

As Tested Price: $36,250*

* All prices include $850 destination fee.

According to my nephew and me: If one is good then 100 is a good place to start.

My nephew is 11. I’m 33. Hopefully his gene pool is deeper than mine. But excess is extra good in my life. I appreciate a larger-than-I-need TV most nights and not one, but two, cheeseburgers in my value meals sometimes. If a Forester is good then a turbo Forester must be great according to my juvenile definition of the world.

Already one of the best crossovers on the market, the Forester actually benefits from Subaru’s glacial powertrain pace: flat-four up front, all-wheel drive underneath — and they’ll check back sometime during the next decade. The naturally aspirated, older 2.5-liter flat four does work in pedestrian Foresters; its 170 horsepower is competent like gas station coffee. Force feeding 80 more ponies — to a total of 250 for the turbo XT — should make the Forester better. It could, right?

I’ll put it this way: Does gas station creamer make gas station coffee better?

The turbo Forester certainly isn’t boring. It possess a rare quality of a car that pushes you back into forgettable seats and begs questions such as: “Wait. What car am I in again?” For the difference between what’s expected and what’s received, the Forester wins the Susan Boyle Surprise Award this year. (The same could be said for a Dodge Omni GLH.)

This year, calling the new Fozzy a “new Forester” could be an oxymoron. This year’s improvements include a telematics Starlink system to call for help if you find a ditch — and that’s it.

2016SubaruForesterXT.0047.151015

Exterior
If you’re not in love with the looks, you’re not alone. The Forester doesn’t sport the same aggressive lines as a Ford Escape — or any Hyundai/Kia for that matter — but the compact crossover segment has good looks like Kansas has interesting geography. Spend a minute looking at the outside and you’ll get the gist.

2016SubaruForesterXT_(11_of_14)The front of the Forester XT is decidedly tamer than what I expected for the turbocharged model. Despite sporting an intercooler and forced induction over the base model, the hood is the same this time around — no scoop.

The lone visual cue that this car may be different than the naturally aspirated model is the lower front fascia. A black chin strap on the Forester XT is the only indicator that this car may possibly be different.

The front’s bulbous lower doesn’t seem to match the upper half, and I’m inclined to call it Toyota-esque. Nonetheless, the Forester’s rear end doesn’t appear to bring up the side, so we’ll call the whole car’s exterior execution “understated.”

The good news is that the Forester’s sheet metal doesn’t match its mettle. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance is still shockingly good and the low belt line serves its purpose inside — not out. At just around 180 inches long, the Forester sports roughly the same dimensions as every other CUV on the market — including the Volkswagen Tiguan. (Mark’s review of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has me seeing Tiguans everywhere, apparently.)

2016SubaruForesterXT_(14_of_14)

Interior
The Subie’s interior is the Leatherman tool of cars; exactly what you need — with a little bit of polish — and nothing you don’t. The stitched wheel, for example, is a nice-looking piece that completely covers up the fact that it’s a normal-feeling wheel.

Similarly, the gray stitching around our black leather seating (standard on Touring models, and not available on other models) broke up the sea of black associated with Subaru interiors, but the seats were merely adequate — two hours in the car felt like a night on an army cot.

2016SubaruForesterXT.0134.151015Even in the Touring XT model like our tester, which tops the Forester range, the car showed its budget roots. The smallish, black-and-white LCD screen tucked into the center of the instrument cluster — which displays gear, fuel and mileage — doesn’t get replaced regardless of whether you’re spending $23,000 or $40,000 for the car.

But the function of the interior comes alive when you start stuffing dogs, gear, people, bikes, kayaks, people, gear and more dogs inside. The Forester’s 34.4 cubes is roughly the same size as the Ford Escape’s (34.3) but smaller than the Honda CR-V’s (35.2) and Toyota Rav4’s (38.4). It also sports a wide rear cargo opening to use the space. Fold-flat, 60/40 split rear seats help when gear outweighs people and more people. With the seats down, the Forester expands to 74.7 cubic feet of space, more than the Escape (67.8), the CR-V (70.9), Mazda CX-5 (64.8) and Rav4 (73.4).

