2019 Subaru Forester Review

About 10,000 people buy Subaru Foresters each month.

It isn’t for the speed.

So, why?

And does the just-redesigned 2019 Forester have more — or less — of the mojo that’s worked so well so far?

WHAT IT IS

The Forester is Subaru’s medium-sized (five-passenger) crossover — and one of the best-selling crossovers in its class.

Probably because it is the only crossover in its class that comes standard with all-wheel-drive that also costs less than rivals like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 that only offer it at extra cost — and which still cost more even without it.

The Soobie also comes standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver safety assists and almost nine inches of ground clearance — a snow-day advantage not offered at all in rivals.

Plus a few other things.

Prices start at $24,295 and run to $30,795 for a top-of-the-line Touring trim, which comes standard with voice-activated climate control, heated (and leather trimmed) steering wheel (and seats) a 576 watt premium Harman Kardon audio rig and an upgraded/higher-resolution 8-inch LCD touchscreen with the latest version of Subaru’s Starlink navigation system and apps.

WHAT’S NEW

The 2019 Forester has been completely redesigned.

It’s longer, wider — and roomier than before.

There’s 1.4 inches more legroom in the back — and almost 10 cubic feet more total cargo capacity with the back seats folded down.

The cargo opening is wider, too — by 5.3 inches — and the load floor is lower. The rear doors open wider, too.

The new Forester also gets an updated version of the 2.5 liter engine that was standard equipment in last year’s Forester — as well as a bevy of new tech features, including a technologically amazing but also slightly creepy DriverFocus system (Touring trims) that uses some kind of facial recognition system to scan/identify and remember an individual driver’s face.

It watches you to make sure you are watching the road.

WHAT’S GOOD

More of the things people who buy Foresters are looking for.

AWD-equipped for less than rivals charge for FWD equipped.

Boxer engine isn’t upright — or turbocharged.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Though it still costs less to start than its less-well-equipped rivals, it also costs more than it used to.

Subaru says by just $500 — which is true if you compare the 2019’s price with the price of the 2018 with the CVT automatic. But the CVT used to be optional. You used to be able to get a Forester with a six-speed manual — and that one cost $1,500 less ($22,795) than the base price of the ’19 with the now-standard CVT.

Auto-stop/start is automatically included with every trim — and you’ll be aware of every stop-start cycle.

UNDER THE HOOD

Regardless of trim, every 2019 Forester comes standard with Subaru’s 2.5 liter horizontally opposed “boxer” engine — uprated by 12 hp vs. last year to 182 hp (torque output remains more or less the same at 176 ft.-lbs. vs. 174 ft.-lbs. previously).

A continuously variable (CVT) automatic is the only available transmission.

Subaru’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system is standard.

It’s a more advanced system than the AWD systems used in most competitor models because it can route torque side to side rather than just front to back.

It’s similar to the system used in high-performance Subarus like the WRX and gives both a traction and stability advantage, by correcting for understeer or oversteer when cornering.

The Soobie’s 2.5 liter engine is also an unusual engine in that its cylinders lay flat and are arranged in pairs, facing each other across the crankshaft — as opposed to the usual four-in-a-row (and standing up) position.

That’s why it’s called a boxer engine.

This arrangement spreads the weight of the engine over the chassis more evenly as well as puts it closer to the ground. And that helps counteract the rest of the Forester being so high off the ground (8.7 inches of standard ground clearance).

The other advantage of the boxer layout is balance — of the engine itself.

The opposed cylinders — the pistons within — naturally counterbalance their opposite number as the engine runs. This type of engine doesn’t need a heavy external balancer, as most other engine types have to have — so it’s a lighter engine, too.

And there’s no turbo — which reduces the complexity of the engine as well as the stresses the engine is subjected to.

This ought to help with longevity and will probably reduce maintenance/repair costs.

It will absolutely reduce fuel costs.

The non-turbo’d engine doesn’t need premium unleaded fuel to deliver its EPA-rated mileage of 26 city/33 highway.

Most turbo’d engines do need it.

If you don’t use it, you get less than the advertised mileage — which is something not often mentioned by the mainstream car press. They ought to mention it, given that the main reason for all these turbo’d engines is to score better on federal gas mileage tests.

But if the buyer has to pay more for gas to get the higher gas mileage . . .

Max trailer tow capacity is 1,500 lbs. — about the same as other crossovers in this class.

Subaru also offers a trailer sway control system which can apply braking pressure to individual wheels, as needed, to keep everything going in a straight line.

ON THE ROAD

The Forester may not get there first — it needs about 9.6 seconds to get to 60 — but it is almost certain to get there, eventually.

Regardless of the weather.

Or the road.

Subarus are very popular in rural areas — like my area — for exactly this reason. People need a vehicle that can get to the road . . . the real (paved) road. Many live on — or have to drive on — dirt roads, steep and irregular.

These are bad enough when it’s dry and warm.

When it’s wet and cold . . .

No worries in the Forester. Its winning combination of clearance and a very capable AWD system (with X Mode, you get driver-selectable terrain programs for Snow/Dirt/Mud) make it almost unstoppable.

Of course, a truck-based 4WD SUV could deal with such conditions just as well. But then you’d be driving a 4WD SUV. These are too much for some people.

Including too thirsty.

