The 2022 Subaru Forester Is OK, but Also Incredibly Annoying
You know that person at work whose tiny mannerisms and habits you just can’t stand? The Forester is like that guy.
I could always hear him chewing from across the room. For privacy reasons, let’s call him Todd. Todd and I used to work together. Todd and I worked together for years, so he’s clearly not terrible at his job. Todd is happily married and has two children, so he’s probably not too terrible of a human being, either. But—for what feels like a million tiny reasons—I despise Todd. Y’know what Todd reminds me of? The 2022 Subaru Forester.
Todd likes to make small talk. Every. Single. Morning. Todd likes to eat with his mouth open … often right after heating up his fish in the office microwave. On a company beach outing, Todd insisted on applying his sunscreen in a way that meant everybody within a 100-yard radius could hear his sunscreen-laced hand slap loudly against the rest of his body. Todd is extremely irritating, there’s no doubt about it. But, if I’m honest, none of his sins are really serious enough for me to openly and earnestly complain about without branding myself as a bit of an asshole. Because as irritating as he may be, Todd means well! He treats others well! So, I’ve learned to live with him.
Cars, however, are a different story. With so many compact crossovers to choose from—and many, if not most, offering all-wheel drive—the Subaru Forester can’t quite skate by on fundamentally being an OK crossover when it’s also the sort of car that picks its nose in front of company.
2022 Subaru Forester Review Specs
- Base Forester price (Touring/Premier trim as tested): $27,070 ($37,170)
- Powertrain: 2.5-liter flat-four | continuously variable automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 182 @ 5,800 rpm
- Torque: 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,594 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 26.9 cubic feet (69.1 with rear seats down)
- EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg city | 33 highway | 29 combined
- Quick take: The Subaru Forester would be acceptably mundane—fine, even—if it weren’t so irritating.
- Score: 6/10
The Forester is Subaru’s compact, two-row crossover. Taller than the brand’s Crosstrek and Outback five-doors, it provides a high-riding Subaru crossover experience that’s smaller and more affordable than the three-row Ascent.
This may be kind of its schtick but the Subaru Forester has got to be one of the most boring-looking cars out there. It’s high, it’s bland, screams “I am an appliance,” and frankly makes the more chiseled Toyota RAV4 look like a Lamborghini Urus in comparison. I would never claim to be the greatest photographer in the world but whenever I’m tasked with taking pictures of cars for a review I try to show them from their best, most pleasant-looking angles. With the Subaru Forester, though, there aren’t really any “good” angles, just different ones. For 2022, it got a mid-cycle refresh that gave it a new front end with L-shaped headlights. This top Touring trim (officially known as the Premier here in Canada) adds 18-inch wheels, satin chrome mirror caps, gloss black B- and C-pillars, silver roof rails, and LED fog lights with chrome trim.
Its interior design, however, offers a bit more for your eyes to chew on. It is, of course, mostly designed for function but there are some decently pleasant shapes and materials dressing it all up. In this top trim, at least, Subaru really went to town with the contrast stitching. It’s all over the dash, all over the seats, and even graces the door cards. The Saddle Brown leather optioned in this tester—a Touring/Premier-exclusive color—really makes the place pop and solidifies the Forester’s status as a car for people who enjoy a good farmer’s market.
The controls are fairly simple as a lot is still operated via hard buttons and knobs. Three knobs control the climate, and there’s a volume knob and tuning knob underneath the infotainment system alongside a handful of useful buttons for switching between functions and tracks. The gear selector is a simple lever, the buttons on the steering wheel let you do everything you’d like the buttons on a steering wheel to do (including turn the heated steering on), and both the tachometer and speedometer are analog, flanking a little screen that can tell you many things. A 6.5-inch center touchscreen is standard but this grows to eight inches in Foresters Sport-trim-and-up. The infotainment software isn’t the prettiest in the world but, ultimately, gets the job done. Although, I’m not a fan of how changing the volume triggers a fullscreen popup that tells you the current volume level and renders the entire screen unusable for several full seconds.