2016SubaruForesterXT.0133.151015Notes worth mentioning:
• The window switches are placed farther from the driver’s door arm rest and tilted toward the driver requiring you to take your eyes off the road and actually look for the window switch you want to use.
• The new StarLink buttons placed above the driver’s head are too small and less integrated than, say, OnStar’s.
• The small coin tray in the arm rest makes it difficult to reach the available 12-volt and two USB ports tucked into the armrest.
• The switchgear can be confusing. On the steering wheel, there are two SI Drive buttons, one to switch between “Sport” and “Intelligent” mode, and another to switch between “Sport Sharp” and “Intelligent” modes. What about one button to switch between all three? And the X-Drive (Subaru’s off-road program) button has two big silver buttons, only one of which is an actual button that can be depressed.
• When equipped with EyeSight, the sun visors are comically small. With plastic extenders, they’ll work, but my rough measurement would say they’re 16-inches long at best.

2016SubaruForesterXT.0098.151015Infotainment
Subaru finally got the memo and severely upgraded its infotainment system two years ago starting with the Legacy, and it’s finally trickled into smaller cars such as the Impreza and Forester.

That system has been extensively covered, and isn’t technically new, but it is worth pointing out that the 6.1-inch and 7-inch screens are different experiences. The 7-inch screen, fitted in our Forester XT, is the vastly superior model and — in my opinion — worth it even if it means stepping up to Premium and higher trims to get.

The Touring models get a 440-watt Harman/Kardon audio system that for a semi-premium sounds remarkably good. The Forester lets in a fair bit of wind and whistle at highway speeds so it’s worth turning up the tunes.

The StarLink navigation pinches, swipes and slides, and is the best system I’ve found outside of Apple CarPlay that doesn’t cost silly money.

2016SubaruForesterXT_(13_of_14)

Powertrain
The Forester XT comes with Subaru’s turbo’d four that produces 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of twist — only 18 horses short of the WRX. Any comparisons between the two should probably stop there, but they won’t so we can’t.

Both feature similar suspension setups — McPhersons up front, double wishbones and coils in the back (the WRX inverted its struts this year to accommodate bigger wheels), and identical all-wheel drive systems when equipped with an automatic transmission. (The WRX can be had with a manual, which is a different system, whereas there’s no way to get a turbocharged Forester with a stick … yet.)

The Forester’s power isn’t what I’d call linear. The engine huffs for a couple ticks at the low end before the turbo spools up and delivers all the power in one satisfying rush. The CVT simulates gear steps, and will run the Forester up to its 6,000 rpm redline, but the boost runs out of ideas well before that.

Subaru doesn’t advertise 0-60 mph times for the Forester XT, but our clock consistently showed runs up to a-mile-a-minute in just over 6.5 seconds — regardless of drive mode selected. The runs from 20-60 mph were considerably quicker.

The WRX sheds 1.5 seconds off the 0-60 mph time (due partly to its 174-pound diet) but also because its power is more direct and quicker off the line. The Forester XT isn’t the Forester STI — at least not yet.

2016SubaruForesterXT_(8_of_14)

Drive
A Forester with more power isn’t the best Forester of all. Despite having a significant power difference over the base model, the 80 additional horsepower in the Forester XT won’t be used for sporty track drives. The steering is too boosted, the ride is too tall and the power comes on too quickly for the Forester to be anything more than amusing — not necessarily sporty.

Instead, the Forester XT is a better option for the “every options ticked” kind of buyer. You know the kind; the person who actually orders Showtime on his cable package because it’s nice to “have the option.”

A base model Forester is more than capable of pulling out of a snow storm, up a canyon and into wintery hell, so much so that it should be on the Colorado state flag. But, admittedly, the base, older 2.5-liter flat-four won’t blow any doors off the line.

The Forester XT compensates for that power loss in a very respectable way. The fuel economy penalty is minimal (27 combined vs. 25 combined), although the XT drinks premium fuel.

But for $3,900 over the same model, the XT doesn’t present a better value in terms of capability or performance. The Forester is good enough.

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53 Comments on “2016 Subaru Forester XT Review – More Isn’t Always More...”


  • avatar

    In a world of mediocre crossovers

    There can only be one to rule them all.

    • 0 avatar
      360joules

      And that CUV rhymes with CRV. My mother is on her second Forester and her fourth Subaru. So many nice things that I have say about Forester but she bought the 1 recent model year with a defective clutch design that has become an agonizing Hell with her independent import mechanic (dude made E36 ownership affordable and can replace a Subaru HG at a shockingly affordable rate).

