TREADS TREE CLEARINGS: Good forestry practices are fundamental in balancing human co-habitation with the planet’s vital dense vegetation ecosystem. Considerate of that delicate balance in nature, the Subaru brand of vehicles has long been treading where trees have been cleared, even where fallen branches or other obstacles remain on the path. Currently into its fifth box, the boxer powered 2021 Subaru Forester can be attired in a Sport -y new palette, complementing the mid size crossover utility vehicle’s multi-terrain and adverse weather prowess.
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WHAT: 2021 Subaru Forester Sport compact crossover utility vehicle built on the Subaru Global Platform SK, co-opted from the Impreza sedan. It replaces the fourth generation SJ model.
Standard Power: 2.5L DOHC 16V DI gas flat-4 = 182 hp/ 176 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm + continuously variable transmission + asymmetrical all-wheel drive.
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Always an Impreza compact sportback derivative, and hence relative of the WRX, this compact CUV initially succeeded an SK Outback Sport (series SF), at a time when regular Outbacks were lifted Legacy wagons. Now supported by the Subaru Global Platform the new Forester wears more athletic attire than ever.
Rugged -ized Truck -ified: The 2021 Subaru Forester* is firmly a conventional squared off compact SUV, with a tall greenhouse and little body sloping and a vertical liftgate. Major outward differences from the preceding Mk. 4 Forester SJ include prominent eye-brow DRLs, atop the headlamp assemblies, extending further inboard, a taller inverted “U” lower front fascia with larger dark clad pseudo inlets at the corners. Door beltlines are scooped rather than creased flaring near the rocker panels, the latter now clad much as the Subaru Outback. Wheel arches are fully dark plastic clad as well. Emphatic lateral “boomerang” wrap around taillamps bite further inboard of the liftgate. (*2022 MY Forester’s, just announced, will wear a revised front clip.)
Sporting Eye-Grabbing New Attire: While bringing no more drivetrain or suspension to the table, the tested 2021 Forester Sport wore a midnight blue hue contrasted by darkened wheels and red piping akin to the NFL’s Denver Bronco’s colors.
WHY: Dedicated to the proposition that outdoor adventures can include taller cargo.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Autumn 2020
WHERE: Subaru new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Ōta, Gunma Prefecture, Japan
HOW ROADWORTHY: In a more equitable…read cost simplifying move… U.S. specification Foresters feature but one powerplant under the bonnet. Making due with the Legacy sedan’s base twin-cam, direct injected, flat opposed 4 cylinder pegged at 182 horses, places the 2021 Forester on par with competitors’ atmospherics, providing enough innards to top the century mark. Selectable sport mode and steering wheel dorsal shift paddles enable Subaru’s band pulley transmission to convincingly imitate a planetary torque converter ratio lockup, making the most of a linear but long way to the top torque output curve.
- +1 Dual function X-Mode multi-terrain control = Snow, dirt / Deep Snow, mud
- +1 trim exclusive X-Mode dedicated center console controller
- -1 Idle start/ stop remains uncouth and abrupt to re-engage.
Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, a Forester standard = a multi-clutch center differential + viscous coupled rear open diff. Engine torque distribution, front to rear, slips from a nominal 60:40% to a maximum 50:50% lock. On ascents selectable X-Mode cuts wheel slippage by applying ABS earlier. On the downhill approach X-Mode uses VDC signaled ABS to simulate low gearing, and can be supplemented by dorsal steering wheel shift paddles.
Complete independence at each wheel benefits from stiffer bushings. Body rocking has been quelled and a less rippled ride is delivered by the 2021 Forester. Electric assisted steering nearly reacts slightly exaggerated to low effort inputs. Only some languid pedal response diminishes tidy slowing by the brake rotors at the corners.
HOW FAR: 29 combined miles per gallon fuel economy; 540 highway miles range
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ 5 Occupant 2+3 seating. Tilt reclining 60/40 split flat folding Row 2 seatbacks.
Forester legacy = the low cowl, low beltline delivers on a spacious sensation. Outboard armest integrated door pulls makes benefits egress swing. Tall, rectilinear profile & seating perch affords abundant headroom & Row 2 legroom.
– For Comparison’s Sake:
- 108.1″-inch Wheelbase: 2.8″ < Jeep Cherokee, 5.1″ < Toyota RAV4
- Maximum cargo capacity: 29% < Jeep Cherokee, 28% > Toyota RAV4
- 2nd Row legroom: 3.8″ > Jeep Cherokee, 4.3″ > Toyota RAV4
- 8.7″ Ground clearance: 0.2″ > Jeep Cherokee, 1.8″ > Toyota RAV4
HOW USEFUL: A Forester hallmark of upright tall-roofed cabin and squared off cargo bay assure space aplenty. Load height is at a good comfort zone. Accessing the roof rails is but a slight stretch. Deeply channeled accessory cargo mats are adventure de rigeur.
