2017 Subaru Forester 1200-900 size

The thrill is gone - death of the Forester XT

Many of you who read this article may not remember the classic blues song from BB King in the title of this article. Perhaps I’m dating myself as well. I’ve been a Subaru enthusiast for quite some time and a current 2017 Forester XT owner. I read Torque News frequently and was eagerly awaiting the new Forester on the global platform.
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The various spy shots of the new Subaru Forester didn’t get me overly excited and frankly I was just hoping Subaru would surprise us. Well, now that the bubble has burst and we’ve seen the new Forester in all of its lackluster glory – it’s back to reality. We come to understand the Vizviv concepts have no basis in reality and aren’t ushering in a golden era of design innovation. I understand the concepts are to get folks excited about future design prospects and illicit industry buzz. However, as a Subaru enthusiast these reveals are mere mirages of good intentions.

Subaru's Success vs Complacency

No one can argue Subaru’s success in the industry, but in this instance success may breed complacency. I am a baby-booming empty-nester – I think those adjectives sum me up for the most part. I’ve had Acura’s since 2012 and was looking to downsize to an RDX in 2014.

However, I noticed a trend at Acura as well. They changed their popular RDX turbo with Super All Wheel handling model to a much tamer version – specifically aimed at the baby boomers in my opinion. The 2014-18 new and improved RDX had AWD lite, the all-wheel version common in the Honda products (a cost move). They kept the V6 but it was uninspired to say the least. More gears don’t translate to more fun in that car. I remember taking the Acura RDX for a test drive. The exterior was modern but the infotainment system seemed like a vestige from the early 2000’s plasma screens. The ride was numb and I remember the dealer talked more about his family then the attributes of the car. As I was driving I thought to myself – It can’t be! I’ve become my father (a Buick man). Trust me, I certainly don’t mean to insult Buick drivers. To each his own, but their cars are much more known for comfort versus excitement.

So, I ventured over to a Subaru dealer. Granted, the Forester is not an eye-catcher to say the least. It’s quirky and basic from a utilitarian view. I drove the 2.5 liter version first – Yawn… They happened to have a turbo XT on the lot. We tried that and Whoaaa! I didn’t see that coming. The ride was fun, the pseudo CVT gear changes actually worked and gave me a feeling of exhilaration. I hadn’t had fun driving in a while and this little SUV with its quirks and all was fun to drive. This little SUV was planted on the turns and the torque vectoring capability was noticeable on the winding country road we drove. Oh by the way, it was $7K less than the RDX – that helped too. In addition, the Eyesight safety system was a must for me. The RDX Acurawatch was a costly add-on to an already dated interior and uninspiring ride.

Let’s fast forward to the 2019 Forester Debut – it was like watching a make-over show in reverse. The interior was notably updated with some new tech to boot (Driverfocus on the Limited version only). Unfortunately, they just did a tummy tuck on the exterior and the presentation of the Sport version was an oxymoron – introducing the Sport without the sport. Who needs a turbo engine, when you can get 182 HP in this new version? Relax, you’re getting a 7 HP bump from our previous 2.5 liter CVT (175 HP) and we’re throwing in some orange cladding and trim. Really... As an enthusiast I was insulted by their feeble attempt to appease the “five percenters” as they call us. Subaru made it clear that since only 5% of all Forester owners bought the XT they didn’t feel compelled to carry it forward and as a cost saving measure it made sense to them.

I don’t want this article to give you the wrong impression – I’m a big fan of Subaru. However, it seems like the new Forester is a test case to see if they can mass produce a carline with lower costs and still improve on their bottom line. All that to say, the bean counters won and the enthusiasts lost. The internet and Facebook was full of comments – many bemoaning the loss of the XT. The others simply blamed the market place like Subaru – sorry, if you only would have brought more…

Subaru's Move To Mainstream

However, the bigger picture is Subaru’s move to mainstream. This new era seems all about the masses and not building on the uniqueness that made Subaru different. I feared this last year and as a customer wrote their management. I got the usual platitudes but the direction was already set in motion and I and many others were just a speed bump. I’m not foolish to believe that one voice (or 5%) can make a difference, but passion for a carline is something true car manufacturers would love to experience.

Well, I am at a crossroads as I consider a future upgrade. Perhaps I may keep my XT, but the only carline with a turbo engine will be the Ascent and the rumor is the new Outback will have that new turbo as well. I won’t get my hopes up but we shall see. One thing we know for sure, it will pretty much look like the current Outback.

Acura finally saw the folly in the pursuit of mainstream thinking, as evidenced by their 2019 RDX reveal. They went back to the turbo, totally changed their infotainment system, added the super-handling AWD in the higher end models and took designing risk on the exterior, it’s bold but not over the top like Lexus. I believe that car will be a winner. They got back to their enthusiast roots – even though the current RDX was a hit.

Complacency Is The Enemy of Innovation

I am hoping Subaru doesn’t spend too much time in the sea of tranquility when it comes to the masses of SUV and CUV choices out there. That reminds me of an old Monkey’s song, “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday”. Here’s hoping Subaru doesn’t spend too much time in status symbol land. Out of the box thinking got them to this point and complacency is the enemy of innovation. The next few years and sales figures will be the bell weather for where Subaru is heading. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the enthusiasts at Subaru land a few body blows (and wins) against the bean counters.


