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The Best Years for the Subaru Forester

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For over two decades, the Subaru Forester has been a staple on Canadian roads, providing drivers with a unique blend of car-like handling, SUV utility, and legendary all-wheel-drive capability. First introduced in 1997, the Forester quickly gained a following for its versatile design, spacious interior, and rugged yet refined driving experience.


As one of Subaru’s most popular models in Canada, the Forester has evolved over five generations, continually adapting to meet the changing needs of Canadian drivers. From its boxy, utilitarian roots to its modern, sleek styling, the Forester has consistently delivered a well-rounded package that appeals to families, outdoor enthusiasts, and commuters alike.


What sets the Forester apart from its competitors is its standard all-wheel-drive system, a hallmark of Subaru’s commitment to safety and performance. This feature, combined with the Forester’s impressive ground clearance and available off-road capabilities, has made it a favorite among Canadians seeking a capable and reliable vehicle for all seasons.


Throughout its tenure, the Subaru Forester has garnered numerous accolades and awards, cementing its reputation as a dependable and practical choice for Canadian drivers. However, like any vehicle, some model years have proven more reliable than others, making it crucial for potential buyers to carefully consider their options when searching for the most reliable Forester.

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What Makes a Reliable Vehicle?

When it comes to vehicle reliability, Canadian drivers want a car, truck, or SUV that will start every morning, handle the rugged climate, and avoid frequent breakdowns and expensive repairs. Reliability encompasses a vehicle’s ability to operate as intended over time, with minimal issues impacting its driveability, safety, and ownership costs.

Common issues that can hamper reliability include engine problems, transmission failures, electrical gremlins, suspension issues, and body integrity concerns. The more severe and widespread the problems, the lower a vehicle’s reliability rating will be. Reliability also factors in how well a vehicle can withstand the harsh Canadian climate, with its temperature extremes, road salt, slick winter conditions, and rough roads.

For Canadians, having a reliable vehicle is crucial. With the country’s vast distances, remote areas, and winter driving challenges, a breakdown can be more than just an inconvenience – it can put you in a precarious situation. A reliable vehicle provides peace of mind, reduces stress over unexpected repair bills, and ensures you can depend on your transportation to get you where you need to go, day in and day out.

 

First Generation (1997-2002)

The original Subaru Forester debuted for the 1997 model year, introducing a boxy and rugged SUV design combined with car-like handling and driving dynamics. This first generation established many of the core traits that would define the Forester over the decades to come.

Powertrain options were simple – every first-gen Forester came equipped with a 2.5L boxer four-cylinder engine and standard all-wheel drive. While not particularly powerful, this flat engine design provided a low center of gravity for enhanced stability and control.

In terms of reliability, the 1997-2002 Foresters earned average scores at best. A major issue that plagued these early models was premature head gasket failure, a problem that was unfortunately common across Subaru’s lineup at the time. Frequent replacement of the head gaskets was often required well before 100,000 km.

Other problems included excessive oil consumption, clutch issues on manual transmission models, and some electrical gremlins. The 2002 model year did see some revisions to the head gasket design, making it slightly more reliable than earlier years.

While these first-gen Foresters have a rugged, go-anywhere appeal, buyers are best off avoiding them if a worry-free ownership experience is the top priority. Widespread head gasket issues make even low-mileage examples a potential money pit.

 

Second Generation (2003-2008)

The second-generation Subaru Forester, introduced in 2003, grew in size and capability compared to its predecessor. With more interior space and cargo capacity, it appealed to a wider range of Canadian buyers seeking a versatile and practical family vehicle.

Subaru expanded the Forester lineup with the addition of the turbocharged XT trim, providing a performance-oriented option. The luxury-focused L.L.Bean model also joined the range, catering to those seeking an upscale take on the compact SUV.

In terms of reliability, this generation marked an improvement over the first, with fewer reported issues overall. While not exceptional, the second-gen Forester delivered average dependability for its class.

