As a crossover sport utility, functionality and practicality are the name of the game.
For many car buyers in certain parts of the world, Subaru does very well with their reputation for safety and durability, combined with all-wheel drive on just about all of their offerings. The 2019 Subaru Forester Premier is the new flagship for the Forester line that’s new from the ground up this year. While visually, it’s not a big departure from the 2018 car it replaces, the compact crossover sport utility now rides on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which the industry first saw with the introduction of the 2017 Impreza (reviewed here). With these new underpinnings, one of the originals of the crossover segment gets to continue playing ball with the best of them.
While the base Forester 2.5i trim starts at $27,995, the Premier car was an as-tested $39,495. Standard features include a new idle stop start system, automatic on/off LED headlights, automatic climate control (dual zone in Premier with rear seat vents), heated front seats, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, a cargo area tray, and one-touch folding rear seatbacks. Unique to the Premier is a further enhanced DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, brown leather upholstery, special 18-inch alloy wheels, satin chrome side mirrors with chrome door handles, a stainless steel rear bumper step pad, and an eight-way power adjustable passenger’s seat in addition to the ten-way setup for the driver.
As an option on the Convenience trim and standard on Touring, Sport, Limited, and Premier, Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology makes use of two cameras mounted inside the car at the top of the front windshield. With these cameras come four main features: pre-collision braking provides autonomous stopping in the event of an rapidly approaching obstacle ahead; adaptive cruise control allows for the following of the vehicle ahead at both highway speeds and stop-and-go traffic; pre-collision throttle management cuts throttle input in parking situations when the car senses that an object is in your way; and lastly, lane departure and sway warning with lane keep assist gently notifies and then steers you away from leaving your lane when drifting over without signalling.
For the Forester Premier, though, one of the neater parts of the EyeSight system comes with the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System (DMS). With this feature, a camera inside the car is trained on the driver’s face and uses facial recognition software to sense whether the driver is giving the road their full attention. With distractions present, the gauge cluster lights up and beeps, reminding the driver to keep their eyes on the road. Whether it’s looking down at a phone, fatigued driving, or peering out at the scenery a little too excitedly, the DMS has your back.
As a crossover sport utility, functionality and practicality are the name of the game, and the Forester’s overall shape lends itself well to excel here. For models equipped with a sunroof, there’s 935 litres (33.0 cubic feet) of cargo volume with the rear seats folded up, growing to 2008 litres (70.9 cubic feet) with the seats folded down. One word of caution, however, as industry cargo volume measures are usually given from the cargo floor to the top of the seatbacks. In any case, the Forester can swallow up cargo as well as, if not better than any other compact SUV.
For both front and rear seat occupants, there’s generous leg and head room, and a throwing in a couple car seats is a breeze. With its high roofline, the greenhouse is very airy feeling and visibility in all directions is excellent – it’s hard to beat a Subaru in this regard. Drivers will appreciate being able to see in tight maneuvers, and passengers are able to take in the sights quite well. Comfort for long road trips is a strong suit in the Forester, and the brown leather happens to be pretty, too. Subaru hasn’t always been known to design and build the most aesthetically pleasing interior, and it’s a refreshing change to see them going from bare-bones business only to premium feel and more than just grey plastic.
With older Subarus also getting slack for less than stellar infotainment systems, the 2019 Forester makes up for it with an easy to use, ergonomic 8-inch touch screen. There are enough knobs and buttons to account for the most common functions, including volume control, navigation/radio/media selection, and the heating and air conditioning controls. As far as gauges are concerned, the Forester has bright, clear, and concise gauges that are configurable to show a smorgasbord of vehicle information. There’s a 6.3-inch multifunction display that can show fuel consumption, media information, off-road readouts (vehicle lean angle, throttle input percentage), and EyeSight system status, among other things.
As more automakers move toward full touch screen setups, the new Forester is a welcome and sensible decision on Subaru’s part. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both standard equipment and help to minimize driver distraction by encouraging voice commands and negating the need to look at a mobile device. With a smartly paired phone, streaming audio from the Harman/Kardon premium sound system is very clear, with a wide soundstage accompanied by both a good quality and quantity of bass.
All 2019 Foresters are powered by the same engine regardless of trim level. An updated 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed (“boxer”), direct fuel injected four cylinder is now the only engine for all people and tastes, with the turbocharged 2.0-litre XT model being conspicuously absent. Peak power output is 182 horsepower at 5,800RPM, and 176 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400RPM. That’s up by 12 and 2 respectively over the previous non-turbo 2.5-litre, but down by 68 and 82 for those that wanted the XT. Top trim level pricing remains similar between the previous and current model, despite only having lower power options.
It’s not fair to call the new Forester slow, however, as the continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic transmission makes the most of the naturally aspirated configuration. There’s good throttle response and aggressive tip-in that took some getting used to, and while you won’t win any drag races, there’s more than enough torque for the vast majority of driving. As far as CVTs go, Subaru’s is inoffensive and gets the job done, returning improved fuel economy while staying smooth and quiet. This could not be said ten years ago!
Two key reasons for the loss of the turbocharged XT can likely be attributed to consumer demand and tightening regulatory conditions for more fuel efficient vehicles, which rule out the extra fun, for the most part. Compared to last year, the 2019 Forester does marginally better for fuel economy, with nominal ratings of 9.0L/100KM in the city and 7.2L/100KM on the highway. Observed economy over a week of mixed winter driving saw 8.4L/100KM. Tank capacity is 63 litres, and regular fuel is all that’s needed (premium was needed for the old 2.0XT). A neat readout in the centre gauge cluster gives a number for the amount of fuel saved when the engine shuts off with the idle start stop system, and some quick math suggests that it’s good for about 1.0L/100KM in urban driving.
For driving dynamics, the new Forester handles better than the previous car, without giving up anything in the comfort and ride quality department. Steering feels nicely weighted and feels sportier, and there’s fewer secondary motions under big undulations. Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel drive system made traction concerns a non-issue. The cabin is quiet, with only the characteristic rumble of the boxer engine coming through.
In its class, the 2019 Subaru Forester Premier is up against some heavily stacked competition. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Mazda CX-5 are all Japanese contenders that pack big punches, and American and European options such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Volkswagen Tiguan are just as good, too. Even so, the Forester is able to find ways to shine above the others, with a great driving experience, an airy cabin that easily swallows up people and cargo, and sits among the best in class for modern safety systems and crash test performance. For a family crossover, with the exception of those who are looking for extra horsepower, it needs to be on every shopping list for serious consideration.