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Comments

The XT was dead already. I walked into a dealership in Nov '17 to test drive, and probably buy one, but they had none to test, and was told there were none to be within 100 miles at least. Then they complain the sales are down, but it looks like a self fulfilling prophesy.
I'm looking to moving back to an SUV this year trading in my 2012 TL SH-AWD. The Forester was at the top of the list until they dropped the XT! The RDX wasn't on my list due to the lackluster 2018 version but that new 2019 RDX is looking really good. I can't wait for a test drive ...
Excellent observations. I'm a loyal, 5-time Subaru owner who has driven everything from the Legacy 2.5 GT (in sedan and station wagon versions) to a modest Impreza (and am currently driving my second Forester), and you put in words the welling disappointment that was pushing into my consciousness but had not yet found words -- and the reason why I had already emotionally moved on and am not considering Subarus for my next purchase. The thrill, the uniqueness, the superior blend of quirky design, drivability, reliability, practicality, sleeper performance, economy, and mainstream-conformity-rejecting awesomeness that made me a proud member of the Subaru tribe... have been gradually gutted. :-(
I'm a proud owner of a 2015 Forester XT. It's an excellent, reliable, well sized SUV and it represents many values that I appreciate: being a sleeper, unassuming, looks like regular Joe , however, when it comes to substance, it checks all boxes. It is very practical in schlepping everything. Great visibility. It is surprisingly quick and stable while driving through the upper Galilee's winding roads. It is different, slightly ugly with an attitude. For Subaru the FXT carries a hidden bonus: other drivers notice a very quick Forester, instead of the snailish one . This revelation sends many of them to Subaru's dealerships, to find out what's going on. Being capable of choosing a unique and relatively rare type of Subaru is based on knowledge. This makes those 5% FXT owners staunch, opinionated Subaru fans, who could influence and shape the pro-Subaru perception of their family members and friends. I know that Subaru has to comply with the COFY tight requirements. Nevertheless, I'm afraid that unless Subaru comes up with suitable replacement, like a powerful turbo-hybrid Forester, those 5% Subaru fans are lost, gone to other brands. I'm going to keep my FXT for another year, or two, before I decide to stay with Subaru , or to switch camps.
Great points XTman. There were many times I’d blow by others cars at lights to their surprise. Most non-enthusiasts don’t know much about the Forester and assume it’s slow. I remember the look a one guy’s face who had a turbo Hyundai. He didn’t figure it out until I was well past him. I’m no drag racer, but boy was that fun. Subaru is totaling missing the point as you note. Without an alternative, your current that 5% will move out of the carline. As a Subaru enthusiast, my hope is the Outback will get the new Turbo found in the Ascent - if not I’m looking at the 2019 redesigned Acura RDX or Volvo XC40. Thanks for your comments.
Thank you Ed B. I wish you are right about the new Outback. I'm just puzzled by this particular choice: Why would Subaru trash an excellent and reliable 2.0 l direct injection turbo engine and replace it with a new, yet unproven, larger 2.4 l turbo, which might not be more economical. We'll have to wait and hope for the better.
I really doubt they are putting the new 2.4turbo into the next Forester...ever.
I too went through this comparison although i have a feeling im not exactly their target market with the XT considering im 22 with no kids but i bought the 2018 model year in October (2017) after comparing it to everything from a jeep grand Cherokee dodge durango (both the v6 and the v8 versions) even the ford escape and went as far as to add in the WRX and STI.. honestly i ended up with the XT because better on gas and lighter than the fca offerings and well cheaper to insure than the WRX as well as i actually got mine for a pretty great deal... sticker was around 41K i paid 33K as well as its more practical than the WRX was...
The reason only 5% of Foresters sold are XTs is that it is impossible to find one. We have three local dealers, one of which has been for years one of the top dealers by volume in the US (number 1 for quite a few). I Since the beginning of the year, only 4 have come into town. The exterior/interior color selection is a joke. If you want an XT, you have take what is available. Even more annoying, up until this model year, the Eyesight suite was an OPTION on the top of the line XT Touring, the most expensive Subaru model and it is not available on the XT premium even though it is available on the much less expensive 2.5 Premium. That does not really matter though, There has not been an XT Premium available here this year.
Jeff, your dealer may have just steered you wrong. The ordering process is fairly simple and you customize to your liking, which I did for my 2017 XT.
The XT died in the third generation when they stopped making it with a standard. We just bought our 2016 Forester Premium yesterday, and I'm sad that it might be our last stick Subaru... And it's awesome...
So go the enthusiasts... I think their plan is to upsell the folks that want a turbo to the new Ascent, however, not everyone wants, or even has room for the larger car. While their sales are up for now, over time, this strategy is foolhardy.
Let's hope not! For Subaru fans in Boston like myself, I never want a 3-row vehicle that I have to park, the only exception being the Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 (which came with a standard!). Now that I mention Suzuki, Subaru is very fortunate that they left the United States market, because I would also rather have an 2013 SX4 than any NA-Impreza. Now those were some impressive alternatives!