When it comes to the best model years, the 2007 and 2008 Foresters stand out as having the fewest owner-reported problems. These final model years benefited from running updates and refinements, making them the most reliable options from this generation for used buyers.

 

Third Generation (2009-2013)

The third generation of the Subaru Forester, produced from 2009 to 2013, marked a significant redesign that addressed many of the issues found in earlier models. With new engines, improved safety technology, and a focus on better fuel economy, this generation solidified the Forester’s reputation for reliability.

Under the hood, the turbocharged XT trim was discontinued, but the new 2.5L naturally aspirated boxer engine delivered a respectable 170 horsepower while improving fuel efficiency. This engine, combined with Subaru’s renowned symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, provided a well-balanced driving experience that appealed to many Canadian drivers.

In terms of reliability, the third-generation Forester truly shone. Its average repair frequency was well above average, earning it high marks from organizations like Consumer Reports. Owners reported fewer issues across the board, from the powertrain to the electrical systems, making this generation one of the most dependable in the Forester’s history.

Of all the model years in this generation, the 2013 Forester stands out as the most reliable. Consumer Reports awarded it with its highest reliability score, and owners consistently praised its trouble-free operation and low maintenance costs. If you’re in the market for a used Forester from this generation, the 2013 model should be at the top of your list.

 

Fourth Generation (2014-2018)

The fourth generation of the Subaru Forester, spanning the 2014 to 2018 model years, brought a fresh new look and a host of updates to keep the compact SUV competitive. On the outside, the Forester received revised styling with a more muscular and aggressive appearance. The front end featured a larger grille and hawk-eye headlights, while the sides gained prominent fender flares and a raked roofline for an athletic stance.

Inside, the cabin was treated to higher-quality materials and a more modern design. The center stack was redesigned with larger touchscreens for the infotainment system, and the instrument cluster gained a crisp multi-information display. Rear legroom was improved, and cargo space remained among the best in its class.

Under the skin, the fourth-gen Forester carried over its tried-and-true boxer engines and standard all-wheel drive. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder made 170 horsepower, while a turbocharged XT model with 250 horsepower was still unavailable. However, handling and fuel economy were improved thanks to a stiffer chassis and aerodynamic refinements.

Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology became widely available during this generation, bringing features like adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning. The Forester also earned top safety ratings from organizations like the IIHS.

This generation of Forester proved exceptionally reliable, with higher predicted reliability scores than the outgoing model according to Consumer Reports. It also retained its excellent resale value, with the highest residual value of any compact SUV during these years according to Canadian Black Book.

Of this generation, the 2018 Forester stands out as the most reliable model year. It benefited from mid-cycle updates and further suspension tuning. With strong reliability ratings and high owner satisfaction, the 2018 Forester is an excellent used option for buyers seeking a dependable compact SUV.

 

Fifth Generation (2019-2024)

The fifth-generation Subaru Forester, launched for the 2019 model year, brought a comprehensive redesign that kept the beloved SUV fresh and competitive. While the powertrain options carried over from the previous generation, nearly every other aspect of the Forester received notable updates.

On the outside, the 2019 Forester adopted a more rugged and muscular look, with a larger grille, squared-off fenders, and a more prominent hood scoop. The redesigned front end gave the Forester a more aggressive stance, while the rear featured a new tailgate design and reshaped taillights. Overall, the fifth-gen Forester had a more modern and upscale appearance.

The interior also saw significant improvements, with higher-quality materials, updated technology, and a more spacious cabin. The Forester gained the latest version of Subaru’s StarLink infotainment system, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Safety was a major focus, with the EyeSight suite of advanced driver-assistance features now standard across the lineup.

Under the skin, the fifth-generation Forester rode on Subaru’s new global platform, which improved rigidity and crashworthiness. While the 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine carried over, it received updates for improved efficiency and performance. Unfortunately, the turbocharged XT model was still not offered, leaving enthusiasts wanting more power.

