Two impressions always come up upon sliding behind the wheel of a Forester: First, it’s like sitting in a fishbowl, or a penthouse apartment—it’s so open and airy-feeling. The Forester’s tallish, squared-off cabin is not large, but there’s head-, elbow-, shoulder- and legroom, a bit of extra height, and what feels like acres of glass. For a compact SUV, the Forester punches above its weight, space-wise.
The second impression is that Subaru has made good use of time. This fifth-generation 2021 model is the result of 24 years of evolution; the Forester has become Subaru’s sales leader. When owners decide it’s time for a fresh one, they visit their dealer knowing that their next Forester will be more of the same, just that much better. No unpleasant surprises.
For ’21, the Forester comes in five trim levels: Base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring, from about $25,000 to $35,000 plus a few options. Our sample Limited, with two extras—the Starlink multi-media navigation package and the premium Harman/Kardon audio system—lists for $34,140. And it’s got everything: a heated steering wheel and automatic HVAC, an acre of power moonroof, USB ports, apps galore, a power tailgate and power front seats, plenty of stowage and plenty more.
Every Forester comes with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which keeps tabs not only on the vehicle in front, but also on the one in front of that. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, emergency braking and throttle control, and lane departure and sway warning; it even alerts us when the lead vehicle in the queue starts off. (Our new grandson rides around in an EyeSight-equipped Subaru and we’re glad of it.) There are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitors, too.
Subarus have compact “flat-4” engines—their four cylinders lie horizontally, two on each side of the crankshaft. This drops the center of mass a few inches, which improves the balance and also the view out over the hood. The Forester has 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque; it’s rated for 33 highway MPG and can tow 1,500 pounds (Trailer Stability Assist is standard). All Subarus are all-wheel-drive all the time, with all-wheel independent suspension.
There’s not much new for the Forester in 2021—it was already well dialed-in. Adaptive LED headlights with automatic high-beam control are now standard. The continuously variable automatic transmission feels smoother than before, and in our Limited it has a 7-speed manual mode. There’s now a rear seatbelt reminder and most models get a new storage compartment in the back.
Altogether, these features plus a reputation for reliability, a smooth ride and sensible features at reasonable prices have made Subaru the unofficial car of wintry climates, bad roads and small to medium-size families. As everyone in Maine knows.
Silvio Calabi has been reviewing cars since Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House. He lives in Camden.