Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years [Models: 1998-2024]

The Subaru Forester models have been ranked for every generation so you can pick the best Subaru Forester model instead of the worst.

This guide analyzes Subaru Forester reliability, safety, complaints, as well as owner reviews over the past several years.

With the help of credible sources such as the NHTSA, Consumer Reports, and Kelley Blue Book, we have synthesized owner feedback, safety ratings, and recall data to provide a nuanced overview of the Forester.

In this article, you will discover the best Forester years to buy when it comes to reliability and value, as well as those that are merely average and those that you should avoid.

I’m ready to dive right in.

Subaru Forester Generations

First introduced in 1998, the Subaru Forester is a compact crossover SUV that merges the benefits of passenger cars with the versatility of SUVs.

As Subaru’s first all-wheel-drive vehicle, it was a practical, high-visibility vehicle that demonstrated its commitment to safety and performance.

Based on the table below, you can view all Subaru Forester generations since 1998:

GenerationYears
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, technological advancements, design changes, and performance improvements occur between generations. Considering a purchase requires understanding these generational distinctions.

Subaru Forester Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

Several factors are taken into account when ranking the Forester, including its performance, safety, and owner satisfaction. We heavily rely on the following factors in our assessments:

  • Surveys of owner-reported reliability
  • Costs of annual maintenance
  • Ratings for safety
  • Reliability scores from Consumer Reports
  • Scores of consumer satisfaction with Consumer Reports
  • Recalls, complaints, and investigations by the NHTSA
  • Ratings by Edmunds owners
  • Ratings by JD Power for owners
  • Owner ratings from Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB)
  • Owner ratings on VehicleHistory
  • Reviews by Cars.com owners

A combination of ratings gathered from the platforms listed above will be shown in the upcoming graph.

Next, we tabulated our categorizations, categorizing each model year as best, neutral, or worst.

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
1st generation (SF)200020012002N/A19981999
2nd generation (SG)200320042005200720082006
3rd generation (SH)20112012N/A200920102013
4th generation (SJ)20162018N/A201420152017
5th generation (SK)20212022202320202019

In terms of performance and reliability, neutral years are those that are neither exceptional nor noticeably weak. The company maintains an average ranking without slanting dramatically towards the best or the worst.

Understanding that some of these factors negatively affect a car’s ranking is crucial. NHTSA recalls, for instance, serve as a detractor. It is considered less reliable the more complaints and recalls a model receives.

In this section, we’ll look at the Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years in terms of their specifications.

Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 1st Generation [1998-2002]

Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years

With its first generation, which premiered in 1998, the Subaru Forester began its automotive journey.

Forester quickly carved out a niche in the automotive market by combining the practicality and ruggedness of an SUV with comfort and maneuverability of a passenger car.

The Best Years: 2000, 2001, 2002

For the Forester, the years 2000 through 2002 were a time of maturation and refinement. Subaru offered enhanced powertrain options while retaining its base 2.5-liter SOHC engine, which ensured better transmission shifts and overall driving performance.

Consumers could choose from basic setup “L” to premium package “S” that included advanced technological features such as improved audio systems, improved upholstery, and extra conveniences.

A stronger crash structure, an advanced airbag system, and more substantial braking were all included in these models.

Similarly, Consumer Reports reported 15 mpg city and 26 mpg highway mileage for these years.

There were still some faults with these models. There were a number of issues with their reliability, especially with the head gaskets, transmission, and wheel bearings. Thus, prospective buyers should carefully check the VIN of the vehicle before purchasing.

The Worst Years: 1998, 1999

Specifically, the 2.8l DOHC engines in the 1998 Forester were notorious for head gasket failures.

There were also transmission problems this year, with the clutch chattering and failing to engage at times, a concern that became more acute in colder climates. The rear wheel bearings of the vehicle began to wear prematurely, causing suspension problems.

There was an undeniable danger of accidents associated with Subaru of America Inc.’s 1998 and 1999 models, as braking distances were extended in colder weather.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, the 1999 Forester had many of its own. As head gasket failures persisted, wheel bearing wear became a recurring issue, and transmission problems continued, with shifting difficulties emerging as a common complaint.

