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2015 Subaru Forester Test Drive

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First Impressions

In life, it’s often said that timing is everything. Take the New Orleans Saints, for example. In 2014, quarterback Drew Brees led the long-suffering Saints to their first Super Bowl victory. Eleven months later, Brees is named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Right place at the right time, we say.

We’ll say the same for the Subaru Forester (view photos). Redesigned in 2014 to be bigger, stronger, faster and more capable than ever before, the Forester proved to be a nearly ideal vehicle when we took our first drive in the updated 2015 model. The fact that our first few hours behind the wheel were in the face of a raging blizzard likely had something to do with our positive first impression.

Put simply, the 2015 Forester is one of the best all-wheel-drive vehicles we’ve ever driven in snow. It’s exceptionally planted and solid in the nastiest of conditions. Perhaps that’s why Subarus are as common in snowy climes as Gore-Tex coats and freestyle snowboards. That reputation as an exceptional vehicle for snowy and uneven roads may also explain why, according to Subaru, October 2014 Forester sales are up 28 percent compared to October 2014. Sure, last year’s recessionary climate impacted sales. But we’re also convinced that word is getting out that the new Forester is a real player for drivers who don’t require a large crossover but do want a comfortable and versatile five-passenger vehicle for trips off the beaten path.

The 2015 Forester is more of a small crossover than a large wagon. However, we wouldn’t fault you if you still describe the Forester as a big wagon, either. We’ve spent time in both the 2015 Outback and Forester, and believe it or not, the Forester is the bigger vehicle. But it still exhibits more car-like characteristics than larger SUVs. So call it what you will—just remember the Forester, like all Subarus, features all-wheel drive and longstanding devotion from Subaru aficionados.

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Pricing, Trims and Options

The 2015 Forester is available in six trims. Pricing starts at $20,495 for the 2.5X and escalates all the way to $29,995 for the 2.5XT Touring model (our test car). Additional options or packages can inflate the price, but not too dramatically.

The base model is the 2.5X that is available with either an automatic or manual transmission. Expect six-way adjustable cloth seats, four-speaker stereo system with radio and CD player, and available Sirius satellite radio and auxiliary jack for your MP3 player. You also get air conditioning, keyless entry and 16-inch wheels. You’ll spend $20,495 to start the discussion with your local Subaru dealer.

The next step up is the 2.5X Premium that starts at $23,195 and includes air conditioning, a panoramic moonroof, 17-inch, 5-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, black roof rails, a 10-way adjustable cloth driver’s seat, reclining rear seats and the same four-speaker stereo system with available satellite radio and auxiliary jack for your MP3 player.

Move up to the 2.5X Limited trim and you’ll spend $26,495. This is your first chance to enjoy the comfort of heated leather seats and higher-end leather-trimmed upholstery. You’ll get all the creature comforts of the lower-end trims, plus a six-speaker stereo system and automatic climate controls.

The 2.5XT Premium trim is only $500 more than the 2.5X Limited trim at $26,995. What does that small price premium buy you? A functional hood scoop and rear spoiler. Plus a turbocharged engine that generates more horsepower and fun. Think of it as a mix of the 2.5X Premium and Limited with a bigger engine.

The 2.5X Touring trim starts at $27,995 and distinguishes itself from the Limited trim through High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, raised roof rails in a silver finish, a seven-speaker audio system, Sirius satellite radio and a dual-zone automatic climate-control system.

We were fortunate to drive the 2.5XT Touring version of the Forester. As the highest-end Forester at $29,995, you get a well-appointed cabin that features heated leather seats, the seven-speaker stereo system with Sirius satellite radio, body-colored side mirrors with integrated turn signal, dual-zone automatic climate-control system and a backup camera. The Touring model also includes the hood scoop and rear spoiler. Opinions were mixed on the hood scoop with some people liking the more masculine look while others thought it simply looked silly. With all-weather floor mats in the mix and a $725 destination and delivery fee, our tester topped the scales at $30,789.

