In this guide, I will analyze the best and worst Subaru Forester years, breaking down its reliability, safety as well as owner reviews and complaints.
Leveraging data from very credible sources like NHTSA, Consumer Reports, and Kelley Blue Book, we’ve synthesized years of owner feedback, safety ratings, and recall data to provide a nuanced perspective on the Forester’s journey.
Discover which Forester years are best to buy in terms of reliability and value, which are merely average, and which Forester years to avoid.
Let’s dive right in.
Table of ContentsShow
Subaru Forester Generations
The Subaru Forester debuted with the introduction of its first generation in 1998 as a compact crossover SUV, marrying the benefits of passenger cars with the versatility of an SUV.
Its introduction was marked by practicality, enhanced visibility, and the signature all-wheel-drive system, establishing Subaru’s commitment to safety and performance.
The table below provides a comprehensive view of all the Subaru Forester generations from its inception in 1998 to the present:
|1st generation (SF)||1998-2002|
|2nd generation (SG)||2003-2008|
|3rd generation (SH)||2009-2013|
|4th generation (SJ)||2014-2018|
|5th generation (SK)||2019-Present|
As with many automotive lines, the evolution between generations often signifies significant shifts in technology, design, and performance. Thus, recognizing these generational distinctions is crucial, especially when considering a purchase.
Subaru Forester Best, Neutral, and Worst Years
We consider a plethora of factors to ensure that our rankings are accurate and reflective of the Forester’s performance, safety, and owner satisfaction. Our assessments rely heavily on:
- Owner-reported reliability (surveys)
- Annual maintenance costs
- Safety ratings
- Consumer Reports reliability scores
- Consumer Reports owner satisfaction scores
- NHTSA recalls, investigations, and complaints
- Edmunds owner ratings
- JD Power owner ratings
- Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB) owner ratings
- VehicleHistory owner ratings
- Cars.com owner ratings
The upcoming graph provides an illustrative combination of ratings sourced from the platforms mentioned above.
Subsequently, we’ve tabulated our categorizations, highlighting each model year as either the best, neutral, or worst.
|Generation||Best Years||Neutral Years||Worst Years|
|1st generation (SF)||2000|
|2nd generation (SG)||2003|
|3rd generation (SH)||2011|
|4th generation (SJ)||2016|
|5th generation (SK)||2021|
Neutral Years are those that neither stand out exceptionally in terms of performance and reliability nor falter noticeably. They maintain an average standing, not leaning drastically toward the best or worst categories.
It’s pivotal to understand that some of these indicators have a negative impact on a car’s rank. For instance, the number of NHTSA recalls acts as a detractor. The more complaints and recalls a model has, the less reliable it is deemed.
Let’s dive into the specifications of the best, neutral, and worst years.
Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 1st Generation (1998-2002)
The Subaru Forester embarked on its automotive journey with its first generation, which premiered in 1998.
As a pioneer in blending the practicality and ruggedness of an SUV with the comfort and maneuverability of a passenger car, the Forester quickly carved a niche for itself in the automotive market.
The Best Years: 2000, 2001, 2002
The years 2000 through 2002 marked a period of maturation and refinement for the Forester. While retaining its base 2.5-liter SOHC engine, Subaru offered enhanced powertrain options, ensuring smoother transmission shifts and better overall drivability.
The trim levels during these years granted consumers a range of choices from basic setup “L” to premium package “S” inclusive of advanced technological features, such as enhanced audio systems, improved upholstery, and additional convenience features.
These models incorporated reinforced crash structures, advanced airbag systems, and more robust braking mechanisms.
Fuel efficiency statistics from Consumer Reports also lauded these years, pegging city and highway mileage at 15 mpg and 26 mpg respectively.
Still, these models weren’t entirely free of faults. Persistent issues, especially with the head gaskets, transmission, and wheel bearings, did cast a shadow over their reliability. As a result, prospective buyers are strongly advised to meticulously check the vehicle’s VIN before purchasing.
The Worst Years: 1998, 1999
The 1998 Forester was particularly notorious for its engine problems, with the head gasket failures in the 2.5l DOHC engines becoming a recurring grievance among owners.
This model year also faced transmission hitches, with instances of the clutch chattering and failing to engage, a concern heightened in colder climes. Further, suspension challenges arose, prominently with the premature wear and subsequent failure of rear wheel bearings.
Subaru of America Inc. recalled a significant number of the 1998 and 1999 models due to extended braking distances in colder environments, posing an undeniable accident risk.
The 1999 Forester wasn’t spared either, echoing many of the aforementioned issues. With head gasket failures still at the forefront, wheel bearing wear became a recurrent problem, and transmission woes persisted with shifting difficulties emerging as a common complaint.
Financially, these issues took a toll on owners. For instance, head gasket replacements, depending on other components that might need simultaneous replacement like the timing belt or water pump, could push expenses between $1600 to $2300.
Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 2nd Generation (2003-2008)
Subaru introduced the second generation of its Forester series in 2003, a revision that exemplified the company’s commitment to refinement and advancement.
With a more prominent stance, greater interior space, and a reinforced platform, Subaru solidified the Forester’s position as a segment leader in the growing crossover SUV market.
The Best Years: 2003, 2004, 2005
Premium trim “XS” came endowed with features like panoramic sunroofs, heated seats, and advanced infotainment systems.
These years also saw the implementation of Subaru’s celebrated Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system as a standard, providing a more balanced and stable driving dynamic, especially in tricky terrains or adverse weather.
On the safety front, enhanced braking systems, additional airbags, and reinforced chassis structures were some of the advancements.
As for owner satisfaction, Consumer Reports reflected a trend of increasing contentment, particularly with the 2003, 2004, and 2005 models, which received above-average scores.
Their average fuel consumption metrics were also respectable, standing at 15 mpg for city and 28 mpg for highway driving.
The Neutral Years: 2007, 2008
For 2007 and 2008 Subaru Frontier models, engine options, trim-level offerings and technological inclusions remained consistent with the earlier years, ensuring a level of continuity that returning customers would appreciate.
Safety features remained a priority, with no compromises on the Symmetrical AWD system and the inclusion of advanced driver-assist systems in higher trims.
Some owners pointed out problems related to fuel lines, particularly in colder regions. It was found that excessive contraction of fuel lines during cold weather led to a strong fuel smell, an issue Subaru addressed in later models.
Additionally, there was a recall concerning the front lower control arms which could corrode due to exposure to snow-melting agents on roads.
The Worst Years: 2006
The 2006 Subaru Forester was plagued by several issues. One of the primary problems was the continuation of leaky head gasket issues, especially noticeable in colder regions.
This not only disrupted the vehicle’s performance but also became a significant maintenance expense for many owners.
Moreover, there were a few reports of the strong fuel smell in cold weather, similar to the 2007 and 2008 models.
What made the worries worse was the recall regarding the possible breaking of the front lower control arms because of rust, particularly in places where winter road salts were heavily used.
Such concerns, coupled with a few sporadic reports about transmission inconsistencies, rendered the 2006 model year less favorable compared to its peers.
Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 3rd Generation (2009-2013)
The third generation of the Forester, launched in 2009, further blended the lines between a rugged SUV and a comfortable family car with an augmented platform, enhanced interior ergonomics, and a sharper design language.
Due to the higher number of NHTSA recalls and complaints this generation received, we strongly recommend you checking VIN before any purchase.
The Best Years: 2011, 2012
The 2011 and 2012 Subaru Forester models showcased Subaru’s dedication to refining performance and reliability in this turbulent generation with an average of 15 recalls.
Trim levels were the 2.5X Limited, the 2.5X Premium, the 2.5X, and the 2.5XT Limited and 2.5XT Premium both with turbo. The interior color was either black or light gray, with three upholstery selections, including leather.
Subaru’s renowned Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, in tandem with improved suspension setups, translated to comfortable and stable ride quality. Fuel consumption was 16 mpg for city and 28 mpg for highway driving for the third generation.
Subaru also emphasized the vehicle’s off-road capabilities, tweaking the ground clearance and all-wheel-drive system for improved performance on rugged terrains.
Positive reception from both critics and customers for these years was corroborated by high owner satisfaction scores and relatively fewer reported issues.
The Worst Years: 2009, 2010, 2013
The 2009, 2010, and 2013 Forester models faced a series of challenges.
The 2009 Forester, in particular, received many recalls, with the most significant being related to the passenger frontal airbag inflators. This defect posed a risk of the inflators exploding and projecting sharp metal fragments that could cause serious injuries.
Owners also flagged various electrical malfunctions, particularly affecting warning indicators, dashboard displays, and windshield wipers.
Another noteworthy recall pertained to a potential break in the engine oil supply pipe, which if not addressed, could lead to significant engine damage.
According to the NHTSA 2010 Subaru Forester complaints, owners reported that the driver’s seat’s front left side weld had a tendency to break, leading to the seat collapsing. Occasional head gasket issues also persisted, carrying over the woes from the previous generations.
As for the 2013 Forester, while it saw fewer recalls than the 2009 model, the overall ratings and reception were lukewarm. A specific concern that stood out was brake line corrosion, particularly in states known for heavy salt usage during winters.
Furthermore, Kelley Blue Book’s rating for this generation stood at a modest 4.2 out of 5, reflecting a mixed bag of praises and critiques.
Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 4th Generation (2014-2018)
The fourth generation of the Subaru Forester was introduced as a reflection of Subaru’s determination to both rectify past mistakes and adapt to the fast-paced evolution of the automotive world.
It is this generation that saw Subaru truly harmonize the duality of urban sophistication and off-road ruggedness in the Forester.