So far, the fifth-generation Forester has earned high marks for reliability and owner satisfaction. Both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power have rated the 2019-2024 models as among the most dependable compact SUVs on the market. Owners praise the Forester’s well-rounded nature, spacious interior, and standard all-wheel drive capability.

 

Top Subaru Forester Reliability Factors

When evaluating the reliability of the Subaru Forester, several key factors have contributed to its reputation for dependability over the years. One of the most significant advantages is the standard all-wheel drive system found on every Forester model. Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive provides superior traction and control in various driving conditions, particularly during Canadian winters. This feature not only enhances safety but also reduces uneven tire wear, leading to fewer maintenance issues.

Another crucial element is the brand’s signature boxer engine design. Subaru’s horizontally opposed engines have a lower center of gravity, resulting in better balance and stability. This unique configuration also reduces vibration and stress on engine components, contributing to enhanced longevity and reliability. The boxer engines used in the Forester have proven to be robust and durable, with many owners reporting high mileage without major issues.

Safety is another area where the Forester excels, and this indirectly impacts its reliability. With advanced safety features like EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, the Forester has consistently earned top safety ratings from organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A safer vehicle means fewer accidents and repairs, ultimately leading to a more reliable ownership experience.

Finally, Subaru’s commitment to rust protection has played a significant role in the Forester’s longevity. The brand’s extensive use of galvanized steel and advanced rust-proofing measures help protect the vehicle’s body and chassis from corrosion, even in the harsh Canadian climate. This attention to detail ensures that Foresters can withstand the test of time, maintaining their structural integrity and reducing the likelihood of costly repairs due to rust-related issues.

 

Known Subaru Forester Issues

While the Subaru Forester has generally proven to be a reliable compact SUV, certain issues have plagued various model years. Being aware of these common problems can help buyers make a more informed decision when shopping for a used Forester.

 

Head Gasket Failure

One of the most well-known issues with older Subaru models, including early Foresters, is head gasket failure. The head gaskets can deteriorate over time, leading to coolant leaks and potential engine damage if not addressed. This problem was most prevalent in first and second-generation Foresters, particularly those built before 2010. While Subaru has made improvements to address this issue, it’s still crucial to have the head gaskets inspected on any high-mileage used Forester.

 

Oil Leaks and Consumption

Another common concern with the Subaru Forester, especially in older models, is excessive oil consumption and leaks. These issues can stem from various sources, such as worn piston rings, valve cover gaskets, or other seals and gaskets. Frequent oil top-ups or visible leaks are signs that a Forester may need engine repairs or rebuilding. Proper maintenance and timely repairs are essential to avoid more significant issues down the line.

 

CVT Transmission Problems

In more recent years, some Subaru Forester owners have reported issues with the continuously variable transmission (CVT). These problems can range from shuddering or hesitation during acceleration to complete transmission failure. While not all Foresters with CVTs will experience issues, it’s a potential concern to be aware of, especially on higher-mileage vehicles. Regular maintenance, including fluid changes, can help extend the life of the CVT.

 

How Reliable are Foresters Compared to Rivals?

While the Subaru Forester has earned a reputation for reliability over its 25+ year history, it’s important to see how it stacks up against other popular compact SUV rivals in the Canadian market. Three of the Forester’s closest competitors are the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape.

According to data from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, the Subaru Forester tends to outperform the Ford Escape in terms of predicted reliability ratings and repair frequency. The Escape has had more widespread issues reported with transmission problems, coolant leaks, and body integrity over various model years.

In contrast, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 give the Forester a tougher challenge on the reliability front. The CR-V and RAV4 routinely earn superior scores from Consumer Reports and rank among the most dependable compact SUVs. While the Forester is still an above-average pick, it can’t quite match the consistency and bulletproof reliability of these two class leaders.

Where the Forester stands out is with its standard all-wheel drive system. For buyers in parts of Canada that experience harsh winter weather, the Forester’s sure-footed AWD traction is a major advantage over the front-wheel drive layouts used by the CR-V, RAV4, and Escape. This can enhance safety and make the Forester more reliable in slippery conditions.