Owners suffered financially as a result of these issues. Replacement of a head gasket, for example, might cost between $1600 and $2300 depending on other components that may need to be replaced simultaneously, such as a timing belt or water pump.

Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 2nd Generation [2003-2008]

Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years

Forester’s second generation was introduced in 2003, demonstrating Subaru’s commitment to refinement and advancement.

The new Forester solidified Subaru’s position as a leader in the growing crossover SUV segment with its more prominent stance, greater interior space, and reinforced platform.

The Best Years: 2003, 2004, 2005

The naturally aspirated X and XS trims with 2.5 L SOHC EJ253 engines and the turbocharged XT trim with 2.5 L turbocharged DOHC engines were introduced in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

An advanced infotainment system, panoramic sunroof, and heated seats are included in the “XS” premium trim.

Subaru’s celebrated Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system was also incorporated as a standard feature during these years, providing a more balanced and stable driving experience.

In terms of safety, the improvements included improved braking systems, additional airbags, and reinforced chassis structures.

According to Consumer Reports, the 2003, 2004, and 2005 models received above-average scores for owner satisfaction, particularly for 2003, 2004, and 2005 models.

As for fuel economy, they averaged 15 miles per gallon on the city streets and 28 miles per gallon on the highway.

The Neutral Years: 2007, 2008

Subaru Frontier models for 2007 and 2008 maintained similar engine options, trim-level offerings, and technological inclusions as the previous years, ensuring consistency for returning buyers.

In higher trims, advanced driver-assist systems are included, with no compromises on safety features.

Several owners reported problems with fuel lines, especially in colder regions. Subaru addressed this issue in later models after it was discovered that excessive contraction of fuel lines in cold weather led to a strong fuel smell.

Moreover, the lower control arms on the front of the vehicle were recalled due to corrosion caused by snow-melting agents on the road.

The Worst Years: 2006

Subaru Forester 2006 was plagued by a number of problems. Head gasket leaks, especially in colder climates, were one of the main issues.

The result was not only a disruption in the vehicle’s performance, but also a significant expense for many owners to maintain.

The fuel odor was also potent in chilly climates, as it was in 2007 and 2008.

Added to the worries was the recall regarding possible rust damage to the lower control arms, especially in areas with heavy winter salt use.

The 2006 model year was slightly less favorable than its peers due to these concerns, as well as sporadic reports about transmission inconsistencies.

Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 3rd Generation [2009-2013]

Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years

An enhanced platform, enhanced interior ergonomics, and a sharper design language enhanced the Forester’s third generation in 2009, blending a rugged SUV with a comfortable family car.

In light of the higher number of NHTSA recalls and complaints this generation received, we highly recommend that you check the VIN before making any purchases.

The Best Years: 2011, 2012

In this turbulent generation, Subaru Forester models featured an average of 15 recalls in 2011 and 2012.

In addition to the 2.5X Limited, the 2.5X Premium, the 2.5X, and the 2.5XT Limited and 2.5XT Premium with turbo, there were also 2.5XT Limited and 2.5XT Premium. Depending on the interior color, leather, black, or light gray upholstery was available.

With Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system paired with improved suspension setups, the result is a comfortable and stable ride. In city driving, the third generation got 16 miles per gallon, and on the highway, it got 28 miles per gallon.

Furthermore, Subaru enhanced the vehicle’s off-road capabilities by raising the ground clearance and upgrading its all-wheel-drive system for improved performance on rough terrain.

Owner satisfaction scores and relatively few reported problems were indicative of positive reception from both critics and customers during these years.

The Worst Years: 2009, 2010, 2013

Several challenges faced the Forester models of 2009, 2010, and 2013.

There were many recalls for the 2009 Forester, but the most significant was for the passenger frontal airbag inflators. It was possible that the inflators could explode and project sharp metal fragments that could cause serious injuries.

The owners also reported a variety of electrical malfunctions, including malfunctions with warning indicators, dashboard displays, and windshield wipers.

The engine oil supply pipe of the vehicle was also recalled due to a potential break, which could result in significant engine damage if not corrected.

