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2019 Subaru Forester Review: Best to Date

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Subaru can legitimately claim to have been one of the first companies to conquer the compact SUV segment. You could even argue that the Japanese automaker played a key role in defining what a modern sport utility vehicle is – particularly one designed for largely urban living.

For 2019 Subaru is introducing the fifth generation of its Forester, which now benefits from additional interior space, a tweaked engine and a new Sport mode. And on all fronts, the impression you get is of forward progress.

Specifications for the 2019 Subaru Forester

A high-riding wagon that can carry anything
The Forester now rides on Subaru’s new global architecture, which the company promises delivers a safer and quieter ride. The lines of the new 2019 edition are thus somewhat different, but the distinctive features of the Forester model remain wholly intact, including the relatively upright stance that provides such good sight lines.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

In fact, the vehicle now has a wheelbase longer by 30 mm in comparison with the outgoing model. As mentioned, the “weekend adventurer” feel is still there, but the new-generation Forester is also, from the looks of it, a more rugged yet sportier creature.

The new front grille is bold and omnipresent, and the 18-inch alloy wheels (for the Sport version; standard wheels are 17-inch) seek to strengthen the Forester’s all-terrain image.

Here is perhaps the aspect of the model that has bene most improved. The cabin gets refined materials and all of it is solidly constructed, plus the seats get longer bases and they feel rather more comfortable on longer trips. It helps that the driver’s seat is 10-way power adjustable so it’s possible to find just the right position for any size and shape of human.

Clearly, nothing feels bargain basement about this interior environment and the finishing is solid, hard to find fault with any of it. Kudos to Subaru for addressing what was long considered a weak point of Subaru models and bringing it up to par, and then some.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The infotainment system is displayed by default on a 5.6-inch screen, with higher trims getting an 8-inch screen. The interface is pretty simple, verging on barren even, and the responses aren’t that quick or reliable to the touch. But, it’s functional, and it’s easy to configure.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration is included standard with an integrated GPS, along with
SiriusXM satellite radio and two USB ports. The default audio system can be switched out for an impressive 576-watt harmon/kardon units with nine speakers.

As mentioned, the new Forester is bigger than the old, and naturally this converts to increased living space inside the vehicle. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the back row, which can easily accommodate two adults in full comfort, and even three if needed without causing undue hardship.

Space, and more space
Cargo capacity is another big asset of the 2019 Forester, which can take in 935 litres, and up to 2,008 litres with the back seats folded down. Towing capacity, however, remains relatively modest at 680 kg.

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers

On all models beyond the base version, buyers get the EyeSight safety and drive assist package. This includes forward collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. There’s also a system for managing acceleration in case of imminent collision, less known by drivers but no less useful for all that when intervention is called for.

It is a bit disappointing to see that only the high-end trims get blind spot monitor and automatic high beams. The former in particular probably ranks among systems drivers most use on a daily basis, and in 2019 you’d expect it to be almost a given in any version of a vehicle like the Forester.

Also available is the Starlink Safety Plus system, which includes another layer of functions like stolen vehicle recovery, automatic door locking/unlocking, and the ability to honk the horn or flash the headlights remotely. If those kinds of features matter to you, you can check that off on your options list as well.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The mechanics
The 2019 Forester gets a unique powertrain built around a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine delivering 182 hp, or 12 more than the outgoing model, and 176 lb-ft of torque, in conjunction with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Obviously, power is sent to all four wheels via Subaru’s excellent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.

In general the powertrain works very quietly and efficiently, We do pine slightly for the old 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo that supplied the Forester with 250 hp, now removed from the product offering. It would have been nice to get a bit more brute bite from under the hood of the SUV.

On the road
It should be mentioned that the new platform is 40% stiffer than the old, and that helps the Forester be a nimble, agile performer on the road. The drive is dynamic and the handling is taut, thanks also to the responsive and well-calibrated steering. As for the CVT, it works competently, and if you can avoid dwelling on the weaknesses inherent in the format it’s not something that should impede your driving pleasure.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The tech innovation for 2019 is the X-Mode function, previously seen on other Subarus, but it’s been modified to make it more aggressive on the new Forester. There are the settings for mud and snow, which leave the traction control activated. To get more muscular acceleration, the driver need only turn the X-Mode knob to deactivate the traction control.

Several different drive modes can be chosen from, but Intelligent will be the default choice for most drivers going about their business in town and on the highway, especially as it’s the one that delivers the best fuel efficiency.

Sport mode speeds up reactions and responses from the engine when you step on the gas. Don’t get the idea this turns the Forester into a drag racer, mind you: 0-100 km/h still takes 9.8 seconds…

Back to fuel efficiency: official figures for the 2019 Forester are 9.1L/100 km (city) and 7.2L/100 km (highway). For my part, I could do no better than a combined 12.7L/100 km during my week with a Premier edition. That’s far from the official numbers, but to be fair I was driving the SUV in late winter, on winter tires, and mostly in the city. But it’s worth keeping in mind that realistically, Canadian drivers living in an urban environment can expect something closer to what I got than to what Subaru’s pitching.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Pricing starts at $27,995 for the base version and rises to $39,495 for the Premier edition with EyeSight. Between the two there are the Convenience version without or with EyeSight ($30,295 and $31,795) and other versions, all of which have EyeSight: the Forester Touring ($32,995), Forester Sport ($34,995) and Forester Limited ($37,695).

The many improvements that touch on the quality of interior finishing and the more nimble and agile driving dynamics make of this fifth generation of the Forester the best we’ve seen to date, clearly. Back is the outstanding Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, one of the best in the business and still a substantial selling point for a vehicle that is safe, comfortable and offers tons of interior space. Weekend adventures, here we come!

We like

-    The refined and noticeably upgraded cabin compared to before
-    Generous space for occupants and for cargo
-    The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system
-    Crisp, enjoyable driving dynamics that verge on sporty

We like less

-    Raw power is a bit wanting
-    A few features like blind spot monitoring that aren’t standard from the get-go
-    Grip of the steering wheel is a little wonky


Consult our listing of pre-owned Subaru Forester vehicles available in your region of Canada

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers