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Subaru Forester review: This compact SUV stands out in a crowded field

No need to go all the way with power when it comes to the 2016 Subaru Forester

The Forester boasts nimble feel and good road manners.

Jil McIntosh/For Metro

The Forester boasts nimble feel and good road manners.

Extra power is good for bragging rights, but it isn’t always necessary to opt for it just because it’s there. That was evident when I drove the two engine choices in Subaru’s Forester. While the base engine doesn’t sound as impressive on paper as its stronger sibling, it should be enough for many drivers and for a lot less cash.

The entry-level powerplant is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower. Moving up to the turbocharged 2.0-litre gives you 250 horses, but it’s an extra $2,200 to do so. Test-drive them both before you make up your mind solely on the power numbers.

My 2.5i, as it’s called, was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. It keeps the price down, but that’s about all; the shifter feels mushy and there’s no driving excitement in it. You’re best to go for the automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is standard on all models.

The shifter aside, the Forester has always been one of my favourite vehicles. It’s nicely sized and well-balanced, and the steering is light but responsive. It’s roomy and comfortable, and the back seats fold flat for extra storage space. The cabin design is handsome and the controls are large and easy to use, save for a few touchscreen icons that can be tough to accurately tap when you’re moving.

My 2.5i was in Touring trim, which gave me a 6.2-inch touchscreen stereo, while my turbocharged tester in top-line Limited trim included a 7-inch infotainment system with navigation that, new for 2016, includes map updating. Higher trim lines can also be optioned with EyeSight, which uses a windshield-mounted camera for such features as lane departure warning and collision mitigation.

This smaller SUV/crossover segment is a crowded one, but the Forester holds its own. It’s priced about the middle of the pack, and since all-wheel drive is an option on some of its competitors, be sure you’re comparing prices accordingly. I think its nimble feel and good road manners set it apart from many of the rest, even if you don’t feel a need to go all the way with the power.

The checklist: 2016 Subaru Forester

THE BASICS
Type. Four-door, five-passenger compact SUV
Engine (hp/torque). 2.5-litre horizontal four-cylinder (170/174); 2.0-litre turbocharged horizontal four-cylinder (250/258)
Transmissions. Six-speed manual or continuously variable (CVT)
Price. $25,995 (base), $29,995 (as tested), plus destination

COOL FEATURES
• EyeSight camera-based safety technologies
• Steering-responsive fog lights
• Hill descent control
• Panoramic sunroof
• Power-operated liftgate
• Windshield wiper de-icer
• Auto-dimming mirrors

POINTS
• Subaru’s “symmetrical” all-wheel drive doesn’t refer to the power split, but to the position of its engine, transmission, and driveline components.
• The Forester can be ordered as PZEV, for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, which uses a specific catalytic converter, air intake and fuel injectors; it was designed to meet California’s air standards.
• Turbo models add unique front-end styling but are optioned the same as comparable non-turbo trim lines.

MARKET POSITION
Subaru made its mark by offering all-wheel drive in all of its vehicles (except for the recently-added BRZ sports car), which made it popular for drivers facing Canadian winters, along with using only horizontally-opposed engines.

THE COMPETITION
Ford Escape AWD — Base price: $27,199
Toyota RAV4 AWD — Base price: $27,255
Honda CR-V AWD — Base price: $28,550

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