Expert Reviews

2023 Subaru Forester Sport Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

Having undergone some tweaks last year, including styling updates and improved driver-assist technologies, the 2023 Subaru Forester is pretty much unchanged.

In the Subaru lineup, the Forester slots in between the smaller Crosstrek and the larger Ascent, with similar outright space inside to the wagon-like Outback. Like the rest of the lineup – with the exception of the BRZ coupe, of course – all-wheel drive (AWD) is standard.

It comes in six trim levels, starting with the base Forester – that’s the trim’s actual name – at $32,970, including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $1,975. It moves through the Touring and then my tester, the Sport, at $39,270. From there you can also opt for the off-road-ready Wilderness, the Limited, and the range-topping Premier at $41,595.

Styling: 8/10

The Forester is a good-looking vehicle, with its chunky styling that hints at its go-anywhere capability. The Sport trim’s bright orange exterior accents are an acquired taste that I have yet to find, but then styling is subjective. The tall windows provide good visibility, and the wide, low tailgate opening makes it easy to load items in the back. The interior design looks a bit dated, but the buttons and dials are all about function over form. The orange accents continue inside here to provide a splash of cabin colour.

Safety: 8.5/10

The 2023 Subaru Forester earns the top five-star crash-test rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The not-for-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a Top Safety Pick, with top “Good” results in most ratings. However, the IIHS has updated two of its tests, and the Forester earns “Acceptable” for the new side test, which better simulates being struck by a large SUV; and “Marginal” in the new front overlap collision, which now assesses injury to a rear-seat passenger as well as those in the front seats – although they’re not yet part of the awards criteria.

All trims come with camera-based driver-assist safety technologies that Subaru collectively calls EyeSight, which includes adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking, and lane-keeping and centring assistance. The cameras are tucked behind the windshield within the wiper path, so they don’t get blocked and rendered inoperable by dirt or snow. All trims also include adaptive headlights, automatic high-beam control, and the back-up camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles sold in Canada. Above the base trim, all others further add blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse emergency braking, and emergency steering assistance.

Features: 8/10

The base Forester trim includes automatic climate control, automatic exterior lighting, 17-inch wheels, roof rails, heated front seats, a 6.5-inch centre touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, and subscription-based satellite radio. The Touring trim adds such items as an eight-inch touchscreen, power tailgate, cargo cover, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, push-button start, a heated steering wheel, sunroof, and wiper de-icer.

My Sport tester is based on the Touring, and its $1,400 price difference primarily covers cosmetic: black cladding, the orange accents, LED fog lights, 18-inch wheels, and integrated turn signals in the mirrors, along with two additional selectable driving modes. Moving up into the three higher trims can add such features as auto-dimming mirrors, a power passenger seat, heated rear seats, and leather upholstery.

User-Friendliness: 9.5/10

The Forester’s controls may look dated, with their big dials and glossy buttons, but they’re all very easy to use and with a minimum of distraction, as opposed to running functions via the centre screen. The steering wheel controls are also simple and functional. The touchscreen’s operating system is intuitive and follows the same format of large, button-style icons so it’s easier to tap them accurately.

Practicality: 8/10

The Forester has 762 L of cargo space behind the rear seat (the base Forester has 818 L). On paper, that’s less than most of its competitors, where the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape have 1,062 L, and the Hyundai Tucson tops them with 1,095 L; although there is some trade-off with more legroom in the Subaru. But the Forester is easy to load, thanks to a wide and low tailgate with a low liftover height for cargo, and the rear 60/40 seats fold almost flat. Towing capacity is 680 kg (1,500 lb) in all trims but the Wilderness, which can pull up to 1,360 kg (2,998 lb).

Comfort: 8.5/10

The Forester matches or exceeds most rivals for front-seat leg- and headroom, and while it has a bit less than some for the rear seat, it’s still roomy for most adults. The seats are well bolstered and supportive, and have two-level heating. The ride is smooth and quiet, too.

Power: 8/10

All Forester trims use the same engine, a 2.5L horizontally opposed four-cylinder making 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, and mated to an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT). It tends to be gruff and rumbly at idle, but it smooths out when accelerating and has enough power for highway passing. There are paddles on the steering wheel that let you shift sequentially through seven simulated gears, too, giving the transmission a more conventional feel.

Driving Feel: 8/10

A Subaru staple, AWD is standard on all trims. Subaru calls it symmetrical, but that refers to the layout of the driveline components rather than equal torque to each wheel. Instead, the Forester sends 60 per cent of it to the front wheels and 40 per cent to the rear under normal driving conditions, but can send more to the back tires as needed for traction. Many AWD competitors primarily drive their front wheels and then power up the rear ones as needed. That works, but with the Forester always powering both front and rear, it can feel more surefooted in slippery conditions.

Despite its name, the Forester Sport isn’t any sportier than other trims. Instead, all of them behave appropriately for the segment, with light and accurate steering, confident braking, and good balance around curves. The console-mounted drive dial lets you select various modes that optimally adjust the engine, transmission, and AWD system for conditions like snow or dirt. The Sport and higher trims also have a dual-mode that adds additional settings for deep snow or mud.

Fuel Economy: 8.5/10

The Forester is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 9.0 L/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway, and 8.2 in combined driving, and it takes regular-grade gasoline. I spent a week with it and came in just a decimal difference above its combined rating at 8.4 L/100 km.

It compares favourably among many of its non-hybrid peers, where the Toyota RAV4 rates at 8.5; the Ford Escape is 8.4 or 9.1, depending on the engine chosen; and the Hyundai Tucson comes in at 9.3.

Value: 8/10

The Forester runs from $32,970 to $43,570. Among its rivals, priced here with either standard or optional AWD, the Hyundai Tucson comes in below it from $32,434 to $40,424. The Toyota RAV4 is higher at $34,520 to $46,180; and the Ford Escape, which offers two engines, is $37,644 to $45,574, all prices including delivery. In the Subaru stable, the Outback that offers nearly identical overall interior dimensions, runs from $36,190 to $49,590.

The Verdict

The 2023 Subaru Forester may not be tech-heavy, but it’s a solid workhorse that’s comfortable, pleasant to drive, well-sized, simple to use, and competitively priced. It faces a lot of strong competition, but it should be on the test-drive list.

Engine Displacement 2.5L
Engine Cylinders H4
Peak Horsepower 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Peak Torque 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.0 / 7.2 / 8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 762 / 1,957 L seats up/down
Model Tested 2023 Subaru Forester Sport
Base Price $37,295
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,975
Price as Tested $39,370
Optional Equipment