There have always been good reasons to buy a Subaru Forester, but its exterior styling was never among them — until the redesigned 2019 model. The new Forester is a complete remake and roomier with more power and loaded with safety technologies, including the watchful DriverFocus camera to monitor for distracted or drowsy driving.
The exterior styling is familiar but more appealing, especially at the rear. But it is Subaru’s attentive engineering that is the real beauty in Forester.
Sold in five trim levels, starting prices range from $25,270-$35,270, including the $975 freight charge from Gunma, Japan. Today’s tester is the top-line Touring that was loaded with luxury-class features for a reasonable price. All models except base include a power panoramic moonroof, but Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist safety suite is now standard on all trim levels.
All models have Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive and an updated 182-hp, 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission with seven-speed manual shift mode with steering wheel shifters.
Subaru has been an e-pioneer in protecting its owners, first with a robust body and then with its EyeSight driver-assist technology. The suite of technologies includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, lead vehicle start alert (vehicle in front) and lane-keep assist.
The DriverFocus feature uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or distraction and gives a quick and subtle three-tone beep to alert the driver. Of course, I tried to fake it out by deliberately turning my head left then right, while trying to keep an eye on the road. But it was smarter than that. It did ding me a couple of times when it caught me in distracted glances at some roadside phenomenon I just had to check out.
But all of the EyeSight monitoring does so without intrusion or constant tones of alarms. It’s in the background, but a certified lifeguard when needed.
And the Forester has long been an overachiever in official crash-test rankings. It has been named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick for 12 years running (2007–2018) and earns the institute’s highest rating of “Superior” for front crash prevention from when equipped with EyeSight. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2018 model is top score of five stars overall. The 2019 testing had not been completed as of press time.
Subaru expects equally strong or better results for the 2019 Forester, which it says has a stiffer and stronger chassis and with the EyeSight system and LED low and high beam headlights as standard equipment, with seven air bags.
The slightly larger, compact Forester seems more midsize inside. And it could be the new leader on the SUV mountain with at least nine competitors. Among them, the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson (refreshed for 2019), Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 (also redesigned for 2019).
The body is only an inch longer and a half inch wider and the same height at 68 inches (including roof rack), but cabin space improved by stretching the wheelbase 1.2 inches, to 105.1 inches. The back-seat area benefitted with max legroom of 39.4 inches, or an inch and quarter more than before. But also significant is front headroom of 40 inches with the big sunroof or 41.2 inches without.
The cargo area, too, has a little more cubic footage, but the space is more squared off and the load floor lies flatter when the back seats are folded. The cargo opening is wider, 51.2 inches, and there is six feet of length with the 60/40 seatbacks folded, which will be handy for camp-out sleeping or bike, board or big-box transport.
Inside, there is a heaping helping of no-nonsense Subaru utility and function, but with more style than ever. The tall glass and upright cabin provide unrestricted views over the hood and fenders or over the shoulder. Driver controls are intelligently placed for access and heads-up control.
There are many clever design and engineering elements that add utility and function. The shift console is large with plenty of room for a charging bin with USB charge ports and a place to rest a phone. There’s another 12-volt plug in the two-level armrest storage box and a ledge on the outside for a phone.
The large visors (a Subaru specialty) have covered mirrors and a pull-out extender with covered and lighted mirrors. Door panels have deep bottle holders and stash space.
The front seats — leather-trimmed and heated with perforated centers — are comfortably firm with side bolsters that support without restricting. The driver’s seat adjusts 10 ways and the passenger has eight-way adjustment.
Back seat space is limo long and open with good footroom. The seatbacks recline and the angle is comfortable. The driveshaft tunnel is a low hump and the center seat is reasonably wide and supportive without the occupant feeling perched on a skinny pad. The doors open to almost 90 degrees and to further help feet though the opening the designer shaved a scallop of plastic from the lower door pillar. Very smart.
Conveniences include a pair of charging USBs and seat heaters, on this model. The seatback pockets are smartly divided with a lower outside pocket and the usual deep pocket behind it. Another smart idea, which should be copied by others.
Amenities include overhead lights, grab handles above the doors, bottle storage in the doors and a pull-down center armrest with cup holders.
The sole engine choice now is the 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with horizontally opposed pistons, the so-called “boxer.” It was the base engine last year — with the step-up turbo 250-hp, 2.0-liter flat four, but the 2019 was updated with direct injection, which added another 12 hp, and two foot-pounds of torque, now at 176 at 4,000 rpm.
The power flow is better and while I’m not fond of the sometimes-vague performance of CVTs, Subaru’s Lineartronic is quick to hook up power without noisy motorboating of the engine. There is a seven-speed manual mode, but I never felt the need. Subaru’s SI-Drive sport mode sharpens performance enough to fill the gap at low speeds, which is a help for commuters to hold their line on the daily commute. SI-Drive adjusts only throttle response, which, at times, can seem abrupt.
Fuel economy estimates are 26 mpg city, 33 highway and 29 combined on 87 octane. I was averaging 24.7-27.4 mpg. With those numbers, there is a cruising range of around 400 miles with the 16.6-gallon tank.
This model was not particularly sporty to drive, but it has confident handling. The 18-inch Falken Ziex ZE001 all-season tires were quiet rolling and were dutiful in sporty maneuvers. (The Sport model has a Sport Sharp performance mode, but no other enhancements except for sporty design elements.)
The suspension is quite accommodating with barely any head toss when tromping across speed bumps and steep driveways. The cabin, too, is well soundproofed with little wind noise at the mirrors.
You don’t have to be an outdoor adventurer to appreciate this fifth-generation Forester. It is a smart remodel that preserves its traditional SUV ability and shines as a new North Star to guide through the cluster of competitors.
2019 Subaru Forester Touring
- Body style: midsize, 5-passenger AWD SUV
- Engine: 182-hp, direct-injection 2.5-liter horizontally opposed “boxer” 4-cylinder; 176 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm; active grille shutters and auto stop-start at idle
- Transmission: CVT with 7-speed manual mode; with symmetrical all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy: 26/33/29 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
- Fuel tank: 16.6 gal.
- Cargo space: 33-71* cu. ft. w/moonroof; *35.4-76.1 w/o moonroof
- Front head/leg room: 40.2*/43.3 in. *41.2 w/o moonroof
- Rear head/leg room: 37.7/39.4 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 182.1/105.1 in.
- Width/height: 71.5 in. w/o mirrors; 81 in. w/mirrors
- Curb weight: 3,588 lbs. *Touring
- Turning circle: 35.4 ft.
- Tow capacity: 1,500 pounds, with trailer sway assist
- Standard equipment includes: smartkey entry and push-button ignition, power panoramic moonroof, sound-insulated windshield, height adjustable driver seat, 7 air bags, electric parking brake, LED headlights (low and high beam), Starlink multimedia infotainment with 6.5-inch touch screen for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, carpeted floor mats, power (folding) side mirrors, 60/40 folding back seat
- Safety features include: all-speed traction control, rollover sensor, brake assist, torque vectoring, trailer-stability assist
- Base price: $35,270, including $975 freight charge
- Options on test vehicle: none
- Where assembled: Gunma, Japan
- Warrranty: 3-years/36,000-miles bumper to bumper; 5-years/60,000-miles powertrain