2019 Subaru Forester Review
Isaac Bober’s 2019 Subaru Forester Review with price, specs, performance, ride and handling, ownership, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Fifth-generation Forester improves in all areas but will the lack of a manual, a diesel or a turbocharged XT variant hurt Subaru’s best seller?
2019 Subaru Forester Specifications
Price From $33,490+ORC Warranty three-years unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 12 months or 12,500km Safety N/A Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 136kW at 5800rpm Torque 239Nm at 4400rpm Transmission CVT Drive all-wheel drive Dimensions 4625mm long, 1815mm wide, 1730mm high, 2770mm wheelbase Angles 18.7-degrees approach, 19.6-degrees breakover, 24.6-degrees departure Ground Clearance 220mm Turning Circle 10.8m Seats five Boot Space 498-1060L Towing 1500kg; 150kg towball download Spare full-size Fuel Tank 63L Thirst 7.4L/100km claimed combined
The fifth-generation Subaru Forester has landed in Australia and it does so without a manual, diesel or turbocharged XT variant. Built off its modular platform that we’ve already sampled under Impreza and XV and which will eventually end up under everything else in the range, Subaru hopes its done enough to keep its best-seller on top form.
What’s the price and what’s in the range?
Let’s start by saying what’s not in the range…and that is the much-publicised dropping of a manual transmission from the range and the loss of the turbocharged XT version. There’s been much gnashing of teeth over this and keyboard warriors have tried to melt the internet but the truth is that over the last couple of years’ sales of these models has been in decline. And, so, with a limited development pot and a decision to focus on hybrid and electrification going forward a global decision was taken to drop the turbocharged Forester. Locally, the manual made up almost none of the 12,000 sales of Forester last year and so it too was dropped.
At the local launch, Practical Motoring asked the visiting engineers whether the 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from the US-only Ascent could be fitted to the Forester and the response was a simple, “no, it’s not possible”.
In terms of pricing, the Forester kicks-off at $33,490+ORC for the entry-level 2.5i, moves to $35,490+ORC for the 2.5i-L and then $38,490+ORC for the 2.5i Premium and $41,490+ORC for the 2.5i-S.
The entry-level Forester is well-equipped offering Subaru’s full active safety suite via Eyesight, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but no sat-nav, across the range there are rear air vents and twin USB outlets for those in the back. There’s only one engine and transmission across the range, and the 2.5i gets 17-inch alloys as well as Subaru’s clever X-Mode system.
Move up to the 2.5i-L and you get Subaru’s new Driver Monitoring System (DMS) which can recognise the driver and adjust things like mirrors and seats to suit. More than this it also warns if it notices the driver is dozing off or distracted behind the wheel. The 2.5i-L also adds a bunch of extra camera for multiple views around the vehicle and adds reverse automatic braking.
For the 2.5i Premium the DMS adds door mirror and seat adjustment to its functionality. The infotainment screen grows to 8.0-inches and adds native sat nav, there’s electric adjustment for the driver’s seat and a powered tailgate. The wheels grow to 18-inches and there’s a full-size alloy spare.
The top-spec 2.5i-S add a Harmon Kardon sound system, dual-mode X-Mode functionality some cosmetic fripperies, leather seats and a powered panoramic sunroof.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
Our time at the local launch was spent in the top-spec 2.5i-S variant which offers a leather interior and all the fruit. The dashboard is an all-new design but it will feel familiar to anyone who’s been in a recently released Subaru.
The dashboard layout is clean and easy to use with all the controls falling easily to hand. The 8.0-inch infotainment screen is mounted nice and high in your eye-line without obscuring vision across the bonnet. The leather seats are broad in the back and base and could do with some more support both in the base and the back but they’re comfortable across bitumen and dirt and there’s enough length in the seat base that taller drivers will be comfortable on longer drives.
The new Forester is 15mm longer (4625mm) than the old car, 20mm wider (1815mm) and has a longer wheelbase at 2770mm. This has allowed the designers to eke out a little more space inside the cabin. Those in the front have been pushed away from each other slightly improving elbow room while there’s a little more legroom in the back now.
If you’re sat in the front, the centre console is perfectly placed as an elbow rest for both driver and passenger. There’s good storage scattered around the cabin from the cupholders on the centre console, to the little box at the base of the dashboard, the sunglasses holder in the roof, the deep centre console bin, glovebox and bottle holders in the doors.
Move into the back and in typical Subaru fashion the rear doors open nice and wide making it easy to get in and out and a cinch if you’re fitting a child seat or loading a child into the back seat. Even with the opening panoramic sunroof on the 2.5i-S there’s good headroom in the back and decent knee leg and foot room. I adjusted the front seat to suit myself and pushed the passenger seat even further back and I could still fit comfortably in the back seat. As you would expect the middle seat lacks the shape of the two outboard seats but could be used by an adult for shorter journeys if need be.
There are directional air vents and twin USB outlets at the back of the centre console and the pouches on the back of the front seats are divided to allow for storage of all sorts of different odds and ends.
The boot offers 498 litres of storage (up 78 litres) with the back seats in use and measures a little wider and longer than the old boot; it grows to 1060 litres with the back seats folded down. The space is nice and square, the rear seats (60:40) can be dropped from the boot, there’s a light in the roof and a 12v outlet with a scattering of hooks and bag holders around the edges. Beneath the floor is a full-size alloy spare.
The tailgate is worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. One, it’s faster to open and close than the old car’s powered tailgate and there’s now a lock button which, when pressed, and the tailgate closes locks all the car’s doors which is a nice feature allowing you to simply close the boot and walk away without having to wait and lock the car separately.
What are the controls and infotainment like?