Good luck finding a 4WD SUV that can get 30-something MPG on the highway. Most average in the low-mid 20s.

And there aren’t that many truck-based 4WD SUVs in the Forester’s size class anymore. You have to move up to something a lot bigger — like a Chevy Tahoe. And these can be hairy to handle on narrow country roads with blind curves, steep drop-offs and no shoulders.

The Forester is also — basically — a car. So it drives like one — and not like a truck-based SUV.

This accounts for its popularity in urban (and suburban) areas. It is as easy to live with as any other car-based crossover.

Just a lot more capable.

If the Forester has a weakness, it is passing power.

There isn’t much.

The 2.5 liter engine is fine for getting up to speed and for maintaining speed but has very little speed in reserve. If you floor it from say 52 MPH — to get around a Clover doing 52 in a 55 — it will take time and space. It helps if you can build up a head of steam before you actually break left to attempt the maneuver.

You can make the Forester feel — and sound — a little quicker via the SI-Drive system, which is standard in all trims. Selecting S dials up sharper throttle response and also kicks the CVT automatic into a lower range (there are no gears in a CVT) which works like pressing the overdrive lockout button in cars with conventional automatics.

You’d have a bit more speed, probably, with a six-speed manual — which could be geared down for maximum leverage (and which doesn’t slip through a torque converter, hemorrhaging precious horsepower through the fluid coupling) but Subaru doesn’t offer it anymore.

For which you can thank Uncle.

Last year’s Forester with basically the same engine but with the six-speed manual — registered 22 city, 28 highway (vs. 26 city, 32 highway with the CVT, virtually the same as this year’s Forester with the CVT).

That 4-5 MPG deficit may seem like not much — and it isn’t, from the standpoint of the buyer. Keep in mind the $1,500 less the 2018 Forester with the manual cost vs. the new one with the CVT; that money could have paid for a lot of gas.

But it is a huge big deal for Subaru in terms of complying with the government’s fuel economy fatwas.

And that’s why the manual’s no longer available.

It’s also why Auto-stop/start is now standard.

This system — which automatically shuts off the engine whenever the vehicle is stopped, then automatically re-starts it when the driver takes his foot off the brake — is becoming all-but-unavoidable in new cars — because of the government’s fuel-efficiency arm-twisting.

The very slight MPG gain — typically about 1 MPG vs. the same car without the system — is an irrelevance to the buyer but matters very much to the car manufacturer when factored over thousands of vehicles sold in a year — which is how CAFE “fleet average” MPGs (and “gas guzzler” fines) are calculated.

These systems can be annoying — the noticeable engine off/on cycling at every traffic light — and it is likely that all that stopping and re-starting will reduce the life of the battery and possibly the starter motor, too.

Again, this is not Subaru’s fault. Blame Uncle.

At least there’s an off switch.

For now.

AT THE CURB

The ’19 Forester looks so much like the ’18 Forester (why mess with what people like?) that you have to park the old next to the new to tell the difference.

Or, get inside.

There’s 39.4 inches of backseat legroom vs. 38 inches previously. Cargo capacity has also been upped — both behind the second row (35.4 cubic now vs. 31.5 before) as well as with the seats folded flat (76.1 cubic feet for the ’19 vs. 68.5 cubic feet for the ’18).

The ’19 Forester now has a bit more cargo room than both of its main rivals — the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V, which max out at 73.4 cubic feet and 75.8 cubic feet, respectively — whereas before it had slightly less.

But the most functionally significant dimensional change for the better is probably the new Forester’s wider-opening cargo area.

You’ve got an additional 5.3 inches of latitude (51.2 inches total) to work with when the liftgate’s up — which should be helpful when you’re trying to get something large and unwieldy home from Lowes or Home Depot.

The low load floor will be appreciated by your back — and by your dog.

Subaru’s MyLink system has large, colorful buttons that are easy to distinguish at a glance, so you can access the various apps and functions without taking your eyes off the road for more than a moment.

Speaking of which . . .

THE REST

Fascinating — but scary — is the Forester’s new DriverFocus system. It scans your face when you first get in the car — and then remembers your face.

It then watches your face — your eyes, and where you’re looking — while you’re driving.

If it sees that you’ve taken your eyes of the road — it can tell when you’re looking out the window — it will nudge you like your mother-in-law via a dashboard display boxed in orange to keep your eyes on the road.

2001: A Space Odyssey was only about 18 years off.

Speaking of AI-ish nudging…

The lane keep assist will protest every time your tire touches the yellow centerline, even when it’s intentional — as when passing or turning off the road — if you don’t turn on your turn signal.

Even when there’s no need to signal — because there’s no other traffic around.

Subaru really wants you to signal, regardless.

As with the Auto-stop/start, these “assists” can be turned off. But you have to do that every time you go for a drive, unless of course you want them on all the time.

One high-tech feature that hasn’t got any downside is the headlights that turn with the steering wheel; it’s standard in Touring trims.

You can also get in-car Wi-Fi and there’s a new Sport trim, which adds a third, more aggressive, Sport Sharp mode to the driver-selectable SI-Drive system, gloss black exterior trim with orange accents and dark grey interior specific to this variant.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Sometimes, speed doesn’t win the race.

Got a question about cars — or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

Comments?

www.ericpetersautos.com

*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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