√ Power Liftgate; √ 60/40% split folding 2nd Row seat backs; √ Cargo bay floor chrome hook anchors; √ Cargo bay wall ring-style hooks; √ Cargo-area 12V outlet; +1 Low cowl and and power folding rear outboard headrests aid outward view;
Cabin storage = √ Steep angled lower center stack handheld device bin w/ USB port; √ 6 cup, bottle holders
- +1 Tall + wide liftgate cargo load aperture w/ minimal wheel arch intrusion; Both first row seatbacks have aft pockets
- -1 Short door pockets
HOW SAFE: √ 8 airbags; √ IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus; √ Rear camera w/ predictive grid
Partial Autonomous Driving:
EYESIGHT suite STANDARD on all models = √ Pedestrian detection braking; √ Forward collision avoidance braking; √ Lane Departure warning & keep assist; √ Adaptive Cruise Control; √ Lead vehicle start alert; √ Blind spot & rear cross traffic warning; √ Automatic High beam LED headlamps
Optional (included on tester): ♦ Reverse obstruction automatic braking
- +1 Accurate lane tracking, above-head console system activation / de-activation switches
- -1 Slow to resume speed adaptive cruise control
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: Mark 4 of Subaru Forester features a milder Impreza / Crosstrek evolution of traditional adventure interior as Bright orange climate vent accents, center console, stack and dash tiering tandem contrast stitching and transmission selector bezel, a center console mounted X-Mode dial control and electronic parking brake switch, break up the dark plastics gloom. Display / control fare is fairly traditional white on black twin dial ELD gauges sandwiching a cluttered trip meter, and a center stack dominated by landscape 8.0″ -inch touch LCD display, larger audio and climate knobs and nominal switchgear, all finished with enhanced detail. Preserving some Subie quirkiness, the separate center dash top multi-function display is retained, as well as the the hanging chad controls between horizontal and vertical steering wheel spokes.
√ Heated, power adjust 10-way driver, 4-way manual passenger seats √ 4 power windows, front x full express; √ Auto climate control; √ Leather tilt + telescoping steering; √ 2nd Row and aft dark tint privacy glass; √ Power moon-roof (optional); √ Manual tilt/ telescoping steering wheel.
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Large center dash top multi-function display vehicle attitude graphics, √ X-Mode center console selector knob
Details Done Right: √ Light + dark gray cloth & orange leatherette trimmed sport seating; √ Contrasting orange stitching on seats, door panels, center stack padding; √ Simulated light carbon fiber accents; √ Dual analog needle dial gauges w/ copper accents; √ Flush door and center console toggle switchgear; √ Berber floor mats; √ Contrasting light & dark grey pillars + premium durable mesh headliner.
Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Coarse plastic rocker panel covers & cargo walls; Hard to reach 2nd Row seatback tilt latches.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE:
√ 8.0″ Starlink Multimedia Plus portrait oriented, upper mid dash embedded, touch LCD infotainment screen; √ Rotary audio volume dial, selection, defroster & Home screen switches ; √ Bluetooth, hands-free communications; √ SMS messaging; √ Android Auto + Apple CarPlay; √ Starlink Apps; √ USB x 4, 12V x 2; √ Mobile device near field communications (NFC)
- +1 High definition color graphics; Fairly oleophobic display screen, Row 2 x 2 USB-C
- -1 Native HDD navigation optional available only on Limited trim
Audibly: √ 8 speaker, 432 W Harman Kardon (optional) = Limited crispness, sufficient volume
Applications (mobile powered): Pandora music; Aha radio
Starlink Apps: √ Chimani, an onboard guide to landmark travel; √ Ebird ornithological identifier favoring Audubon members; √ Eve Connect monitors connected home security and climate. (Also iHeart radio, weather, calendar, news, Yelp business reviews.)
By Subscription: √ SiriusXM (90 days trial) ; Sirius TravelLink apps (3 years included)
HOW MUCH: $32,090 = as tested 2021 Subaru Forester Sport AWD suggested retail price
WHAT’S MISSING: Hybrid electric powertrain & / or turbocharged power option(s)
ANY COMPETITION: Ford Escape: +1 dynamics, available hybrid & PHEV; Jeep Cherokee: +1 available V-6; Toyota RAV4: +1 ride compliance, available hybrid & PHEV
FINAL WORD: Long synonymous with treading tree clearings this most boxy of boxers is now available in favorite team colors.
Contributing Editor: J. Flynn