Regardless of trim, all Foresters are powered by a 2.5-liter flat-four engine making 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission and, this being a Subaru, symmetrical all-wheel drive are standard and the only kit available. Regular Foresters can tow up to 1,500 pounds but the Wilderness version can tow up to 3,000 pounds.
Driving the Subaru Forester
It’s often said that there aren’t many truly bad-driving cars being made today (at any price point) and the Subaru Forester, strictly speaking, isn’t necessarily bad … but it comes mighty close. Even in the context of the humdrum, mainstream compact crossover—so, in other words, compared to the RAV4 and Honda CR-V—Subaru’s entry is unremarkable at best and awkward to drive at worst. Steering is much too light on the highway (keep your hands very still or else you’re veering into the other lane) but also too heavy for comfort in parking lots. At moderate speeds, it’s vague-feeling and rubber-bandy in that it weirdly gets progressively heavier the farther you steer. The entire car also just somehow drives bigger and less nimbly than the RAV4, despite the two vehicles being the same size, give or take an inch or two according to official specs.
Forgivably, for a crossover of this caliber, the Forester isn’t quick at all by modern-car standards but should be fine for most normal driving. Other vehicles in this space offer newer turbo-fours (or hybrid options) with more low-end torque and better fuel economy but Subaru has stuck to the old-school, unassisted gas motor. There’s an “S” driving mode button on the steering wheel that presumably tells the CVT to let the engine rev higher but, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t actually do anything at all.
At the end of the day, though, the Forester goes where you point it, rides comfortably on the highway and over potholes, has seats that are quite relaxing to be in, the road and wind noise aren’t noticeably worse than in other vehicles of this type, there’s more than enough room for big Costco runs and to fit actual adults in the second row, and the brake pedal is nice and friendly. And if that’s truly all you require out of your compact crossover’s driving experience, the Forester will probably do OK.
The Highs and Lows… and Lows
One of the very first things you’ll notice driving around in the Forester is the excellent outward visibility. With a huge, Popemobile-esque greenhouse that is, like, jarringly high and open, you see everybody and everything. If you’re somebody who’s used to watching the world through the letterboxes that are a modern sedan or sports car’s windows, being in the Forester feels like switching to IMAX. It’s also very easy to get in and out of, even compared to other crossovers. The doors open nice and wide and the driver’s seat is perfectly placed to perfectly meet my ass. You simply walk into this car, no crouching or climbing aboard required. The heated steering wheel switch is placed logically (at the 4 o’clock position from the horn) while the soft-close windows that slow down as they reach the top were a welcome, luxurious surprise.
The Forester’s ultra-tall, fishbowl-style visibility may let you see all around you in stunning 8K (if you have good vision) but, on the flip side, everybody can also see you. This is probably a sign of my own deep-seated guardedness more than anything but I did not love how easily passersby could see what sort of pants I happened to be wearing.
Beyond that, the Forester also does a bunch of tiny, annoying things that beg the question, “What were the engineers and designers thinking?”
- The infotainment’s physical home button always mysteriously added and redirected me to an undesired homescreen page, forcing a swipe left to get to where I actually wanted to go.
- Jaguar Land Rover products tend to have this problem, too, but the lights and gauges take several beats to recognize when I have entered my underground parking garage and adjust accordingly. This means that for the first little bit of trying to navigate that tight, dark lot, the Forester’s gauges and touchscreen are blindingly bright while the DRLs are alone in lighting up the way ahead.
- The volume control, on top of prompting that stupid, screen-crippling popup, is laggy in that turns of the knob only result in changes in actual volume about a second later.
- The driver’s seat always moves back on entry, presumably for easier ingress, but doesn’t return to my actual driving position, forcing a press of the seat memory button every time I set off—and, for the record, a full 10 minutes digging through system settings did not yield any way to turn this behavior off.
- The phone cubby is perfectly sized for the current, standard-size iPhone but becomes certifiably too small the second it also has to accommodate a plugged-in cord, which is required for Apple CarPlay.
- Even in the context of mainstream, budget-conscious crossovers like this, the gear lever feels flimsy and the buttons on the dash feel noticeably cheap. They are what I like to call “office microwave spec.”
- The sunroof isn’t quite tinted enough for comfortable, middle-of-a-sunny-day use.
