$9,864 - $14,078

2012 Subaru Forester Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Subaru Forester was new.


Performance: 8.3

The Subaru Forester receives praise for its sporty, car-like ride and standard all-wheel drive. The base engine is adequate, though reviewers prefer the turbocharged engine’s extra power. One of the only concerns is that the optional automatic transmission doesn’t offer as many gears as many rivals.

  • "Acceleration in 4th and 5th is often leisurely enough to require some slick downshifting if you need to overtake; although the boxer engine's lightly eager warble is compensation." -- Edmunds
  • "Forester has a car-like demeanor. Steering is direct with sporty heft. Lean in corners is kept well in check, though some testers complain of a slightly top-heavy feel." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "Around town, the Forester 2.5XT Limited proves an easy driver. The seating position is high enough to give a good view of surroundings, yet the car feels light and nimble. The engine moves the car along without strain, and the four-speed-automatic transmission delivers mostly transparent shifts." -- CNET
  • "Ride is well-controlled with a polished feel, the steering arcs through bends with nice weighting and feedback, brakes are strong, and you've always got Subaru's full-time all-wheel-drive system on hand should the road turn gravely, wet, or snowy." -- Motor Trend

Acceleration and Power

The base Forester is powered by a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional. Upgrade to the 2.5XT model, and you’ll get a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 224 horsepower and a four-speed automatic. Reviewers generally find the base engine adequate, but prefer the extra power of the 2.5XT. However, some complain that the base engine and four-speed automatic transmission aren’t a good combination. They say that the five-speed manual makes it easier to get the most power out of the base engine.

According to the EPA, the Forester with the base engine should earn 21/27 mpg city/highway with both manual and automatic transmissions. Models with the turbocharged engine should net 19/24 mpg. These figures are about average for the class.

  • "The conventional 4-cylinder has no surplus of power, but is plenty adequate for around-town driving. After a brief bout of turbo lag, the 2.5XT's engine delivers stronger acceleration in all situations. Despite having just 4 speeds, the automatic transmission matches quite well with either engine." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "Slow-to-react automatic." -- Cars.com 
  • "The 5-speed manual transmission might be a good idea if you spend a lot of time on the road -- it's rated at 2 mpg more than the automatic on the highway -- but I would recommend the optional 4-speed automatic. Around town, the manual requires a lot of work to keep the engine in the power band, and the automatic is nearly as good on gas.” -- MSN
  • "The four-speed-automatic transmission seems primitive compared with the competition.” -- CNET
  • "On the freeway, a Forester 2.5X has to work to keep up with a Forester XT. We found the four-speed automatic transmission and the 170-horsepower engine a weak combination. Running with the flow of traffic into LA on an extremely slight upgrade, ours needed to frequently kick down." -- New Car Test Drive

Handling and Braking

Test drivers praise the Forester's handling for its sporty feel, which is aided by its standard all-wheel drive system. Most agree that the ride is comfortable on the highway, but the Forester also performs well when the pavement ends.

  • "The ride is comfortable, with harshness noticeable over only larger road imperfections. Forester's relatively short wheelbase contributes to more pitching and diving on wavy surfaces than most vehicles in this class." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "The impressive body control doesn't come at the expense of comfort, either, as our Subaru Forester 2.0 took on ice-damaged roads with a calm pliancy." -- Edmunds 
  • "The Forester responded expertly -- gripping as needed when needed; preventing short turns into skids from becoming longer, more dangerous skids; and handling potentially upsetting vehicle weight transfers with aplomb." -- Washington Post
  • "When cornering on smooth roads, the suspension feels relatively soft, though on dirt roads or rough pavement it feels perfect. The suspension does a good job. The highway ride is comfortable, with no harsh spots." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "Off on a side road, the pavement ends in favor of dirt. The Forester 2.5XT Limited doesn't feel bothered, chunking along while its suspension damps out the bigger ruts and holes." -- CNET

All-Wheel Drive

The Forester comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive, which makes it a great value in its class. The system impresses test drivers with its abilities in snow, slippery conditions and even off-road.

  • "Up and down steep and rutted dirt roads normally closed off to all but cloven-hooved bison, the Forester clawed its way, standard symmetrical all-wheel drive pulling and pushing as grade and grip dictated, almost never faltering. The Forester went well beyond what 99 percent of crossover buyers would ever consider--and even beyond what we expected it could do." -- AutoWeek
  • "Subaru does AWD as well as Volvo does seats." -- USA Today
  • "Trekking through a meadow, the Forester really seems to be in its element, a perfect car for a back country picnic. This dirt road work hardly taxes the all-wheel-drive system, which would find its best use helping the Forester 2.5XT Limited tackle ski trips up snow-covered roads." -- CNET

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