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Subaru Forester

CARFAX Finds: Subaru Forester

Every generation has its own vehicle that’s immensely practical, affordable and seemingly indestructible. Right now, that claim belongs to the Subaru Forester.

The Forester sticks to the Subaru virtues of function before form and standard all-wheel drive. You know, for those inclement Vermont winters when you can barely get up your driveway. But even for those who live at the beach and don’t have to worry about snow, the Forester is an affordable tool that fits a lot, is comfortable for five and sports great safety ratings. Among compact SUVs, it’s one of the smartest buys.

It’s popular, too, which is why you’ll have a good selection on used car lots, even if they aren’t bargain-basement cheap. Here’s what to look for in the listings when you go finding Foresters.

Between $10,000 and $15,000 gets you a previous-generation Forester, made from between 2009 until 2013.

No Forester is particularly special to look at or sit in. But get inside and the tall, boxy shape pays lots of dividends in visibility and space. Headroom is plentiful and cargo space is generous for what’s a reasonably compact vehicle. And the enormous glass area makes parking and maneuvering in tight traffic a cinch. The plastics may feel a bit Tupperware-ish, but they take a beating. Which is good if your kids or dogs are going to be spending lots of time in your Forester. But do look out for used examples that have clearly seen a lot of ski trips or family vacations, with high miles and noticeable wear. There are cleaner ones to be had.

Power from the 2.5-liter four is adequate, but no more. Where you’ll really feel a pinch is in fuel economy, however. The standard AWD and common four-speed automatic don’t do any favors when it comes to fuel economy. And while some have the standard five-speed manual, no previous generation Forester is especially frugal or fun. But that’s not really the point here.

You’ll need about $20,000 or more if you want to look at a lightly used 2014 or newer Forester. Pricey, sure, but worth seeking out if you want more refinement.

Thanks to a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Forester gets competitive fuel economy figures for 2014. Performance with the base 2.5-liter engine is staid, but noise levels are reduced. The cabin didn’t get much more upscale, remaining its honest, utilitarian self. But that’s all the Forester needed to be, anyway, and it’s refreshing that Subaru didn’t try to stir too much more excitement into the practical package.

Still, 2014s and newer models offer features like a big glass roof and more power amenities if you look at more highly optioned, and more expensive, versions.

The rarer ones are the turbocharged Forester 2.0XT models, which are definitely worth a look if you’re interested in having some fun with your Subaru box. The turbo Foresters are pricier, starting at around $25,000, but they have a certain charm that’s attractive.

The turbocharged Forester is the closest to a Subaru WRX SUV we get here, so you can pretend it’s your own family rally machine. With more aggressive styling from bumper to bumper, the Forester XT definitely stands out some from the normal school carpool vehicles. And on a good road, the turbo can flex its muscle and provide some strong performance even with the CVT.

Forester XTs also tend to be well-equipped, so look for amenities such as a panoramic roof, leather upholstery and even a power liftgate on these models.

Again, fuel economy isn’t the strongest. But if you’re having fun with the right pedal, you weren’t looking for stellar mpg, right?

Of course, there are alternatives. Even Subaru makes vehicles that rival the Forester for versatility and overall practicality. But the Forester’s fair pricing, sensible good-looks and array of packages and engines make it worth seeking out.

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