It has been reported that the weld on the front left side of the driver’s seat has a tendency to break, leading to the seat collapsing, according to NHTSA complaints about the 2010 Subaru Forester. Occasionally, head gasket problems persisted, carrying over problems from previous generations.

Although the 2013 Forester had fewer recalls than its 2009 predecessor, its overall ratings and reception were lukewarm. There was a particular concern about brake lines corroding, particularly in states where salt is heavily used in winter.

As a result, Kelley Blue Book gave this generation a modest 4.2 out of 5 rating, reflecting a mixture of praise and criticism.

Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 4th Generation [2014-2018]

Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years

Subaru Forester’s fourth generation reflects the company’s determination to correct past errors and adapt to the fast-paced evolution of the automotive industry.

Subaru did a fantastic job of harmonizing urban sophistication and off-road toughness in this generation’s Forester.

The Best Years: 2016, 2018

This generation’s standout performers are the 2016 and 2018 Subaru Foresters.

Performance-oriented turbocharged 2.0XT (253 PS) was available in Premium and Touring versions, as well as 2.5i in base, Premium, Limited and top-line Touring trims.

Adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and sway warning are all included in Subaru’s Eyesight Driver Assist Technology on the 2016 Forester.

These years have also seen an increase in the quality of interior materials and state-of-the-art infotainment options. To cater to the needs of urban commuters and highway travelers, the ride quality and cabin noise insulation have been significantly enhanced.

As another notable addition in these years, the X-Mode feature for the AWD system optimized the vehicle’s performance in challenging terrains.

For highway driving, the Frontier’s fuel efficiency boosted to 35 mpg and 18 mpg in cities.

The Worst Years: 2014, 2015, 2017

This generation’s debut Forester, the 2014 model, faced teething problems. The passenger side airbag warning light illuminated as a result of problems with the Occupant Detection System (ODS).

Moreover, suspension concerns emerged, as reports indicated that at higher speeds, the front suspension wobbled, causing the vehicle to shake. Excessive oil consumption was another common complaint, one Subaru had faced before.

There were some problems with the 2015 Forester that were carried over from its predecessor. Due to faulty ODS, certain 2015-2018 models were recalled in 2019 due to airbag issues. Multiple engine problems were also reported, mostly related to excessive oil consumption.

Several owners complained about the car’s erratic speed control, which seemed to gain or lose speed spontaneously. However, Subaru has yet to recall any vehicles despite increasing complaints.

There have been several complaints about spontaneous cracks appearing on the windshields of the 2017 Forester, a defect that afflicted several models of this generation.

Furthermore, Subaru of America Inc. has initiated a service program to inspect and replace certain 2017 and 2018 models’ air conditioning condensers if necessary. There was a risk of refrigerant leaks and compromised cooling efficiency due to corrosion within the condenser tube walls.

Best & Worst Years for Subaru Forester 5th Generation [2019-Present]

Best & Worst Subaru Forester Years

Forester’s position as one of the most popular compact SUVs was further strengthened by its increased wheelbase and design overhaul for the 5th generation.

The Best Years: 2021, 2022, 2023

Subaru Foresters 2021, 2022, and 2023 represent Subaru’s pinnacle of design and engineering.

These models boasted a 2.5-liter flat-four engine that delivered better power and fuel efficiency. They demonstrated impressive off-road capability when paired with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive.

Initially, there are five trim levels available: Basic, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring. With a touchscreen display measuring 6.5 inches, the Forester comes standard with the Starlink Multimedia system.

With the later models in this generation, EyeSight Driver Assist Technology was upgraded to include features like lane centering and adaptive cruise control.

Further improvements in fuel efficiency improved city mileage to 20 mpg and highway mileage to 38 mpg.

The Neutral Years: 2020

A transitional model can be viewed as the 2020 Subaru Forester. In terms of design and performance, it continued to follow the legacy of its predecessors, but it didn’t exhibit the same frequency of problems as the 2019 model.

As far as refinement and feature enhancements are concerned, it did not quite reach the peak of the following years. For many owners, this year’s windshield problem has been a recurring issue, with spontaneous cracks becoming a major concern.

