Sometimes, outside of the crucible of an Comparison Test, a car can redeem itself as a very good car in its own right, merely not as good in as many areas as the best in class.

In the case of the Subaru Forester with the base 2.5L boxer-four engine, this is not one of those times, though that doesn’t quite fall down to the level of a bad car. Most of it boils down to one characteristic that makes it nearly insufferable beyond its shortcomings relative to its peers.

That horrible, horrible engine noise. Truly, even Subaru devotees might find it a bit much to bear for the essential practical qualities that it brings. Practical yes, but otherwise the Forester does little that is exceptional or distinctive. On the one hand you can say it’s good basic transportation, and it is, but the lustre wears off pretty quickly when spending time in it on the highway.

The highway is where the Forester’s unrefined engine note seeps in and gets under the skin. It’s a metallic drone that says nothing but “Why are you making me work so hard?” While the CVT can optimize ideal engine revs for cruising, and the 2.5L horizontally opposed boxer four-cylinder (naturally aspirated, not a turbo) seems overtaxed, or the engine management software is simply being stingy with the 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. It reminded me of the 2013 Honda CR-V we put through a long-term test, which was similarly unpleasant when cruising at highway speeds, and both share the trait of poor quality audio, so turning the volume up merely adds to the cacophony rather than balancing out the offending sound. Perhaps the culprit was the old fashioned peak power at high rpm, horsepower at 5,800 rpm and torque at 4,100. That being said, competitors that make similar torque and power at similar ranges don’t have the same degree of cabin noise, the Nissan Rogue and Jeep Cherokee prime examples.

While fuel efficiency is some consolation, 10.4 L/100 km isn’t necessarily enough to give the Forester a pass. Its official NRCan ratings are 9.6/7.5, so perhaps the high speeds on GTA highways and cold weather were more than it could handle, bucking the trend of Subaru’s newfound penchant for impressive efficiency.

At the other end of the spectrum was Subaru’s performance off the line. If coming from anything with a mellow character, watch out! The Subaru just leaps off the line at the slightest brush of the accelerator, launching away from stops with frantic urgency, like someone left it in Insane Mode or something. Soon after, the dearth of power comes into play, but boy does this thing get going like the house is on fire. Some people like this. Most of us who drove it this time around did not.

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