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I’d argue the XT is aimed squarely at the Subaru buyer out West, where the forced induction can help out at higher altitudes. Aside from that, I’d agree the best value in a Forester is at the lower end of the scale, either a totally stripped out stick shift variant or a “premium” with heated cloth seats.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      And I agree. Lots of Subarus in the Rocky Mountain corridor and green dealers to support them.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I’m going to agree as well. Where turbo serves best is at high altitudes where all engines tend to lose about 30% of their power and sometimes more.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Speaking of premium, does the XT still require it?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Yes. Although a good deal less of it. The old-school EJ255/4-speed version was rated at 17/24 and struggles to live up to it. The new one is rated at 23/28. That’s a massive difference, especially in the city.

      • 0 avatar
        kurtamaxxguy

        Subaru states the ’14 XT with the FA20 engine will run on regular, but with less power/MPG. Estimates I’ve read elsewhere suggest 15 – 25% power/mpg loss on regular .vs. premium.
        Earlier Foresters required Premium due to the EJ25’s series cooling (cylinder #3 ran hot and would per-detonate on anything but premium fuel). The current STI still uses the EJ25.

  • avatar

    Did they finally move the damn trunk light off the floor and onto the ceiling so it can be used to illuminate that area when you actually put something back there. That has to be the most idiotic design flaw I’ve seen in a long while. So simple yet so annoyingly useless.

  • avatar
    gasser

    My sister has a 2002 Forester turbo/automatic, now with 150,000 miles. Admittedly she is a “flat lander” living on Long Island. However, the only repair in 12+ years was a leaking valve cover gasket. Sign me up for value like that!!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I think you’re underrating the usefulness of the extra power for Forester buyers, who are significantly more likely than the average joe either to live in the mountains or to take their vehicles there regularly. I’m very glad to have my XT’s turbo when climbing. The car doesn’t feel unnecessarily powerful, but manages to maintain 70 mph without drama up steep passes at altitude where the NA version would be screaming near redline or driving much slower.

    I agonized over whether to choose a manual or turbo Forester, and every time I take it skiing or hiking I’m glad I chose the turbo.

  • avatar
    MUSASHI66

    They are just freaking expensive in the XT trim. You need to spend $3900 extra for the Turbo which is ridiculous. My lease will be up in about a year or so, and I am debating a cheap car large enough for dogs + used Abarth 500 for fun, or a nicer car that is sporty enough and large enough for dogs.

    Forster is border line large enough – Outback would be much better. Why they don’t offer Outback with this engine, and why they are sticking with the H6 is beyond me. I drove the new WRX and I love it, and I hoped that this Forester would be a big box version of it, but it doesn’t seem like that is the case. That leaves me searching for my perfect car yet again.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      If you live in a major Subaru market (PNW, Colorado, New England) you can get some very good deals on higher-end trims. I have the previous-generation XT Touring and paid roughly X Touring money for it.

      They have gotten more expensive with EyeSight and new infotainment options but the discounts are still there.

      • 0 avatar
        MUSASHI66

        Well, Heuberger in Colorado Spring advertises their firm prices online, and they give a $2200 discount on XT Premium and $2500 discount on XT Touring.

        Not a bad discount, but you get similar deals on non-XT models as well, so you still end up with $3000-ish price difference between non-turbo and XT.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Here in Maine, friend of mine bought one of the first 2016 Touring Premiums off the truck, and he still got something like $2500 off on it. Assume that is a decent deal.

        I find it to be a very unrefined and stodgy lump of a car, though I appreciate the airy greenhouse. Also exceedingly annoying that you need an external tool to register the TPMS sensors when swapping from summer to winter wheels and tires – dealer wants $50 to do it. Even my 2008 Saab had self-learning sensors!

        I call it the “Lesbo Love Wagon” to wind him up. When he was car shopping he kept saying one of his criteria was something the ladies would like. Which he accomplished, except they are mostly ladies who like other ladies.

    • 0 avatar
      sliken

      I agree, it’s sad how expensive the XT costs. I had a WRX then needed some extra space and traded up to the XT for not much more. Seems like a comparable xt costs another $10k now. I was pretty shocked to find the BMW X1 is approximately the cost of the Forester XT.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    $36K omg! So much money for a Forester. 3.6R Limited Outback money, including $3000 moonroof package.

