Subaru has a trio of off-road capable utility vehicle in its stable and while much of the attention lately has been on the Outback and Crosstrek, the 2021 Forester remains a competitive choice in the compact SUV segment.
Offered in six trims, the Forester starts at $28,995, with the Sport tester coming in at $37,908.
For 2021, the Forester lineup sees some minor changes, mostly in on-board equipment, with high beam assist and steering-responsive LED headlights being added to lower trims after previously being offered only on the Touring and Sport models, respectively.
And with safety always a priority for Subaru, the Forester offers EyeSight Driver Assist Technology as standard equipment. It includes adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure and sway warning, and lead vehicle start alert.
Powertrain: The all-wheel drive Forester is powered by an imminently capable 2.5-litre four-cylinder Subaru Boxer engine, with an output of 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque.
Power is transferred to the wheels through a Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission, while also offering a towing capacity of 1,500 pounds, allowing you to haul some extra toys on those weekend camping trips.
Helping the Forester handle a variety of road conditions, the Forester comes with Subaru’s X-Mode, which in the Sport model is enhanced to a dual-function system allowing for a broader range of options.
And while Subaru vaunts the merits of the powertrain’s fuel efficiency and the Forester does have an estimated combined fuel economy average of 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres, my real-world experience was off the mark. In mostly city driving, my average worked out to 11.9 L/100 km.
Exterior: In a crowded market, you can’t really say that the design of the Forester stands out in any remarkable way. But that is not to say it’s not a nice look.
It’s actually a pretty solid design overall, and the Sport version has a few tricks added that do make it more appealing.
Those additions include 8-inch dark metallic alloy wheels, vertical LED fog lights, side mirror integrated LED turn signals and a stainless-steel exhaust tip.
Also on the Sport trim are a gloss black painted front grille, fog light surround, spoiler and rear hatch garnish.
And to add a splash of colour – no matter what paint scheme you choose – you also get a painted orange rear under-guard, roof rail accents, side garnish and front under-guard.
While it’s noticeable on the Ice Silver Metallic exterior of our tester, it definitely would be even more so on the exclusive Dark Blue Pearl paint available on the Sport.
Interior: Inside, the exclusive touches continue with features like orange accents around the air vents and centre console, orange stitching, as well as a read and orange gauge cluster.
The seats in the Sport are a nice change to the usual black, with a predominantly grey premium cloth, with the aforementioned stitching. It makes the cabin feel open and spacious, and the seats are quite comfortable.
The central stack is a clean layout, with a split display that puts all the fuel economy figures, vehicle dynamics, outside temperature and other info in a smaller screen at eye level, while the infotainment screen and other controls are lower down. All the buttons and dials are well placed and easy to operate.
My one quibble with an otherwise modern-looking cabin design is the old-fashioned toggle switch (low-hi) for the heated seats. With almost every automaker out there offering three temperature settings for the seats, this just seems like something that needs updating.
Infotainment: In the Sport trim, you get an 8-inch infotainment screen rather than the standard 6.5-inch.
The screen is bright, and the layout of the menus and controls is quite easy to understand, and response time is good.
It is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and also features satellite radio and six speakers. Sound quality will not blow you away, but it’s still a good system.
Drive: While I didn’t get a chance to put the Forester Sport through the paces in winter driving, where Subarus excel, the SUV nonetheless offers a good drive.
There’s a bit of road and CVT noise in the cabin, but far less than what it used to be based on previous models.
On top of the dual-function X-Mode, the Forester Sport features the SI-Drive, which allows the driver to select modes that are tailored to driving conditions. On the Sport, the options are Intelligent and Sport Sharp, which – as one might expect from the name – gives the Forester a more responsive and sportier feel, especially on twisty roads.
Conclusion: Subaru models have a loyal following and the Forester is another example of why that is. It’s not overly flashy or bold, but don’t let the subdued looks fool you. The Forester Sport, with the addition of SI-Drive, as well as its off-road ability mean it’s the ideal vehicle for an active family that heads out on weekend getaways.
2021 Subaru Forester Sport
Price as tested: $37,908.00
Configuration: Front engine/All-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: Horizontally opposed 2.5-litre 4-cylinder/ Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission
Power/torque: 182 horsepower/ 176 lb-ft of torque
Fuel (capacity): Regular (63 L)
Combined fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 8.2 L/100 km
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 11.9 L/100 km
Warranties: 3-years/60,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Toyota Rav4, Volkswagen Tiguan