Ultimately, the Subaru Forester shapes up as a smart used compact SUV pick that delivers slightly above-average reliability when compared to all rivals in this segment. While it may not have the flawless repair records of a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Forester remains a safe bet and dependable choice for Canadian buyers.

 

The Best Years for Buying a Used Forester

When shopping for a used Subaru Forester, certain model years stand out as more reliable picks than others. Based on analysis of repair data, owner reviews, and expert ratings, these are the top 2-3 model years to target for a dependable used Forester:

 

2013 Forester – The 2013 model represents the final year of the third generation and scored the highest reliability rating of any Forester from Consumer Reports. This generation benefited from revised engines and updated technology over the previous models. The 2013 Forester ranks as one of the most reliable compact SUVs from this era.

2018 Forester – As the last model year before a full redesign, the 2018 Forester had several years of fine-tuning and updates under its belt. It rates as one of the most reliable vehicles in its class from data gathered by J.D. Power. The 2018 Forester also holds exceptional resale value, a sign of its quality and desirability on the used market.

2007-2008 Forester – While the second generation (2003-2008) Forester wasn’t as reliable overall as the third and fourth generations, the final two model years of 2007 and 2008 proved to be the most robust and trouble-free of this era. Reports of head gasket issues that plagued earlier models had largely been resolved by 2007.

 

Tips for Buying a Reliable Used Forester

While certain model years stand out for reliability, buying any used vehicle is still a bit of a gamble. To maximize your chances of getting a dependable Subaru Forester, there are some important steps to take:

 

Check Maintenance Records: Look for complete service records showing the Forester was properly maintained according to Subaru’s recommended schedule. Oil changes, timing belt replacements, and other maintenance items should be documented.

Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection: Always have a used Forester inspected by a trusted third-party mechanic, ideally one who specializes in Subarus. They can identify any existing issues or preventative repairs needed.

Examine the Vehicle History Report: Order a vehicle history report from a provider like CarFax. This documents any major accidents, repairs, ownership transfers, and other notable events in the Forester’s past.

Buy From a Reputable Seller: While private party purchases can be cheaper, buying a used Forester from a franchised Subaru dealer provides more peace of mind and consumer protections. Certified Pre-Owned Foresters are an even better bet.

Consider Extended Warranties: Reliable as they may be, older high-mileage Foresters can benefit from the protection of an extended warranty, which covers expensive repairs down the road.

 

What About Buying a New 2024 Forester?

For those in the market for a brand new Subaru Forester, the 2024 model year represents an excellent choice for reliability so far. As the fifth generation enters its final model year before a full redesign, the 2024 Forester benefits from several years of production refinements and updates.

Subaru has built on the solid foundation laid in 2019 when this generation debuted. Initial quality has steadily improved, with the latest models scoring well above average in predicted reliability studies from leading authorities like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. Owners have reported far fewer issues with this generation compared to previous models.

Key areas of improvement include a more robust continuously variable transmission (CVT), higher-quality interior materials, and enhanced infotainment system responsiveness. The 2024 Forester also incorporates several years’ worth of incremental engineering upgrades for components like the steering, suspension, and braking systems.

Perhaps most importantly, the 2024 Forester arrives with Subaru’s latest EyeSight driver assist technology as standard equipment across all trim levels. This suite of advanced safety features utilizes improved cameras and radar sensors to provide capabilities like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist. These additions give the 2024 Forester a safety advantage over earlier models.

While there’s always the chance of a few bugs or issues cropping up, the 2024 Forester looks to provide Canadian buyers with dependable, hassle-free transport. As the current generation’s swan song, this model represents the most refined and reliable Forester to date before the all-new 2025 redesign arrives.

 

The Most Reliable Forester is Coming in 2025

While the current fifth-generation Forester remains a solid choice for buyers, Subaru is not resting on its laurels. An all-new redesign is coming for the 2025 model year that promises to set new standards for reliability and dependability in the compact SUV segment.