    OMG!

    • 0 avatar
      EAF

      That’s 4Runner money! I want a 2015 4Runner soooo bad. :-(

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The 4Runner is much more car than this thing, true. It’s just in a little class all by itself now since it’s so truck-y. The truck nature of it relegates it to a niche in the market, even though the nameplate has a lot of pull.

      • 0 avatar
        DanHumphrey

        You and me both! Is there a reason you want a ’15 instead of a ’16? A difference I should be aware of? Was going to go shopping end of the year…

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      If you don’t need tiny and the difference in economy, *definitely get the Outback*.

      My parents have a new 3.6R Limited, and it’s probably honestly a better value than my XC70, even if it has a wee bit less power and a CVT.

      I don’t know about Forester interiors, but the 3.6R Limited’s interior is actually really nice.

  • avatar
    wannabe

    I agree with dal20402 completely. I have a 2014 XT Touring without the EyeSight package (I just couldn’t see spending the add’l $2400 which would have make the vehicle very expensive for what it is). The turbo is appreciated when climbing, maintaining 75mph with cargo on long trips, or loaded with five people and stuff in the back, or even merging onto highways here on Long Island where we have a lot of very short on-ramps, lots of traffic and an overabundance of aggressive drivers. Around town, the car behaves and drinks fuel like a small 4-cylinder engine, but there’s that reserve of power available when you need it. I have no illusions about it’s looks, cheap-ish interior or sporting pretensions. It’s a Swiss Army knife.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Must be nice to have that fuel economy from the new-gen engine and CVT. My 2013 XT gets worse mileage in most situations (even city) than my 380 hp, 4400 lb, V-8 powered LS460.

  • avatar
    orangefruitbat

    As a happy 2014 Forester XT owner out in western Canada, I definitely appreciate the extra power when going up and over mountain passes, passing RVs and trailers. Makes long drives much better.

    Another thing which your review missed is that the suspension is considerably firmer versus the non-turbo model. It’s not a sports car by any means, but I definitely appreciate it versus the mush, body-rolling suspension in the base model.

    Another aspect that should be mentioned (and this applies to both the turbo and base models) is that Foresters probably have the best rear window disability of any vehicle in their class. Shorter drivers (like my wife) definitely appreciated this versus competitors like the CX-5 (which was more fun to drive, but lost in the aggregate in our analysis).

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Already one of the best crossovers on the market…”

    This statement worth explanation and argument. Depends how you look at it. If for the 3 year lease, fire and forget sort of deal, yes, it is. But if you like to own your car for 10 or more years, may be – not.

  • avatar

    >>>the Forester wins the Susan Boyle Surprise Award this year.

    Great line!

    As for styling, mean and aggressive is not Subaru’s style! (HELLCAT!) But the Forester looked more appropriate when it was still the automotive equivalent of the plaid flannel shirt. These newer ones are bland.

  • avatar
    red60r

    The takeoff lag is either in the turbo spinup time or the CVT. Either way, annoying in the sample I tested in Colorado’s mile-high thin air. The biggest downer is the front seat design — too small, too thin for road trips. Luckily, our 11-year-old XS (non-turbo) Forester is still chugging. Long may it rule.

  • avatar
    wmba

    An engine in search of a CUV. Bad seats, somewhat bouncy, dark cheap interior to dampen any cheery thoughts on a bright day, fizzy engine.

    “• The switchgear can be confusing. On the steering wheel, there are two SI Drive buttons, one to switch between “Sport” and “Intelligent” mode, and another to switch between “Sport Sharp” and “Intelligent” modes.”

    They switch from Simulated 6 speed back to CVT (Sport button), and Simulated 8 speed back to CVT (Sport #).

    Jeez. Didn’t you RTFM? I drove one and couldn’t be bothered either. Yawn.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    “8.7 inches of ground clearance is still shockingly good”

    Something that has escaped the automotive press praising the clearance under Foresters and Outbacks, is that a few years ago Subaru modified the rear suspension on them so that the rear control arms are no longer flush with the underbody. Now, they hang low, not as far down as under an Escape (up to the 2012), but still enough to compromise clearance when driving in ruts or through large rocks. Take a look underneath the back end of one of them and see for yourself.

