2012 Subaru Forester Review and Prices

Last Updated: Dec 3, 2011

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2012 Subaru Forester Buying Advice

The 2012 Subaru Forester is the best compact crossover for you if you want a small SUV that delivers surprising room and lively performance in a well-built package.

The 2012 Subaru Forester gets modest updates that include a height-adjustable front passenger seat and a revised optional navigation system that includes HD Radio with iTunes song tagging and a Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone interface, among other features. Overall, the 2012 edition of this four-door five-passenger wagon remains essentially the same as the version that debuted for model-year 2009. The 2012 Subaru Forester continues among the most carlike compact crossovers, eschewing false ruggedness for a pleasing driving experience and good overall utility. Key competitors in what has become a crowded segment include the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4.

Should you buy a 2012 Subaru Forester or wait for the 2013 Subaru Forester? Buy a 2012 Forester if practicality and price outweigh the latest styling and feature upgrades. The 2013 Forester is in line for a midcycle freshening. It’ll likely be largely cosmetic, with styling tweaks to the nose and maybe the tail, and perhaps a few features added to keep up with the competition. Forester’s essentials will remain intact, but you’ll almost certainly pay a higher price for the 2013 model, and probably won’t have significantly more to show for it.

2012 Subaru Forester Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Subaru Forester’s styling is unchanged. It continues with a crossover profile that features a long hood, flared wheel arches, and a tall, horizontal roofline. In overall size, the 2012 Forester is virtually a mirror reflection of the rival 2012 Honda CR-V, which puts it about mid-pack among compact crossover SUVs. It’s a sensible size that lets Forster fit in any garage and be a friend to parking-space-strapped urbanites.

The 2012 Subaru Forester’s interior is attractive, comfortable, and trimmed mostly in high-quality materials. The seating position is slightly higher than in a compact passenger car and combined with large windows, the Forester driver gets superior outward visibility. The nicely laid-out dashboard uses a distinctive winged motif that spreads upward and outward from the center console.

Interior room is generous and is a key Forester selling point. While its wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles – is actually among the briefest in its competitive set, smart packaging creates a cabin that’s more spacious than that in many larger rivals. A tall roofline affords lots of headroom and allows chair-like upright seating, so there’s plenty of room for four grownups, including fine legroom front and rear. A fifth adult who doesn’t mind sitting on a firm tuft of a center cushion can squeeze in the back if shoulder-to-shoulder coziness is acceptable.

The 2012 Forester also furnishes more cargo room than its exterior size might imply. There’s a generous 33.5 cubic feet behind the back seat and a full 68.3 cubic feet with the 60/40-split seatbacks folded flat. (In Foresters equipped with a moonroof, the housing intrudes enough to reduce cargo volume to 31 and 63 cubic feet, respectively.) Still, while Forester’s overall cargo space falls a few cubic feet short of the 2012 CR-V’s and the larger Toyota RAV4’s, it edges that of the similarly sized Nissan Rogue and handily beats the slightly smaller Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.

The 2012 Subaru Forester is offered in multiple trim levels, each with progressively more features and higher prices. The lineup is divided by engine type into the 2.5X series and more powerful turbocharged 2.5XT models. It starts with the base 2.5X, and moves up to the popularly equipped 2.5X Premium and the well-appointed 2.5X Limited, to the 2.5X Touring. The 2.5XT models are the 2.5XT Premium and the 2.5XT Touring.

Mechanical: The 2012 Subaru Forester carries over with no mechanical changes. All 2012 Foresters have a “boxer” four-cylinder engine in which the two cylinder banks are in horizontal opposition rather than in a vertical row, as is common practice with four-cylinder engines. Horizontally opposed engines are favored in part for the handling-enhancing low center of gravity they promote. Sports cars, including Porsches and the coming Subaru BRZ and its design companion, the Scion FR-S, are the only other vehicles to make so wide a use of boxer engines.

The one in the Forester 2.5X series is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It’s unchanged after g substantial revisions for model-year 2011 and delivers a reasonably peppy 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. (Think of torque as the force behind acceleration and horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.)

The 2012 Forester 2.5XT series uses a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which generates a livelier 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the 2.5X and 2.5X models. An automatic transmission is optional with those models and standard on all other 2012 Foresters. Unfortunately, the automatic Subaru saddles these crossovers with is a rather dated four-speed. This might change with the 2013 midcycle freshening if Subaru’s motivated to improve both performance and fuel economy -- and bring Forester abreast of the top competition -- by upgrading to a six-speed automatic.

