The 2019 Subaru Forester gets a complete makeover this year, but the change is evolutionary. The compact crossover SUV retains its strong points, while it gets better interior trim and more standard safety technology.
The fifth-generation Forester rides on a stiffer platform and boasts a spacious cabin, that grants it admirable utility. Head, hip, leg, and shoulder room have each grown a bit. Wider rear door openings ease entry/exit.
Safety and driving ease got plenty of attention. Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist technology is standard on every Forester, encompassing adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and automatic emergency braking.
New DriverFocus safety technology, standard in the Touring edition, uses a camera and facial recognition software to detect driver fatigue or distraction. Look down at a text, for instance, and the system will beep its displeasure.
Manual shifting and turbo power are no longer offered, but a Sport model with distinctive interior and exterior details has been added. The Forester’s platform is shared with the Impreza sedan, Crosstrek crossover, and new Ascent three-row crossover SUV.
The 2019 lineup comes in five trim levels: base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring. Each Forester holds a new version of Subaru’s 2.5-liter flat (horizontally-opposed) 4-cylinder engine, developing 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive are standard. Subaru claims quicker acceleration than before.
Two driving modes are offered, to alter throttle response; “Intelligent” and “Sport.” The Sport model includes “Sport Sharp.”
Ground clearance totals 8.7 inches, for effective operation under mild off-road conditions. Upper trim levels include two-position X-Mode selection: Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud.
Subaru has a strong record for safety and early tests on the new Forester have been promising.
Blind-spot monitors with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on Premium and Sport versions, but standard with Limited and Touring trim. Limited and Touring versions feature steering-responsive headlights that move in accord with the steering wheel.
Prices do not include $975 destination charge.
2.5i ($24,295), the base model, comes with all-wheel drive, automatic climate control, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 17-inch wheels. Alloy wheels and a roof rack can be added for $600.
2.5i Premium ($26,695) adds such comforts as a 10-way power driver’s seat, privacy glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and panoramic moonroof, along with black alloy 17-inch wheels. A $1,295 option group includes heated seats and blind-spot monitors.
2.5i Sport ($28,795) includes rugged appearance add-ons, as well as 18-inch wheels, a Sport Sharp drive mode, automatic high-beam headlights, keyless access with push-button start, heated front seats, and steering-wheel paddles to select seven ratios on the CVT.
2.5i Limited ($30,795) adds leather upholstery, steering-responsive LED headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, power tailgate, automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitors, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Reverse automatic braking, a heated steering wheel, navigation, and Harman Kardon speakers are optional.
2.5i Touring ($34,295) comes with a memory driver’s seat, power front passenger’s seat, navigation, Harman Kardon speakers, heated rear seats, reverse automatic braking, and the DriverFocus system.
Little-changed in appearance and enlarged only modestly, the 2019 Forester carries on an angular overall design. Though short of shapely, the Forester looks appropriately purposeful.
Bracketing the large, vertically-oriented grille are trim headlights that extend well into the fenders. At the rear is an unusually wide (52.3-inch) tailgate, within C-shaped taillights.
Tall windows provide unimpaired vision. The Forester Sport’s 18-inch wheels and orange accents impart a snappy tone, but the only true sporty element is its Sharp driving mode.
In addition to exceptional space, the Forester cabin benefits from fine materials and finishes. Standard cloth upholstery looks tough and includes vinyl bolsters. Brown leather, exclusive to Touring trim, extends to the doors and dashboard, imparting a warm feeling.
Door panels and the dashboard pleasantly blend soft-touch materials with low-sheen surfaces and contrasting stitching. Sport models get black/gray cloth with orange stitching.
Front seats are comfortably firm and supportive, with height adjustment for both occupants. Helped by a slightly lengthened wheelbase, the back seat is especially roomy. Legroom approaches 40 inches, with easy entry/exit. Wide and amply padded, the back seat handily holds three passengers.
A 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard, sitting high with large volume and tuning knobs. Upper trim levels get an 8.0-inch display.
A relatively high seating position yields good outward vision. Liftover height for the boxy, tall cargo compartment is low. Cargo volume in non-moonroof models totals 35.4 cubic feet with the rear seatback upright, expanding to 76.1 cubic feet with seatback folded. A rubber cargo mat and grained plastic surfaces ensure easy cleaning.
A revised foundation gives the 2019 Forester a smoother, quiet, more composed ride than its predecessor. Handling remains lively and precise, with quick steering responses.
Comparatively light in weight for an all-wheel-drive compact, the Forester accelerates adequately, though it’s not quite spirited. Subaru’s CVT is tuned to provide brisk responses in urban driving. Performance is helped by the well-behaved transmission.
Only when passing or climbing upgrades does power feel a bit shy. Engine noise isn’t absent, but the CVT strives to keep engine revs down while accelerating.
An Impressively-isolated feel makes the Forester a welcome companion even after the pavement ends. Subaru’s torque-vectoring system acts upon the inside wheel’s brakes in hard cornering, for a more nimble feel. A soft suspension and relatively tall tire sidewalls translate to more body lean in corners than Mazda’s CX-5, but a more compliant ride. The Forester can absorb deteriorated pavement with considerably greater composure. Cruising on the highway, it’s impressively stable and quiet.
With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and selectable traction-control modes, the Forester beats most competitors in off-road capabilities.
By crossover SUV standards, Forester is fuel-thrifty. It’s EPA-rated at 26/33 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. Under certain conditions, the standard, mostly unobtrusive stop/start system can cut the engine when idling.
The 2019 Subaru Forester represents good value, with standard all-wheel drive a welcome feature for its regular customers. All versions are well-equipped. Cargo-carrying utility and passenger space stand above the pack, especially for the roomy back seat. The best value of the lot is the Premium edition.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.