The Subaru Forester has long been the preferred machine for outdoor enthusiasts that love camping, dogs, and eating granola. Jokes aside, the Frontier has been the bread and butter of the Subaru lineup for more than a decade. It’s the brand’s best-selling model and for many it is the benchmark for brand is supposed to be and represent. The Forester is now in its fourth generation, but does it still hold the values of the Subaru brand? We spent a week with a new 2015 model to see if this SUV still deserves the Subaru badge.

The new Forester arrived in 2014, so the 2015 model doesn’t have any major changes that are easy to spot with the naked eye. The exterior design is completely unchanged, but the bold, square styling of the Forester has always been the best looking of Subaru’s SUV lineup to my eye, and that still continues. The hawkeye headlights make a cool visual statement, and the hexagaonal grille still looks interesting across the nose.

     

    The best part of the exterior for me has always been the profile view. The tall windows and low beltline always make the Forester look bigger than it is. It also serves to make the view from the inside much better. Sightlines outward from the cockpit are some of the best in the class, and the sheer volume of glass gives the cabin an open feel that is missing from a lot of the competitors. It can turn the machine into an oven on a hot day if your windows are not properly tinted however, so be aware.

    Aside from the glass, the interior of the Forester is standard Subaru affair. In short, it’s slapped together from cheap materials, but it is functional and it looks nice enough for it’s price bracket. One of the big stories for the 2015 Forester is the availability of the EyeSight on lower trim models. Our tester is one such machine.

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    The EyeSight system uses a mounted camera system that scans the road ahead to provide a plethora of safety and technology features. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure, and crash avoidance tech is just the start. The whole package will cost you an extra $1,300 or so, and you can add it to any Forester except the base level 2.5i.

    The system itself works well enough and Subaru has been tweaking an improving it over the last few years. It may not be as sophisticated as systems from companies like Audi and Volvo who use radar and lasers to keep track of where your car is, but it works nearly as well. It does run into some issues in poor weather, and a well-placed bird bomb can obscure one of the cameras and send the system into a small fit, but overall it is a great safety system that most owners will want to add. The EyeSight system also helped push the Forester ever higher in crash test ratings, and it was the first compact SUV to be awarded the Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS.

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    For this new generation, Subaru gave the Forester a brand-new engine, but you would ever know it from behind the wheel. The old car was powered by a 2.5-liter flat-four that made 170 hp. The new engine is also a 2.5-liter flat-four, and it also makes 170 horsepower. So, it’s a new engine, with a new block and new design that features altered bore and stroke measurements, as well as new advanced engine technologies, but it produces the same horsepower as the old model, so it really doesn’t feel that new or different.

    Getting power from that motor down to the wheels is Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT, and while it’s a perfectly functional transmission, it is far from ideal. There is a fair bit of rubber-banding, and any semblance of sporty driving is marred by the sluggish response. That said, it does help increase fuel economy, and the Forester is rated at an EPA-estimated 32 mpg, besting many FWD competitors.

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    The real draw of a Subaru has always been a mix of practicality and driving feel. Subarus always had a particular feel that was unique in the automotive space. They felt nimble, but capable. Almost like a mountain goat in a way. They were small and seemed fragile, but once you started to push them, they would outperform almost anything, and you could feel that in the way it drove. The new engine may not be more powerful, and the CVT saps some of the fun from the little crossover, but it still maintains that special Subaru-ness that past owners love and look for.

    It also still maintains its practical roots. The rear seats fold to make a giant flat-load floor, the open cockpit provides plenty of space for dogs, camping gear, and even space for a friend or two on top of all that.

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    The 2015 Subaru Forester is better than its predecessors in some ways, and worse in others, but overall the Forester still deserves to be the flag-bearer for the Subaru lineup. Its capable, practical, and it feels like it would take an act of god to stop it. Subaru may be going more mainstream every single year, but the Forester is still just quirky enough to deserve the Subaru badge.