2021 Subaru Forester Limited Review by Ben Lewis

Subaru’s are like old friends. Even when you haven’t seen them in a while, you feel immediately at home and comfortable. Good to be around. The Forester is certainly like that – we’ve recently been in a host of Outbacks, Crosstreks and WRXs, all great cars. But we miss our old buddy. Now friendship is one thing, but in the hyperventilating, ever-changing world of SUV’s you gotta keep up, too. So, is the Forester as good as we remember?

A Familiar Face

It’s no secret that the Outback and the Forester fight in the same arena for not-quite traditional SUV buyers. In recent years, the wagony Outback has grown longer and larger, and taking a cue from many owners, is bringing out a raised and overlander-like Wilderness model.

The Forester remains a more traditional small SUV, upright with large windows and super easy entry. The front is traditional Subie, with clean, solid lines, a squarish grille that is thankfully not monstrous, projector style headlights and LED eyebrows. We have seen pics of the refreshed 2022 model, and while it is freshened, won’t stray too far from the script.

The tall traditional lines are obvious from the profile, which is fine by us – we love the brand’s honesty when it comes to design. The Limited’s 18-inch alloy wheels are handsome, but there looks like plenty of room for larger wheels and tires if you like that sort of thing. (We do).

At the rear, large clamp-like headlights give great visibility to those following, while simple lines, a tough looking lower fascia and a nice round exhaust finishing things off. Like we said – honesty.

Being a Limited model, our tester got a little extra chrome brightwork, and finished in Magnetite Gray Metallic, it looked upscale and classy. At this point we should mention that our heart really belongs to the Forester Sport trim, with blacked-out alloys, dark trim, and orange exterior accents – it just says outdoorsy to us.

Get in, Get Comfortable

Again, like a good friend, you hop in the Forester – and with a nice seat height and wide-opening doors, getting in is easy – and immediately feel at home. That tall seating position and large greenhouse feel expansive.

If you’re looking for the latest digital dashboard and massive touchscreen, you won’t find it here. That’s okay, we like nicely sized analog gauges, with driver assist info in between just fine. There’s an ample 8-inch display in the dash, just perfect for Apple CarPlay (which we prefer to the Subaru Navi system), with simple to understand buttons below for access to key info-tainment features, and hurray! Dedicated volume and tuning knobs. No fancy, fussy touchpads here!

The Forester also serves up a smaller display above the big screen, which is just perfect to give you climate info, music, etc. while the larger display is handling things like Waze. It’s not the prettiest layout in the auto world, but it is so easy to use and functional, you appreciate it immediately. Tech is nicely covered with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and even a Wi-Fi hotspot. All good stuff.

The quality of materials is of a high standard – nice leather on our Limited model – but still looks tough enough to handle the kind of rugged adventures Subie buyers like to enjoy. Piano black is devilish for us to take photos of, but looks very upscale in person, while metallic tone trim adds some nice bling as well.

The tall box design means excellent space for those in the back seat – very adult friendly, and the big windows make for a spacious and view-friendly place to sit. Another benefit of the design – plenty of cargo room with the rear seat up, and massive amounts with it folded down, even a little more cargo space than its Outback sibling.

Speaking of cargo space, we loved our tester’s optional bamboo-themed rubber cargo mat. So stylish, and maybe there’s a wink to the World Wildlife Fund? No Pandas were harmed in the making of this vehicle…

Surprising Drive

Speaking of the Outback, one thing we did notice was the big-vehicle feel of our last tester. So, if zipping around and feeling sporty is your thing, we think the Forester is the better play. Under the hood is Subie’s familiar 2.5-liter horizontally opposed, boxer 4-cylinder engine, pumping out 182 hp, and 176 lb.-ft of torque. Those wanting a turbo will have to search the CPO sites, as it is no longer available on this model.

Unless you’re planning a rally or high-altitude climb, the current engine is quite enough; we found it spirited and fun. The CVT is another nice surprise – in the past we have not been fans, but Subaru has tuned this one to feel responsive and smooth, and it worked perfectly with the engine to give a quick and effortless feeling.

Of course, it’s not a Subaru (BR-Z excepted) without Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive  that adds real confidence behind the wheel. And with X Mode, you can dial up special settings for Snow, Dirt, Deep Snow and Mud. Based on what we’ve seen, Subaru’s are extremely capable in off-road conditions – even in serious ones you’d expect only to see Jeeps and 4Runners!

While we didn’t get a chance to go off-roading, we did enjoy the right-sized dimensions, accurate steering, and long-legged smooth ride that makes the Forester fun around town, but still comfortable for longer trips as well. This is a great all-rounder.

Subaru touts its safety gear, and every Forester features their clever EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking and Throttle Management, Lane Departure and Sway Warning and Lead Vehicle Start Alert.

They make it worth your while to step up to the Limited trim by adding Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Our tester also had the option package that includes Reverse Automatic Braking. You feel very well looked after.

You see those TV commercials with parents confidently sending their kids off to drive in a new Subaru – after driving one we realize it’s not just marketing hype. It’s hard not to recommend a Subaru for families with younger drivers. Heck, make that drivers of any age!

 Good Value, Too

OK, let’s put the family in a Forester. What’s the price? Well, your entry-level Forester starts at $24,795, and with standard AWD and EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, we think it’s a no-brainer as an excellent, affordable 5-passenger SUV.

Really, it’s just about adding luxuries and goodies after that. Our Limited model started at $31,395, and frankly fellt like they should charge closer to $40k. Our tester had the appropriately named Optional Package that included Reverse Automatic Braking, 8.0-multimedia navigation, Harman Kardon Audio and Heated Steering wheel. Good value for just $1,695. Add $1,050 for Destination and we rang the bell at $34,140.  

A comparable RAV4 Limited comes in at $39,895. Lovely vehicle but 6 grand buys a lot of camping gear! We always recommend the Mazda CX-5, and at $33,755 it offers a more sporty drive, but less of the tough, outdoorsy image. Choose the one that calls to you.

Comfortable as a pair of worn-in climbing boots, easy going to drive and live with, the Subaru Forester remains a good friend, one that you’ll keep around for years and years to come.