First Drive: 2019 Subaru Forester
You could easily make snide remarks about the ’19 Subaru Forester—that it’s an ideal car for those who don’t care much for speed, fear foul weather, and prize practicality. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that you’re overlooking those who use their Forester to go skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, camping, or kayaking. Either way, Forester buyers get their kicks from what they do, not what they drive. Their car is the ultimate lifestyle utility knife, which is why Subaru styling has always been the automotive equivalent of an earth shoe.
It also explains why the redesigned fifth-generation ’19 Forester’s roof can hold 700 pounds when parked, good enough to pitch a tent on and hold a couple occupants. And it’s also why the ’19 Forester no longer offers a manual transmission or a 250hp turbocharged engine option. Few Forester fans opted for them, so the redesigned model doesn’t have them.
Instead, Subaru builds on the traits that attracted more than 1.8 million buyers to the Forester since its inception and now accounts for more than a quarter of the automaker’s U.S. sales. Built on the new Subaru Global Platform, the ’19 Forester is slightly larger than its predecessor, with a 1.1-inch-longer wheelbase, although overall length has grown less than an inch. This allows for an additional 1.4 inches of rear-seat legroom and a 5-inch-wider rear door opening. Cargo space has grown 1.4 cubic feet from ’18, while the rear tailgate opening measures 51.2 inches, wide enough to fit a ’69 Subaru 360.
You’ll appreciate the added space once you climb inside, but you’ll really appreciate that it’s well-equipped, even on the base model.
Offered in Base, Premium, Sport (new for ’19), Limited, and Touring trim levels, Subaru’s STARLINK multimedia system comes standard with a high-resolution touchscreen (6.5-inch standard, 8-inch in higher trims), Aha, Pandora, and Tom Tom navigation. The base model also gets Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual USB ports, CD player, power windows with auto-up/-down, automatic climate control, automatic door locks, electronic parking brake, rear-vision camera, power side mirrors, security system, 225/60 R17 and all-season tires. Aluminum alloy wheels and roof rails are a $600 option package, although they’re standard on other models.
As you climb the price ladder, the Forester offers luxury-car features, such as heated rear seats, power liftgate, heated steering wheel, memory seats and mirrors, rear-seat air-conditioning vents, rear USB ports, Wi-Fi hotspot, All-Weather Package (heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, and windshield deicer), dual automatic climate control, High Beam Assist, Steering Responsive Headlights, remote vehicle start, eight-way power front passenger seat, and Subaru’s new DriverFocus driver-fatigue system.
Base models get a 6.5-inch infotainment screen; it’s Lilliputian, but functional. STARLINK is intuitive to use, but the base audio system provides surprisingly poor sound, similar to an iPhone speaker. If you like music, choose the optional Harman/Kardon system and the larger 8-inch screen.
The view from the driver seat is exceptionally clear, with rear seat headrests being the only obstacle; they don’t fold down for better visibility. Seats are well-bolstered and firm, with good head- and legroom.
As you’d expect, Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with Active Torque Vectoring are standard. A new version of the 2.5L horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine with direct injection and automatic stop/start generates 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque through Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. Towing capacity is rated at 1,500 pounds. Ground clearance is 8.7 inches.
All Foresters except the base get X-Mode, which manages engine output, transmission, all-wheel-drive torque split, and braking in extreme conditions to ensure traction. Upper-level models get a dual-mode system that adds Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes. Additionally, Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Pre-Collision Throttle Management, and Lead Vehicle Start Alert are standard. Reverse Automatic Braking, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are available.
Given the lack of driveline choices, the driver-selectable Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) is appreciated. The system changes the vehicle’s throttle characteristics between “Intelligent,” geared for fuel economy, and “Sport,” which enhances throttle response. Forester Sport models get their own version of SI-DRIVE with an even more reactive “Sport Sharp” mode, different gearing, and a seven-speed manual mode with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Once underway, you’ll notice the cabin is exceptionally quiet, except when you floor the throttle, which can be often. Power is adequate, with the responsive CVT making the most of the available output, despite some mild rubber band–like acceleration. Shifting to the gearbox’s Low mode improves engine response, although it runs 1,500-2,000 rpm higher, which hurts fuel economy. There’s a lot of initial throttle travel where nothing happens, although it’s lessened when shifted into L. And the transmission makes an odd clicking/metallic noise when shifting into or out of park. The Forester is a vehicle that’s at its best when not being rushed. However, the Sport model feels livelier, especially when the CVT is in seven-speed manual mode. So, yes, the Forester can be engaging and agile to drive.
Body lean is noticeable but not excessive, and the ride is jiggly over bumps. It handles mild off-road trails well, but it’s no boulder-basher. And that bumpy ride becomes far more noticeable once the pavement ends. But these are quibbles for Forester fans.
So go on, sneer if you must.
The ’19 Subaru Forester builds on the qualities that made it the essential vehicle for so many families. It laughs at foul weather, scoffs at unimproved roads, smirks as it passes the gas pump, and smiles as it comfortably cossets your family, friends, and all of their lifestyle debris. Now who’s laughing?
2019 Subaru ForesterVehicle type: Compact, two-row SUV
Base price: $29,770
Price as tested: $32,610
Engine: 2.5L Boxer H-4
Transmission: Continuously Variable (CVT)
Horsepower: 182 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Curb weight: 3,449-3,558 pounds
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
EPA mileage rating: 26 city, 33 hwy, 29 comb