The coming BRZ sports car will be rear-wheel drive, but the 2012 Forester and all other Subarus come standard with the carmaker’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system. There’s a difference between all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4wd). In broad terms, an AWD system is always engaged and requires no action from the driver; 4wd requires the driver to activate a transfer case to redistribute power between the front and rear wheels.

Subaru actually uses several AWD systems, each tailored to the particular vehicle and powertrain. Forster’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive systems have slight mechanical differences depending on whether the model is equipped with a manual or automatic transmission. Manual-transmission Foresters utilize a viscous-coupling locking center differential that in normal driving on dry roads splits power 50/50 front/rear. It transfers more power to the wheels with the best traction if the system detects wheel slippage.

Automatic-transmission Foresters feature a more sophisticated version of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. It uses an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch to more effectively distribute power based on acceleration, deceleration, and available traction.

Both systems are adept at getting Forester through deep snow and are actually quite accomplished in medium-duty off-roading. Forester also boasts a generous 8.7-8.9 inches of ground clearance, depending on model. Still, this crossover isn’t engineered for seriously rugged off-pavement duty, and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive lacks the low-range gearing that’s a hallmark of vehicles designed for hard-core off-roading.

The 2012 Subaru Forester rides on a four-wheel independent suspension that delivers a reasonably smooth ride with entertaining handling. The entry-level 2.5X model has 16-inch wheels and tires but all other 2012 Foresters are equipped with 17-inch tires on alloy wheels.

As required by federal regulation, an antiskid system is standard on all Foresters. It’s Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control system and it helps reduce chances of sideways slides in extreme handling maneuvers. Antilock four-wheel-disc brakes are included to improve control in emergency stops. Foresters with the manual transmission also come with Incline Start Assist, which helps prevent rolling backward from a stop when the clutch is released.

Features: The 2012 Subaru Forester adds a height-adjustable front passenger seat as standard equipment across the line; previously, only a height-adjustable driver’s seat was standard on all models.

In the other change of note, the optional in-dash navigation system is revised to include a 6.1-inch touchscreen display and voice-activated controls. It also features HD radio to bring in CD-quality radio signals (where available) with a “song tagging” feature that saves artist and title information of tunes on a connected iPod or iPhone for later retrieval or purchase via the online iTunes music store. Also bundled with the nav system is XM satellite radio, iPod connectivity and control, and a Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone interface. The navigation system remains an option available only on three Forester models, the 2.5X Limited and 2.5X Touring and the 2.5XT Touring.

Standard features on every 2012 Forester again include such essentials as air conditioning, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, tilt steering wheel, and a CD audio system.

Features optional or included on higher trim levels include a rearview camera for easier and safer parking, high-intensity headlamps, heated front seats, and a power sunroof, and a removable dashboard-docking navigation system supplied by GPS maker TomTom.

2012 Subaru Forester Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Subaru Forester don’t increase substantially over their model-year 2011 levels. Base-price range for the 2012 Forester is $21,370-$30,670. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Subaru’s fee for the 2012 Forester is $775.)

Base price for the 2012 Forester 2.5X is $21,370 with the manual transmission and $22,570 with automatic transmission. That’s quite competitive for an all-wheel-drive crossover in the compact class.

The 2012 Forester 2.5X Premium starts at $24,070 with manual transmission and at $25,070 with automatic. The 2012 2.5X Limited and 2.5X Touring models come with the automatic transmission and start at $27,370 and $28,670, respectively.

As for the turbo models, the 2012 Forester 2.5XT Limited has a base price of $27,870 and the 2.5XT Touring starts at $30,670.

Among 2012 Forester options, adding alloy wheels to the 2.5X model costs $400. On the 2.5X Premium model, an All-Weather Package that bundles heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, and a de-icing windshield washer costs $500. A package that further includes the TomTom navigation system, an in-dash CD/DVD player, and a backup camera is priced at $1,095.

The built-in factory navigation system with backup camera costs $1,200 on the 2012 Forester 2.5X Limited model and $1,000 on the 2.5X Touring and 2.5XT Touring models.  