- Despite this being the top trim, the wipers were not of the auto rain-sensing variety.
- When the wipers are on and you’re sitting at a traffic light with the engine auto start-stopped, I could faintly feel the brunt of the wiper moving back and forth in my foot through the brake pedal—like feeling your heartbeat in your eyeballs after hanging upside-down for too long. I will readily admit that this is, ultimately, inconsequential but it’s not exactly the sort of NVH flaw that would fly in, say, a proper Toyota product.
Look, these are tiny, borderline-petty gripes that buyers would eventually get used to, I know. But they add up and, given the fact that there’s an entire market of very similar crossovers serving the same purpose while not doing a lot of these things, wouldn’t you rather have one of them instead?
If the Forester was a person, it would be one of those people that I simply do not get along with. Slower and duller than its peers, and everything it does I would do differently. Oh my god, it’s Todd.
Subaru Forester Features, Options, and Competition
There may only be one powertrain configuration with the Forester but Subaru offers the crossover in six different trims: Base, Premium, Sport, Wilderness, Limited, and this Touring. Subaru has a handy chart on its website that gives an overview of exactly what’s standard and optional on all six Foresters. But to give you an idea of how this car is kitted, all come standard with auto start-stop, automatic headlights, power windows, a manually adjusting steering wheel, and two USB ports up front. Some luxury-leaning doodads that come on the top trim, meanwhile, include a power tailgate, memory seats with two presets, two USB ports in the rear as well as in the front, dual-zone climate, that bigger eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a “premium,” Harman Kardon-branded audio system.
As for the competitive set, the Subaru Forester can count crossovers like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-50, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Ford Escape as its primary rivals. Having driven the RAV4 and CR-V, I would get either of those over this Subaru, and judging from what my colleague Peter Holderith had to say about the Mazda, that one likely compares favorably over the Forester as well. The Kia Sportage, meanwhile, is hit or miss depending on whether or not you get the hybrid.
According to the EPA, the Subaru Forester gets 26 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway, and 29 combined, which is practically the same as what you get with AWD gas versions of the RAV4 and CR-V. After 190 miles of mixed driving, I observed 24 mpg.
Helping the Subaru crossover sip less fuel is an automatic start-stop system that ultimately does what it’s supposed to—shut the engine off when the car isn’t moving—but restarts consistently come with an unpleasant jolt that rocks the whole car around. Although, I do enjoy the little timer that tells you exactly how much time the engine has spent shut off this way and precisely how much fuel it has saved, down to the ml. Over that same 190 miles, start-stop was on for a total of 24 minutes and apparently conserved 0.18 gallons of fuel. So, like, less than a dollar given current gas prices.
Value and Verdict
The base 2022 Subaru Forester may start at $27,070 but if you’d like all of the niceties that come with the top trim tested here, that car costs $37,170. That’s a couple of grand less than the Toyota RAV4 AWD and around the same as AWD versions of the Honda CR-V. The Hyundai Tucson, meanwhile, is right in line with the Forester’s pricing, too. Mazda’s CX-50 starts at a similar price as all of those crossovers but, Mazda being slightly fancier-leaning, the top trim of that vehicle ventures into the $40,000s.
Even if you go all out and get this decked-out top trim, though, the Subaru Forester exudes big normie energy, arguably even more so than its already-very-normie competitors. Even by segment standards, it doesn’t drive great. It also does a bunch of tiny annoying things that, on their own, may not even be worth mentioning in a review of a different, superior car. But with the Subaru Forester, those things stick out that much more simply because everything else about it that isn’t actively irritating is mind-numbingly unremarkable. The way it looks, the way it feels, it’s all just kind of there.
I love cars. I love driving them, I love looking at them, I love sitting in them, and I love writing about them. And, believe it or not, that applies even when the cars aren’t all that fancy, fast, or exciting. But a half-hour into an after-work evaluation drive in the Forester, I found myself itching to go back home and do other shit. Perhaps that’s its draw, then. Some cars get you there quicker because, well, they are quicker. The Forester will have you home in time for supper because you’re not going to want to drive it a minute longer than you absolutely have to.
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