Look past the me-too styling and the 2022 Forester has a lot to offer
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/04/2022 (238 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When the Subaru Forester first arrived, a reasonable question was whether it was a low SUV or a tall station wagon. For 2022, that question is reasonable no more.
It’s grown considerably since its early days, to the point that size-wise, it’s nearly indistinguishable from its mid-size crossover competitors. It is taller and longer than my Mazda CX-5 and just a bit narrower, though that only translates into an extra litre of seats-up cargo space (817 for the CX-5 vs. 818 for the Subie). Seats down, however, the Subie’s extra length means the cargo volume beats the CX-5 by almost 500 litres.
While the Forester’s quirky, Goldilocks-approved size — not too big, not too small — is lost, what hasn’t been lost is the benefits to handling of its horizontally-opposed four-cylinder Boxer motor, which keeps the centre of gravity very low.
That motor, a 182-hp, 176 lb-ft non-turbo across the lineup, means reasonable if not stellar acceleration, which is more than compensated by outstanding fuel economy. For the tank I used during my test week, it averaged less than nine litres per 100 kilometres. By way of comparison, I thought our CX-5’s 9.9 l/100km average was pretty good.
Driving part of that fuel economy is the Subie’s continuously variable transmission, which some drivers and many mechanics dislike. The CVT — in Subie-speak, Lineartronic — uses a steel serpentine band between two sets of conical pulleys. By opening and closing the gap between those cones, the transmission changes the circumference of the pulley and by changing each set independently can provide an infinite combination of “gear” ratios.
That means that the transmission can keep the engine at the ideal engine speed for conditions. Engines kept at their most-efficient speeds use less fuel.
The problem is the lack of defined shift points and the constant engine speed make it feel and sound less like a car and more like a snowmobile. There are also questions about long-term reliability and the ability to fix, rather than replace, the transmission.
Unlike previous Foresters, a manual transmission is not available. Also missing from the lineup is the former Forester XT, a turbocharged version that put the Sport in Sport Utility. (Subaru does make the Forester STI, with a 260-hp 2.4-litre turbo motor, but doesn’t sell it here.)
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Subaru without the company’s iconic all-wheel drive, which it refers to as Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Subaru’s system differs from competitors in that it is in a normal state of 60:40 front to rear torque split and able to vary the torque split front to back and side to side as required. Many competitors’ models are normally front- or rear-drive and only transfer torque when slippage is detected.
Newer Subarus add what’s called X-Mode, which changes torque split, helps send torque from wheels that spin to wheels with grip and offers hill descent control, which keeps the vehicle at a constant slow speed going down hills. X-Mode is offered only on Crosstrek, Forester and Outback and only with a CVT.
As Willy notes below, Subaru’s extensive experience in World Rally Championship racing has given the company unique insight into building suspensions that can take a beating. That, plus the vehicle’s low centre of gravity, translates into a large mid-size crossover that drives more like a car.
What the Forester lacks in styling — it hardly stands out — it more than makes up for with fuel economy, drivability and snow and off-road prowess.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.