2012 Subaru Forester Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Subaru Forester are unchanged and are about average for AWD compact crossovers with horsepower ratings similar to those of the Forster 2.5X and 2.5XT.

The 2012 Forster 2.5X series is rated at 21/27-mpg city/highway and 23 mpg combined city/highway with either the manual or automatic transmission.

The turbocharged 2012 Forester 2.5XT models rate 19/24/21 mpg. Subaru recommends regular-octane gas for Forster 2.5X models and premium-octane for 2.5XT versions.

2012 Subaru Forester Release Date back to top

The 2012 Subaru Forester went on sale in October 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Subaru Forester back to top

The original Forester debuted in the U.S. for model-year 1998 as the Japanese automaker’s first true crossover SUV – though the larger Outback has since grown from merely a station-wagon version of the Subaru Legacy sedan to a true midsize crossover.

The second-generation Forester arrived in model-year 2003, and the 2012 Forester belongs to the third-generation design introduced for model-year 2009. While a midcycle freshening is expected for model-year 2013, the Forester won’t undergo its next full redesign until model-year 2015.

We’d like to think the 2013 freshening would upgrade Forester’s antiquated four-speed automatic transmission with a more efficient six speed, as found in most rivals. But that may not happen until Forester’s next full redesign. The automaker could add a few new features for 2013, including blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems for added safety.

As for the fourth-generation Forester, it’ll be designed with improved fuel efficiency in mind, particularly with stricter federal corporate average fuel economy requirements phasing in by the 2016 model year. This would certainly mean at least a six-speed automatic transmission, along with revamped engines and perhaps even a stop-start function that saves fuel by automatically depowering the engine when the car’s not moving. Subaru hasn’t offered a gas-electric hybrid model, but a Forester hybrid wouldn’t be out of the question, and a plug-in electric version could be part of the automaker’s plans further down the road.

2012 Subaru Forester Competition back to top

Honda CR-V: Honda hopes to regain sales leadership in the compact-crossover class with the first fully redesigned CR-V since model-year 2017. The 2012 CR-V gets swoopier new styling, better fuel economy and more features. It remains a five-seater and retains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder as its sole engine, though it has marginally more power, at 185 horses and 163 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission is again a five-speed automatic. Front- and all-wheel drive return, the latter an improved system that exchanges mechanical operation for quicker-acting electric control. A new feature strategy brings CR-V abreast of most rivals by making Bluetooth and USB iPod connectivity standard on every model. Fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 CR-V improve 1-3 mpg, depending on model, to 23/31 mpg city/highway and 26 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 22/30/25 with AWD. Prices for the 2012 CR-V are estimated to start at $23,000 with front-wheel drive and at $24,300 with AWD and to range to about $32,300 for a fully loaded AWD model.

Nissan Rogue: After getting a midcycle freshening for model-year 2011 that featured a new grille, fascias, side molding, instrument panel, and upgraded interior materials, the 2012 Nissan Rogue sees few changes, though a fully redesigned replacement is likely for model-year 2013. This five-seater is spacious for its size and emphasizes the “sport” in sport-utility with more enthusiastic cornering ability than the traditional crossover. Its only engine is a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder that sacrifices some performance to the odd power-transfer habits of its gearless continuously variable transmission. Fuel-economy ratings are 23/28/25 mpg with front-drive, 22/26/24 with AWD. A wealth of comfort and convenience systems is offered for gadget lovers but they can drive up prices considerably. Base-price range for the 2012 Rogue is $22,390-$29,980.

Toyota RAV4: Nearing the end of its run in its current design generation, the 2012 RAV4 remains a Forester rival large enough to accommodate a toddler-sized optional third-row seat. Newly offered on the top Limited model is Toyota’s Entune multimedia system that features information streaming from smartphones. Handling isn’t quite as nimble as that of the lower-center-of-gravity Subaru, but performance is similar with the RAV4’s base 179-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which rates 21/27/24 mpg with AWD. RAV4’s a closet hot rod, however, when ordered with the 269-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 (19/26/21 mpg with AWD). A redesigned RAV4 is expected for model-2013. It should see new styling and the likely retirement of the V-6. A four-cylinder gas-electric hybrid version is possible, as is a full-electric version developed in association with electric-vehicle builder Tesla. Estimated 2012 RAV4 base-price range is $23,800-$30,300.

2012 Subaru Forester Next Steps