Details are still emerging, but the 2025 Forester is expected to ride on an updated version of the Subaru Global Platform that underpins the latest Outback and Ascent models. This ultra-rigid architecture enhances crash protection while allowing for more precise tuning of the suspension and steering for sharper handling. Buyers can expect a quieter, more refined cabin as well.

Under the hood, the 2.5L flat-four engine will likely carry over, perhaps with modest power and efficiency gains. However, the bigger news could be the addition of a hybrid powertrain option for the first time. If it follows the brand’s current hybrid setups, the Forester Hybrid would pair the 2.5L boxer engine with an electric motor and small battery pack for improved fuel economy around town.

But the real story with the 2025 Forester redesign will be its focus on quality and reliability. Subaru has been making steady improvements in this area, with the brand frequently ranking among the top mainstream automakers for dependability. The new Forester will double down on this effort with higher-grade materials, tighter build tolerances, and enhanced corrosion protection.

Early previews also suggest the 2025 Forester will come loaded with the latest accident avoidance technology as standard fare. This should help prevent many of the typical fender-benders and parking lot incidents that can plague used models down the road. With these improvements, the 2025 Forester is poised to become one of the most reliable and dependable compact SUVs you can buy.

 

Conclusion: Your Most Reliable Forester

After analyzing the reliability data, owner reviews, and repair histories across all five generations of the Subaru Forester, a few standout model years emerge as the most dependable choices for Canadian buyers.

For those shopping used, the 2013 Forester from the third generation and 2018 from the fourth generation top the list. The 2013 model benefits from Subaru’s revised engines and chassis updates that year, earning it the highest reliability rating from Consumer Reports. The 2018 Forester represents the peak of the outgoing fourth-gen, incorporating mid-cycle enhancements while avoiding the potential issues of an all-new redesign.

If you’re set on purchasing a brand new Forester, the 2024 model year is the smart pick. As the final model before the next full redesign for 2025, the 2024 Forester leverages years of continuous improvement and updated technology. It should prove one of the most reliable and trouble-free new Foresters you can buy.

Of course, the all-new 2025 Forester redesign will likely reset the reliability benchmark for the model line. But given the Forester’s strong track record, especially from the third generation onward, the 2025 edition is poised to become the most reliable Forester yet when it arrives in Canadian Subaru showrooms next year.

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Questions About The Best Years For The Subaru Forester

The 2019 and 2020 model years are often cited as the most reliable years for the Subaru Forester in Canada. These years had fewer reported issues related to the infotainment system, powertrain, and overall build quality compared to earlier model years. The 2021 and 2022 models also score well for reliability.

The 2019-2022 model years are considered the best used Subaru Forester years in Canada due to their improved reliability ratings, updated safety features, and refreshed styling and technology. The 2018 is also a good option as the last model year before the redesign, while 2017 and older have higher mileage but lower prices.

Yes, the 2023 Subaru Forester continues to be a popular, reliable compact SUV in Canada. It carries over most features from 2022 without any major changes. Fuel economy, cargo space, standard AWD capability, and safety scores continue to be selling points. While 2024 may bring updates, the 2023 is still an excellent choice.

Some common Subaru Forester problems in Canada include issues with oil consumption, especially on earlier 2.5L engines, CV joint failures, rattling heat shields, wind noise from ill-fitting body panels, clunking when shifting, and various electrical gremlins. Infotainment can also be glitchy. Overall though, the Forester has proven reliable.

In Canada, the naturally aspirated 2.5L “FB25” 4-cylinder is generally the most reliable Forester engine. While not the most powerful, it avoids issues that plagued earlier 2.5L engines. The turbocharged 2.0L XT engine offers more performance but may require more maintenance. The 2.5L is a good balance of power and reliability.

