Subaru Forester — Safe and reliable

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We've liked the small Subaru Forester crossover SUV since its inception in 1998 — although two decades ago it was more a high-riding station wagon with all-wheel drive than a SUV — and nothing about the vehicle up to the current all-new fifth-generation model has altered our opinion.

Subaru has taken the Forester to a new level of sophistication with the complete remake for 2019. We found that it hasn't lost any of its attributes, from its excellent driving dynamics, to its all-weather capability, great sight lines, comfortable seats, quiet interior and the all-around good feeling it imparts.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade is in the safety department, including making its EyeSight safety system standard across the lineup. The EyeSight suite of driving aids features automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure and sway warning, lane keep assist, pre-collision throttle management and lead vehicle start alert. Other available driver-assist technologies include reverse automatic braking that can apply the vehicle’s brakes if an obstacle is detected while reversing, and blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, available on all but the base trim level for $1,295. It's standard on the top of the line Touring trim.

The Forester has been named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick and achieving the highest possible rating of “Superior” for front crash prevention when equipped with EyeSight.

Subaru has made some amenities standard that are optional on most of its compact crossover competition — such as Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) throttle control and brake-based torque-vectoring system, automatic LED headlights, electronic parking-brake, automatic climate control, push-button start, selectable drive modes, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

The Forester has gotten modest styling updates. It's definitely evolutionary making it difficult to tell the new from the old without seeing both vehicles side-by-side. There’s more body and hood sculpting, front end and rear-taillight treatments have been restyled, and there are nip and tucks here and there.

The Forester still carries a more upright traditional SUV stance avoiding the modern car-like appearance of several of its competitors, but beyond styling, the appeal of the Forester over the years has been its bad-weather capability with standard all-wheel drive and an elevated ground clearance (8.7 inches) combined with its car-like driving attributes and its hatchback-style cargo-hauling capability.

The crossover has grown just a bit — about an inch longer and just under an inch wider with a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase that creates an extra 1.4-inches of rear-seat legroom. Cargo capacity is 35.4 cubic feet behind the seats (the sunroof cuts space to 33 cubic feet) and 70.9 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is its all-new architecture, which is shared with the Impreza, Crosstrek, and Ascent. The body structure is rock solid while suspension is on-par with more expensive brands. It’s able to glide over rough pavement, and without losing composure on twisty roads, while imparting a comfortable ride.

While the Forester is not going to win many races against other compact crossovers, its 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine — which is direct injected for 2019 — gains 12 horsepower to 182 and 2 pound-feet of torque at 176 routed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Gone is the manual transmission option and the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. Fuel economy ratings are class average for all-wheel drive vehicles, EPA-rated at 26 mpg city and 33 highway on regular gas. Zero-to-60 performance — for comparison purposes — has been clocked at 8.5 seconds.

The interior should please crossover owners with soft touch stitched coverings prevalent on the dash and doors — much of which has a pebbly texture for an added touch of class. Piano black finish on the center stack and faux aluminum on the dash further highlight the cabin. Also available is an eight-inch touchscreen with TomTom navigation and an ear-pleasing 576-watt, nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Heated front leather seats and a heated steering wheel are available on the higher trim levels as well as a dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air vents, power panoramic moonroof, and a power tailgate.

The Forester comes in five trim levels — base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring — starting at $25,273 including a $975 destination charge, $500 more than the 2018 model. Our top-line Touring test car — that came standard with DriverFocus safety technology that uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction and provides an audio and visual warning to alert the driver — carried a bottom line of $35,270 including destination charge.

Base price: $25,273; as driven, $35,270
Engine: 2.5-liter flat four
Horsepower: 182 @ 5.800 rpm
Torque: 176 pound-feet @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 182.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,588 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 33 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 70.0 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 26 city, 33 highway, 29 combined
0-60: 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape

The Good
• Impressive amount of standard safety
• Standard all-wheel drive
• Large cargo capacity
• Good off-road capability

The Bad
• More powerful engine gone from lineup

The Ugly
• Modest tow rating