The top-spec 2.5i-S gets an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, in fact, only the entry-level variant gets a small 6.5-inch screen. There’s native sat-nav on offer from the 2.5i Premium up but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity it’s not such an issue in the two entry models.
The 8.0-inch screen offers sharp graphics with an easy to use menu structure and shortcut buttons to make getting to exactly what you want a cinch. There’s voice control but I didn’t get a chance to try this out at the launch.
Beyond the infotainment system, there are on-off buttons for some of the active safety features, boot opening and more. These are located between the steering wheel and the driver’s door. The infotainment shortcut buttons are easy to see and reach and the X-Mode controller similarly falls easily to hand. We’ll get into more detail when we’ve had the new Forester across the Practical Motoring driveway.
What’s the performance like?
As mentioned, there’s now no manual transmission on offer and Subaru has globally decided to drop the turbocharged XT and diesel variants. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, according to Subaru, is 90 percent new. Some of the major tweaks included upping the compression ratio and fitting an exhaust side active valve control.
In the end, both power and torque are up marginally (from 126kW and 235Nm to 136kW at 5800rpm and 239Nm at 4400rpm) while fuel consumption has been improved. The engine is also lighter (by 1.9kg). The only transmission on offer is a CVT; fortunately, Subaru’s got a good handle on CVT and the one in the Forester, like in its other vehicles, is one of the best on the market.
The launch route wasn’t a particularly challenging drive with long bitumen straights and a similar length of time on a gravel road. I’ll reserve final judgement until I get to put the thing across the Practical Motoring road loop which will really stress the engine and transmission, but the engine has got more than enough grunt to get up to speed quickly and cleanly.
There’s good throttle response and the CVT does a good job of getting the most out of the engine, pouring on power without let up. The engine’s pretty quiet too; at a steady throttle, you can barely hear it, only becoming a little raucous when it’s being revved hard.
What’s the ride and handling like?
The new Forester is the third vehicle to be released on Subaru’s new global platform which offers greater rigidity and has seen the Impreza and XV leap ahead of their predecessors in terms of ride and handling. And, so it is with the new Forester. We need to spend more time with the thing and put it across more challenging roads but what the roads we did drive across showed was that the thing’s ride is well resolved offering a neat blend of comfort and control.
With the US Subaru’s biggest market the aim of the engineers is always to tune its export car to suit that market, fortunately though, Subaru Australia has enough clout, as one of the top five markets, that its engineers get to have a say. Indeed, many of the changes suggested by the local team found their way onto the car we get; with Europe set to receive the Forester with the same set-up as our car. The US will get a softer riding vehicle while Japan will get a different tune again.
There were precious few bumps and lumps on the bitumen sections but what we did come across the Forester dispatched with little fuss, showing its damper tune to be suited to both low- and high-speed response. Sometimes you can get one without the other. Across the lumpier and slipperier dirt roads the Forester felt just as comfortable and even the deepest of ruts taken at speed were barely noticed. The steering, like most other medium SUVs, is free of feel but offers a nice direct action with good on-centre feel.
While the international launch offered a very short rough-road section there was no such opportunity at the local launch this week. The Forester offers around 220mm of ground clearance which is better than many 4x4s, although the approach angle (18.7 degrees), the breakover (19.6 degrees) aren’t super flash, the departure angle of 24.6 degrees is on-par with many 4x4s.
Subaru has fitted the top-spec Forester with a dual-mode X-Mode dial while some of the other variants only get a single mode dial. Don’t be tricked, though, sure, the second mode suggests it’s for deep snow and mud but all it does is automatically turn off traction control when selected. In the single-mode Foresters, you’ll need to manually turn-off traction control when driving through deep, sloshy mud or snow.
In the end, Forester’s petrol engine feels a little more urgent than before and both the ride and handling have taken a step forward.
Can you tow with it?
Yes, Subaru lists a maximum braked towing capacity of 1500kg with a towball download of 150kg. The kerb weight of the car we drove at the launch (2.5i-S) is 1617kg and the gross vehicle mass is 2223kg. Subaru hasn’t listed the GCM but we’ve asked the question and will update this section when we hear back.
Does it have a spare?
Yes, no matter the variant there’s a full-size spare beneath the boot floor.
What about ownership?
The Forester becomes the third Subaru to have its service intervals raised to 12 months or 12,500km. But Subaru is lagging with its three-year unlimited kilometres warranty. It offers three-years capped price servicing with prices ranging from $346.39 through to $584.45. According to Subaru the approximate servicing costs across the three years adds up to around $1277.23.
What about safety features?
While the Forester doesn’t yet have an ANCAP rating, Subaru said it designed the Forester to achieve the maximum rating. To that end, there have been improvements to vision right around the vehicle, the chassis and body are now stiffer than the old car and EyeSight is standard across the range. And this includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring. Depending on the variant there are also several cameras scattered around the vehicle offering several different views to make parking easier and help keep you from ‘kerbing’ a wheel rim.
For the 2.5i-L, Premium and S variants there’s also reverse automatic braking which we got to sample on the launch. One exercise (intended to demonstrate stop-start traffic) saw us drive at an obstacle at about 20km/h to activate the AEB and it worked well, pulling up the car before it touched the obstacle. The second exercise had us reverse the vehicle towards the obstacle but without any throttle, as if you were creeping back into a parking space. Again, the system worked and stopped the car before it hit the obstacle.
In addition to active safety systems, the Forester also offers permanent all-wheel drive, traction and stability controls, X-Mode which we wrote about extensively in our launch review of the XV, and the system is identical for Forester, as well as dual front, side, driver’s knee and curtain airbags reaching into the back of the car. There’s also a reversing camera and tyre pressure monitoring system.