This compact SUV is a decent option for those looking for a compact SUV that upholds Subaru’s reputation for safety, ruggedness, and overall reliability despite these concerns.

The Worst Years: 2019

Subaru Forester owners frequently reported cracked windshields, a problem that not only affected aesthetics but also had implications for safety, especially given Subaru’s EyeSight cameras. The cost of replacing a windshield will probably exceed 1000 dollars if the EyeSight system is used.

Another concern was the failure of the Thermostat Control Valve (TCV), which affected the vehicle’s ability to regulate its temperature. Subaru has yet to recall that vehicle, according to the NHTSA.

Many owners reported intermittent problems with the EyeSight safety system, resulting in it turning off unpredictably. It was also common for Subaru Foerster models to have battery draining problems between 2016 and 2022.

Common Subaru Forester Problems

There are many benefits to owning a Subaru Forester, including its good off-road capabilities. There are, however, a number of problems with it:

Transmission issues

Subaru Forester models with CVT transmissions have been reported to have numerous issues. There were times when owners’ SUVs would shudder and jerk violently, according to frustrated owners. Insufficient CVT fluid was the cause of the transmission issues, according to a Subaru service bulletin.

Excessive oil consumption

Forester, among other Subaru models, suffered from oil consumption issues. Foresters with 2.5-liter engines were particularly affected, as were models before 2014.

Check engine light

There are a dozen reasons why a check engine light will illuminate. In contrast, the faulty oxygen sensor is the most common cause of the Forester check engine light. It has been acknowledged that Subaru’s front oxygen sensors may be defective, and the company has recalled several models, including 1998, 2000-2007, and 2009-2014.

Air conditioning (A/C) failure

There are a lot of A/C problems with Forester model years. Vehicle owners complained about hot air coming from their air conditioners. The problem was caused by a bad condenser in the air conditioner.

Read: Best & Worst Honda Civic Years
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FAQs: Subaru Forester Years to Avoid

Which years of the Subaru Forester are recommended to avoid?

Subaru Forester buyers should avoid the following models: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2010, 2011, and 2014. There are significant issues with these models, with the 2014 model causing the most problems.

What were the major issues with the first generation of Subaru Forester (1998-2001)?

Subaru Foresters of the first generation, especially the 1998 model, had problems with their head gaskets. Often, leaks occur around 50,000 miles due to a weak one-layer head gasket.

Why is the 2014 Subaru Forester considered one of the worst model years?

As one of the worst Subaru Foresters in terms of engine failure, excessive oil consumption, suspension breakdown, and gearbox issues, the 2014 Subaru Forester is considered one of the worst. Due to these issues, it was highly unreliable and expensive to repair.

Which Subaru Forester models are considered reliable and safe to purchase?

It is best to consider buying a Subaru Forester from the most recent model years, namely 2019, 2020, and 2021. They have excellent safety ratings, feature better connectivity and technology, and have received favorable customer reviews.

Are Subaru Foresters typically reliable?

In the early years of the Subaru Forester, head gaskets are notoriously problematic, resulting in costly repairs. Foresters from before 2015 present several headache-inducing model years. Be cautious.

How much does a used Subaru Forester typically cost?

Foresters are popular used cars; they are readily available in most markets. There is, however, a high demand for compact crossovers. Second-hand Foresters command a 20%-29% premium over pre-pandemic conditions due to strong interest and inflated prices. The average asking price for a 2015 edition is $16,568 according to CoPilot Price Pulse. The 2020 model year will see an increase to $28,837.

Is the Subaru Forester a good car to purchase?

Choosing the right Subaru Forester for your transportation needs can be achieved with careful research. Keep in mind that not all model years are created equal. Before purchasing a Forester, spend time researching which model is most reliable.

Conclusion

It’s evident that some Subaru Forester years stand out after going through its evolution. To get the best value and performance from your Subaru Forester, choose the highest-rated years and avoid the worst years.

Do you have a favorite Subaru Forester year, and why do you like it so much? Have you had any personal experiences with any particular model year?

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