Properly maintained Foresters in Canada can reliably last over 300,000 kilometers. With regular maintenance and fluid changes, the engine, transmission, and drivetrain can exceed this comfortably. By following maintenance schedules, 400,000 kilometers is also attainable before major repairs are needed.

Older model Foresters, especially before 2011, did experience issues with head gaskets that could lead to oil leaks and engine damage. However, improvements in engine design, cooling systems, and construction have made head gasket failures much less common on newer models sold in Canada.

The 2020 and 2021 model years are likely the best option for a used Subaru Forester XT in Canada. These offer a strong turbocharged engine paired with Subaru’s reliable symmetrical AWD system, as well as better fuel economy, more features, and improved comfort over earlier XT models.

The Forester leads in AWD capability and chassis dynamics while the RAV4 edges ahead in interior space, fuel efficiency and standard features. The RAV4 Hybrid is also a strong contender. Shoppers should test drive both; the right choice depends on priorities. Forester for driving feel and RAV4 for family utility.

The continuously variable transmissions (CVT) used in most late model Foresters have proven very durable, with few issues reported past 200,000 kms when properly maintained. Follow the severe service schedule if towing. Manual transmissions may go 300,000+ kms before needing an overhaul.

For the best used Subaru Forester in Canada, focus on model years 2018-2022. These have updated designs over earlier years, with improved comfort, safety, reliability and technology. The 2019-2020 models strike the best balance of value, features, and dependability.

The most affordable 2023 Subaru Forester in Canada is the base Convenience trim with the 2.5L engine and automatic transmission. With destination charges included, it stickers from $31,995 CAD. This comes well equipped with the essential features most buyers need. Upgrading to higher trims adds more luxury options.

Subaru Canada offers the 2023 Forester in the following 8 exterior colors: Magnetite Gray Metallic, Autumn Green Metallic, Brilliant Bronze Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, Crystal White Pearl, Ice Silver Metallic, Jasper Green Metallic and Crimson Red Pearl. Interior choices depend on trim.

Subaru has not officially announced release timing for the 2024 Forester in Canada, but it should arrive at dealerships in Fall 2023 as a 2024 model based on previous years. It will likely feature modest styling updates, new wheel designs, fresh interior and trim combinations and the latest tech.

Yes, Subaru traditionally redesigns the Forester every 5-6 model years. That points to the 2025 model year being the next major redesign offered in the Canadian market. Expect revised styling, upgraded interiors, new features and technologies, and potential powertrain changes including a possible hybrid model.

No. All Subaru Foresters sold in the Canadian market are built in Japan at Subaru’s Gunma assembly plant alongside other models like the Impreza, XV Crosstrek and WRX. Subaru does not currently manufacture any models in Canada, unlike domestic makes like Honda and Toyota.

The Subaru Forester first came to Canada back in 1998 for the 1999 model year. It was marketed as an affordable, adventure-ready small SUV with Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system, roomy cargo area and good visibility. The 2023 Forester is the 5th generation sold in Canada.

All late model Foresters sold in Canada with the 2.5L engine have a 1,500 lb (680 kg) tow rating when properly equipped with a Class I tow hitch and trailer wiring. This allows the Forester to tow small trailers, boats, ATVs or snowmobiles. The XT trims increase towing slightly to 1,870 lbs.

The Subaru Forester has a strong reputation for reliability and dependability in Canada compared to other compact SUVs. Over 90% of Foresters sold in the last 10 years in Canada are still on the road. Only rivals like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 can match that longevity.

No, the Forester has very competitive maintenance costs compared to other small SUVs sold in Canada. Oil changes, brake pads, tires and other regular wear items are affordably priced. More expensive maintenance is also infrequent due to the reliable nature of the Forester’s flat-four engines and AWD system.

In Canada, the Touring trim level offers the most cargo room thanks to its unique dual-mode tailgate design that opens wider. This increases maximum cargo capacity to 1,984 litres with the rear seats folded. Other trims offer 1,921 litres of space. The Touring also comes with roof rails and tie-downs.

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