Depending on the trim level, a few options are available to customize the car, including a navigation system that features a 7-inch screen, Bluetooth capability and backup camera. You can also get a detachable Tom Tom navigation system that lets you take it wherever you roam outside the vehicle. The all-weather package and alloy wheel packages are also viable options depending on your needs and budget.

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Interior Features

In harmony with the Subaru brand, the Forester is much more functional than fashionable. Even our highest-end 2.5XT Touring edition seemed a bit sparse in terms of luxury touches. The leather seats were soft, adjustable and comfortable. They included electronic lumbar support and adjustments. Most important, they offered two levels of heat: high and low. During the week we drove the Forester, temperatures dropped to -2 Fahrenheit multiple times, which made the heated seats a must-have feature.

There is a decent amount of hard plastic on the dash and center console, while the armrests on the doors feature a mix of hard plastic and soft surfaces. Initially, all that plastic was a bit off-putting. But the more we lived with the Subaru, especially during the wet, cold, wintry weather, the more we appreciated the utility of the plastic surfaces. When snow fell on the doors and even blew onto the dash, we simply wiped it off with our sleeves or gloves and it looked as good as new. Score a point for pure function. The same should be said for the all-weather floor mats. Rubber mats may not be as sexy; but they beat upholstered mats any time snow and dirt and road salt merge to create a ruddy mess. They’re a $69 upgrade on the Forester and worth every penny.

The seven-speaker audio system with Sirius satellite radio was good, but not amazing. What was amazing, at least to some passengers, was the Bluetooth audio integration. I sat down in the Forester, turned on the ignition, and music almost instantly began playing from the iPhone in my pocket. I gave the phone to the passenger and let him navigate through the songs. Soon we were streaming a Pandora mix from the Internet through the phone to the Forester’s speakers. Internet radio sounds very good, especially if you don’t want to pony up the cash for a monthly satellite radio subscription (though we would argue it’s well worth it if you have a longer commute).

The backup camera worked well, particularly on a snowy day when we had to reverse out of the driveway to switch vehicles and didn’t take time to dust the rear window. The seven-inch screen is smaller and not as sophisticated in function as many rearview systems in other vehicles, but it performs its role very well.

Our only gripe about the interior of the Forester is the placement of the Bluetooth phone controls. The three buttons are located on the left-hand side of the steering wheel, and when driving with gloves on, we often bumped the button and initiated unintended phone calls. This happened five times over seven days. Far from a deal breaker, it proved to be more of an annoyance and something we’re certain other drivers will experience.

Rear-passenger space is comfortable for two, and adequate for three if one of your passengers is a smaller person. Although the redesigned Forester is wider than previous models, it’s still not as wide as a Honda Pilot or other larger crossovers. The good news for families is that you can fit two car seats across the rear seat with room for a small passenger in the middle. Alternatively, you can easily fit a single car seat in the middle with room for two adults on the sides.

The rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, allowing flexibility in loading cargo. We happened to drive the Forester over the Thanksgiving holiday and had plenty of space for a two-day jaunt to grandmother’s house and back again. You get 63 cubic-feet of cargo space with both rear seats lowered. The 30.8 cubic-feet of space was more than enough to stow our suitcases, duffel bags and winter clothing. Additional storage space is available in the many nooks and crannies found in the front doors, rear panels and center console.

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Safety, Quality and Reliability

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2015 Subaru Forester (view photos) a Top Safety Pick. That means the Forester achieved top scores in all safety tests. You can expect lots of safety goodness including Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD), a four-wheel antilock braking system (ABS), a full complement of airbags, a rollover sensor and more.

In terms of reliability, Consumer Reports rates the 2014 Forester without the turbocharged engine as “Much Better than Average.” We expect a similar rating for the 2015 model. The turbocharged engine found on the 2.5XT Touring and 2.5XT Premium model receives only an Average rating.

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