    Too bad Subaru doesn’t offer a low range on the Forester in North America, like they do, or did, in Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      “enough to compromise clearance when driving in ruts or through large rocks”

      But they can still blow through deep snow just fine without damage.
      That’s probably a vastly more frequent desire of Subie owners than is pulling goofy Jeep stunts.

  • avatar
    er007

    Still the best CUV made, Reliable, not heavier than need be, advanced awd and safe

    I have only two requirements for a car sub 7 second 0 to 60 and more than 8″ of ground clearence, the forester XT is only car than isn’t a two ton 90,000 dollar porsche to meet these requirements.

    On my fourth Subaru XT.

    I thank Subaru everyday that they build a small reasonable suv that can still smoke most cars at the stoplight when needed. A truely great car. The non-turbo is great just painfully slow.

  • avatar
    drivrBob

    I have an old 2L Turbo Forester and its still running strong and looks new (year 2000). Recently, had to have a rear wheel bearing replaced and the muffler’s outer shell had to be welded up. But thats not bad after 15 years. Still glad I got the Turbo, even if its only 170 PS! Just so much fun to drive and still goes from 0 to 60 in under 7 secs. Great for passing traffic in the alps.

  • avatar
    hotdog453

    I love myself some Subarus, and own a 2015 WRX (same motor), and I honestly, from a purely technical perspective, couldn’t see recommending these motors to someone who isn’t really, really into cars. They suffer from fairly atrocious fuel dilution, and will eventually all suffer from carbon build up. I cringe everytime I see some random person driving a Forester XT, and I just hope and pray they’re putting good oil in it. I think they’re great cars, but these motors need love, period.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/15axNf04S9hatJ497qHD6H8UPCZrkqzcSbjcQatGl9Cg/edit?usp=drive_web

    For the incredibly bored, you can see how crappy these motors turn oil.

    “Also exceedingly annoying that you need an external tool to register the TPMS sensors when swapping from summer to winter wheels and tires – dealer wants $50 to do it. Even my 2008 Saab had self-learning sensors!”

    Take it to Discount Tire and they’ll do it for free, if you’re not a total d-bag about it. Or just buy one of the 100$ TPMS swappers and voila, you’re a God among men.

    • 0 avatar
      EAF

      Any oil consumption issues with your FB? I’ve heard stories of shortblock replacements for 2015’s. However, the TSB I read did not cover 2015 FB20 or FB25 I don’t think? Just curious if this is an ongoing issue?

  • avatar
    Frownsworth

    I read in the article that this Forester XT shares the multi-plate clutch transfer instead of a true differential in the center with the WRX (AT). I thought immediately that the 2015 WRX (AT) had a VTD with a true differential with a 45/55 distribution. Sure enough, I went to check on Subaru’s website and they indeed have SILENTLY dropped the VTD to revert to the MPT (multi-plate clutch) system, with unspecified distribution. They dropped an entire differential on the WRX (AT) from the 2015 to 2016 model years and I suspect most will not pick up on this subtlety.

    That was ONE really good thing about the automatic WRX of 2015 which is now gone in the 2016 models. There is really not much “advancedness” left on these Subarus.

    I am sure many people will not be pleased with this change, but then again, I doubt Subaru cares.

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    Aside from more passing power w/o hair trigger throttle , the 2014 XT’s WRX-like suspension, rather stiff on small stuff, eliminates pogo over speed bumps and potholes (huge improvement over ’09 series XT).
    Granted, seats are hard and rear cargo light’s weak. Still, Forester gets you there on pretty much any road, especially with true all weather tires (if you gotta drive on icy roads ditch those stock Bridgestones).
    As for lack of hood scoop, it’s now under hood: You get the functionality without displaying boy-racer potential.
    FYI the ’15 Outback 3.6R went to a CVT and lost its center diff as well.

  • avatar
    firstexile

    So I had a regular 2012 Forester Limited and now a 2014 Forester XT for two years already. All the reviews I read were enthusiastic. This is the first disparaging review I read, and I disagree. I drove BMW-s for 10 years, and I know, I don’t have the same luxury but I don’t regret my purchase. Somebody mentioned Colorado, but know that the Washington State is a Subbie country… .


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