With a bunch of crowded sub-segments within the crossover market, it seems fairly easy for manufacturers to produce sport-utilities of varying sizes. Building a seriously good example in a popular class however, that’s a difficult task. Subaru was one of the pioneers, having introduced their Forester in 1997 to compete with the then-new Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Fast forward 23 years and the Forester is now in its fifth generation, all-new for the 2019 model year. Our initial impressions of this generation are positive, and the Forester remains one of our top picks in the class. This 2020 Subaru Forester Premier came to us for a week of evaluation immediately following an extended period in a CR-V.
The main issue with the Forester is that the current one, on a platform that’s new from the ground up, looks virtually identical to the model it replaces. It’s not an unattractive little ute, but Subarus are known to be extremely conservatively designed with very little going on in terms of styling. The two-box utilitarian design does well, and the Forester maintains the large greenhouse it’s known for courtesy of huge windows, making visibility class-leading.
As of the 2019 redesign, the turbocharged Forester XT (reviewed here) is no longer a thing. The only available engine is a horizontally-opposed 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a staple in Subaru’s lineup. Output is 182 horsepower at 5,800RPM and 176 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400RPM. Power is sent to all four wheels using a continuously variable transmission and Subaru’s renowned Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. It’s not fast by any standards; 100km/h takes longer than eight seconds and the CVT makes the Forester react on acceleration much like me when forced to get out of bed on a Sunday morning.
If you can get past the sluggishness, and I recommend you do, the Forester is actually one of the best driving crossovers in its class. The low center of gravity, compliant steering and excellent ride quality makes for a comfortable ride no matter the situation. The interior is quiet and well-insulated, and you won’t be hearing much from the Forester unless you’re accelerating with more than 50% throttle; it drives through traffic anonymously for the most part. It would be interesting to see the 2.4-liter turbocharged four that’s available on the Legacy and Outback (reviewed here) make its way into the Forester.
Fuel efficiency is rated at 9.0L/100km in the city and 7.2L/100km highway, for a combined average of 8.1L/100km. The Forester is rated to run just fine on 87-octane regular fuel, and the 63-liter tank is of sufficient size for most buyers’ needs. We observed 8.9L/100km in heavy commuting over our test week, right in line with most rivals. The Forester’s effortless, calm and composed demeanour helps considerably to ensure a light foot and ultimately, fuel conservation. An idle stop/start system also helps in this regard, and Subaru’s system is more refined than others on the market.
The Forester’s interior is one area in which the fifth-generation model is vastly improved over its predecessor. Materials give the cabin additional substance, and the large windows and massive sunroof give it an airy feel, and the unique brown leather on the Premier is gorgeous. There are some touches that make the Forester feel old, such as the rocker buttons for the heated seats. An eight-inch touchscreen houses the STARLINK infotainment system, and this setup is much better than the newer portrait-oriented screen in the Legacy (reviewed here) and Outback. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and has USB ports front and rear.
Subaru Canada prices the Forester at $28,695 for the base model, with the sweet spot in the lineup being the $33,895 Touring, which adds most of the options that Canadian buyers want such as alloy wheels, power sunroof, power liftgate, and STARLINK Connected Services. The Premier tested here comes in at an eye-watering $39,995, and is the top trim available for the Forester. It adds an eight-way power passenger seat, exclusive brown leather interior, and the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System. This model is competitive in price with the RAV4 Limited and CR-V Touring (reviewed here).
One of Subaru’s main objectives has been to prioritize safety in all of their vehicles, and the Forester has earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also has a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All trim levels of the Forester from 2019 get the EyeSight camera-based safety suite as standard equipment. This includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
A unique feature to the Forester is the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, which uses a camera pointed at the driver’s face. It monitors eye movements and uses facial recognition software to determine fatigue or distraction. While good in theory, we had numerous false positives with this system, where the driver wasn’t distracted in any way but DriverFocus continuously beeped a reminder to stay alert. Re-scanning the system to “learn” the driver’s specific face helped this situation, considerably.
The 2020 Subaru Forester Premier stands out as a phenomenal choice among its direct rivals. The 2.5-liter powertrain is “just enough”, and unless you’re accustomed to the personality of a flat-four, it may be a little too grumbly for you. However, the 818-liters of cargo capacity behind the rear seat is generous, and the 1,500-pound towing capacity is reasonable enough for small accessories. This is a great crossover for those with outdoorsy lifestyles, and has done a fine job of integrating into the compact crossover landscape.