The Best Years: 2016, 2018
The 2016 and 2018 Subaru Forester models emerged as the standout performers of this generation.
These models included 2.5i in base, Premium, Limited and top-line Touring versions, and performance-oriented turbocharged 2.0XT (253 PS) in Premium and Touring versions.
The 2016 Forester saw the integration of Subaru’s famed Eyesight Driver Assist Technology, a suite of safety features that incorporated adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and sway warning.
Furthermore, these years witnessed an upgrade in interior quality with more premium materials and state-of-the-art infotainment options. The ride quality and cabin noise insulation were considerably enhanced, catering to the needs of urban commuters and highway travelers.
Another commendable addition in these years was the X-Mode feature for the AWD system, optimizing the vehicle’s performance in challenging terrains and conditions.
Fuel efficiency of the fourth-generation Frontier boosted to 18 mpg for city and 35 mpg for highway driving.
The Worst Years: 2014, 2015, 2017
The 2014 Forester, being the debut model for this generation, faced teething issues. Owners reported problems with the Occupant Detection System (ODS), leading to illumination of the passenger side airbag warning light.
Furthermore, suspension concerns emerged, with reports of the front suspension exhibiting wobbling at higher speeds, causing the vehicle to shake. Another prevalent grievance was excessive oil consumption, an issue Subaru had grappled with in the past.
The 2015 Forester seemed to inherit some of the problems from its predecessor. Airbag issues persisted, culminating in a significant recall in 2019 for certain 2015-2018 models due to faulty ODS. Beyond this, there were multiple reports of engine problems, primarily revolving around excessive oil consumption.
Another disconcerting problem raised by owners was the vehicle’s erratic speed control, where the car seemed to spontaneously gain or lose speed. Despite the increasing number of complaints, Subaru haven’t issued any recall yet.
The 2017 Forester complaints concerned spontaneous cracks appearing on windshields, a defect that seemed to plague several models across this generation.
In addition to this, a service program was initiated by Subaru of America Inc. to inspect and replace, if necessary, the air conditioning condenser assembly in certain 2017 and 2018 models. The reason behind this was a propensity for corrosion within the condenser tube walls, which could lead to refrigerant leaks and compromised cooling efficiency.
Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 5th Generation (2019-present)
With an increased wheelbase and a design overhaul, the 5th generation also witnessed advancements in technology and safety, solidifying the Forester’s standing as one of the leading compact SUVs.
The Best Years: 2021, 2022, 2023
The 2021, 2022, and 2023 Subaru Foresters represent the pinnacle of Subaru’s engineering and design aspirations.
With a robust 2.5-liter flat-four engine, these models boasted improvements in power delivery and efficiency. Paired with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive, they showcased an impressive balance between city driving and off-road capabilities.
Initial trim levels available are Basic, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring. As standard, the Forester comes with the Starlink Multimedia system featuring a 6.5-inch touchscreen.
The later models in this generation came equipped with an advanced version of the EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, offering features such as lane centering and adaptive cruise control.
Fuel efficiency boosted further to 20 mpg for city and 38 mpg for highway driving.
The Neutral Years: 2020
The 2020 Subaru Forester can be viewed as a transitional model. While it continued the legacy of its predecessors in terms of design and performance, it didn’t exhibit the same frequency of issues as the 2019 model.
However, it didn’t quite reach the zenith of the subsequent years in terms of refinement and feature enhancements. One of the recurring issues for this year was the persistent windshield problem, where spontaneous cracks became a concern for many owners.
Despite these concerns, the 2020 model did uphold Subaru’s reputation for safety, ruggedness, and overall reliability, making it a decent option for those in the market for a compact SUV.
The Worst Years: 2019
The 2019 Subaru Forester owners frequently reported issues with cracked windshields, a problem that didn’t just affect aesthetics but had implications on safety, especially considering the placement of Subaru’s EyeSight cameras. Considering the EyeSight system, windshield replacement will probably cost above 1000$.
The Thermostat Control Valve (TCV) failures were another concern, affecting the vehicle’s temperature regulation. According to the NHTSA, Subaru have not yet issued any recall for that.
And while the EyeSight safety system was a major selling point, many owners reported intermittent issues, with the system turning off unpredictably. Battery draining problem was also common in 2016-2022 Subaru Foerster models.
Subaru Forester Average Resale Values
Here is a graph that gives you an overview of the Subaru Forester’s average resale values over the years, reflecting its enduring appeal and reliability in the automotive market.
After going through the Subaru Forester’s evolution, it’s evident that some years stand out. We recommend prioritizing the highest-rated years for optimal performance and value and avoid the worst Subaru Forester years we listed at all costs.
Which Subaru Forester year has caught your attention the most, and why? Did any particular model year resonate with your personal experiences?
We value your insights! Share your thoughts in the comments below.