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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.


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.


Digital Doc (not verified)    April 18, 2018 - 10:50PM

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.

C.G. OUIMET (not verified)    April 19, 2018 - 5:31AM

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 ...

David Warren (not verified)    April 19, 2018 - 10:48AM

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. :-(

XTman (not verified)    April 27, 2018 - 1:01AM

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.

Ed B (not verified)    April 28, 2018 - 12:48AM

In reply to by XTman (not verified)

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.

XTman (not verified)    April 29, 2018 - 2:46AM

In reply to by Ed B (not verified)

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.

Yoram X Subaru man (not verified)    September 20, 2018 - 9:22AM

In reply to by XTman (not verified)

Hey fellow Israeli XT guy! Had the same experience. Was a great car to own and drive. Great Engine and fantastic handling, me on the Judea mountains... But as Subaru decided to kill this niche so I had to switch for something else and reluctantly moved to a BMW. Although on paper should be superior, and of course the premium feeling is so much better, as well as fuel economy, I quite miss my old XT. It did great in having all this power immediately available and people indeed were surprised when a regular looking Forester was passing them so effortlessly.... But I guess it's time to move on. The problem us that the next best thing costs so much.....

Bob Weinman (not verified)    October 16, 2018 - 12:28PM

In reply to by Yoram X Subaru man (not verified)

While vacationing in Jerusalem this past Feb. I was blown away after having seen Forester police cars on the road. Apparently they were the turbo model. I still may test one (for its ground clearance) if only my 2001 Lexus would die.
Take care, bob

zachary foster (not verified)    May 11, 2018 - 3:31AM

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...

Jeff (not verified)    May 17, 2018 - 8:00PM

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.

Kevin Andrew Vagen (not verified)    July 22, 2018 - 4:32PM

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...

Digital Doc (not verified)    July 23, 2018 - 12:17PM

In reply to by Kevin Andrew Vagen (not verified)

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.

Kevin (not verified)    July 23, 2018 - 2:53PM

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!

Nino (not verified)    December 15, 2018 - 1:06AM

I agree as a fellow subaru owner and fan. First the xt manual, then the xt. At least my other preferred car make, Mazda, seems to be stuffing their new turbo engine into anything it will fit, including the cx5 reportedly. Plus their styling and dynamics continue to impress.

deaddead2me (not verified)    February 18, 2019 - 5:18PM

I currently drive a 2018 FXT. I came from Hondas and Toyotas, to a 2012 WRX and 2012 Forester 2.5. I'm aging and I'm not in the mood for a race car and not too much of a soccer mom vehicle so I decided to combine the two and went with a 2018 FXT. My next vehicle will most likely NOT be a Subaru as they've gone full boring old-school-Toyota full-soccer mom. Ironically, Toyota is going the opposite. I'm also sick of Subaru engine leaks and oil consumption issues. So I suppose it's time for a change on my next pickup. I'm not even recommending Subarus to family members anymore, AWD is nothing with those stock tires on snow/mud anyhow. A nice reliable Toyota or Honda CUV/SUV with some snow tires will beat a oil consuming boring slow Subaru with superior AWD any day... I suppose. The new Forester looks bloated, at that size, there are many other options. That 2019 Acura RDX (they learned a hard lesson of trying to keep it boring 2013-2018) is probably what I should be looking at next or maybe a 2019 Rav4? or Honda Passport.

Jim (not verified)    February 19, 2019 - 1:22PM

Just purchased a 2018 XT 2.O TURBO FORESTER PREMIUM with 1339 original odometer miles with the factory warranty fantastic price...Added after market blind spot detection...

schrodinger_cube (not verified)    February 27, 2019 - 8:13PM

Subaru is playing safe for an older demographic.
I did not buy the XT , was looking for a manual car and they apparently stopped that as well so i walked out of the dealership and got a used 60K manual forester still nice and a bit cheaper and slower. but now Its up to me to turbo it, me to add an actual trailer hitch (subaru is so small nothing fits), me to install a mercedes inspired cup holder over the vents to heat/cool my coffee, me to raise the suspension and stiffen it, they have a global platform...they have a manual turbo STI... why be this way Subaru? make a sleeper to rival Volvo already, we know you can and I know you wont. So why would I but new If im doing all the work myself?

Mike_F (not verified)    March 29, 2019 - 7:09PM

Went with my wife to get a new wiper blade for her Tribeca last week. While waiting I talked to the guy in the showroom about a nice red XT they had - he said it was one of the last batch imported before being discontinued. Bought it there and then. Looking forward to another 10 years of trouble free all-weather Subaru motoring

Patrick Christensen (not verified)    April 3, 2019 - 9:08AM

Agree with the sentiments in the article. This is why I've been on the hunt for a SH 11-13 Forester XT. This version of the SH has some updates from the 09-10 version that make it more livable these days such as a backup camera and stock Bluetooth. It's not as boxy as the newer models and has that small but effective TD05 turbo.

Amanda Davis (not verified)    April 17, 2019 - 7:55PM

Would you go for a 2018 FXT or a 2019 Mazda CX-5? I need a small but not tiny SUV without a hefty price tag. I'm driving a 2010 VW CC, manual with a turbo engineer. If I have to give up a manual I can't give up the turbo too!

digitaldoc (not verified)    April 18, 2019 - 1:14PM

In reply to by Amanda Davis (not verified)

My problem with the Mazda is that the price goes up quite a bit to get the turbo as they restrict it to the top trim levels only. I hope that changes over time. Otherwise the CX-5 is a great option.

Matthew A. (not verified)    September 18, 2019 - 4:10PM

Original owner of a 2016 Silver FXT Touring with 48k miles. Gave that car to my 19 yo son and went looking for a 2018 replacement and was lucky enough to find a used white one with 16k miles on it. Had it shipped from NC to FL and am so happy to be the owner of two of these terrific vehicles. What do I like best about them? The turbo engine and the eyesight.

Guy (not verified)    January 3, 2020 - 4:52PM

Just a quick note:. it's not just the horsepower, it's also the weight that the horsepower is hauling. The Ascent is heavier than the Forester. The XT ( which I own and love driving) is, for me anyway, the sweet spot.