Subaru offers more standard features, but takes away two big powertrain options.
At first glance, the 2019 Subaru Forester appears to be just a nip and tuck, with a mild redesign that would be hard to tell from the 2018 model if you’re not looking at them side by side. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that Subaru has started with its all new Subaru Global Platform, improved the Forester in every facet, but kept many of the attributes that have helped this generation take it to unprecedented sales success.
However, Subaru has also dropped a couple of features that fans of the brand loved to applaud, but must have been rare to buy. As with so many cars these days, the manual transmission will not return, and perhaps less expected is the omission of the turbocharged XT model that brought a bit more power and fun to the compact SUV segment. The sole powertrain is now the 2.5-liter boxer engine, updated with direct injection and exhaust variable valve timing to yield 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, up from 170 hp and 174 lb-ft.
The engine also adds Auto Stop/Start, the Lineartronic CVT is the only transmission on offer, and Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard, which will help it stand out from so many brands that start with front-wheel drive and charge extra for AWD. Although official fuel consumption ratings aren’t yet confirmed, Subaru expects the Forester to hit 33 mpg on the highway, which is just one better than the current model’s 32, with a 26 mpg city rating to go along with it. Further cementing its winter champ credibility is 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and top models boast new snow modes for the AWD via the X-Mode selector: Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud.
Winter weather isn’t the only area that gets attention from the AWD system, as X-mode also simulates low-range gearing and optimizes the AWD, engine, brakes, and stability control for better control on slippery surfaces and steep inclines, with a hill descent control function built in as well. Brake-based torque vectoring will help with cornering in any conditions. The AWD system isn’t the only system that can be tailored to specific driving conditions, with SI-Drive now standard, allowing drivers to select efficient or sporty driving characteristics to suit their driving style or inclination.
The new Subaru Global Platform debuted on the compact 2018 Impreza and Crosstrek, and was then stretched for the midsize 7-seat Ascent that is just about to hit the market, and it will underpin everything in between for the Subaru brand. Because it is so crucial for the entire lineup, Subaru has thrown all its considerable resources behind it, and if the Crosstrek is anything to go by, it is a big success. As with other new models, Subaru promises a quieter cabin, greater stability, and increased agility thanks to the new platform. In the Forester, the new platform yields a wheelbase that is over an inch longer, now stretching to 105.1 inches.
The primary beneficiary will be rear seat passengers, with an extra 1.4 inches of legroom in back, and increased headroom, legroom and shoulder room throughout the cabin. Subaru also sweats the details and something you won’t see easily is that it has again redesigned the door openings (as it did for the 2014 model as well) to make it easier to get in and out and install child seats. Cargo space is also up a bit more than a cubic foot, its maximum 76.1 cubic feet jumping ahead of segment leaders like RAV4 (73.4) and CR-V (75.8). Curiously, no mention is made of cargo space with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats in place.
This is a much more important figure as that is the most commonly used configuration, and its current 31.5 cu. ft. is a fair bit short of the CR-V’s 37.6 or the Nissan Rogue’s whopping 39.3 (and the Rogue also has a trick shelf system that helps divide the trunk and increase its usefulness). The Forester cites a 5-inch wider rear opening that beats many in the segment, and top trims get a standard power tailgate that is also an option for lower trims. Of course, numbers don’t really tell the whole story, and Subaru took into account what owners actually use their Foresters for.
Materials for the cargo area and interior are chosen with an eye for durability and resistance to damage from bikes and kids and firewood. But the controls are laid out in a familiar setup that will make it easy for owners to skip the learning curve, except perhaps with the Starlink infotainment system, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. While the in-dash Starlink system has had its growing pains, recent versions are improving in responsiveness and ease of use. The functions of Starlink’s Connected Services are worth noting. Foresters optioned with push-button start can be started remotely using the Starlink smartphone app.
This can also be used to activate the climate control to cool it down on sweltering hot days or warm it up on winter mornings. While perks like that are nice, a much bigger deal is Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite that's become standard fare in the Forester. I’d put money on the Forester getting Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS with top scores across the board. The 2018 Impreza and Crosstrek earned it, with the only area where it did not receive a top score was the Crosstrek headlights. However, the Forester features standard LED headlights with steering responsive headlights and high-beam assist available on higher trims.
The Global Platform introduces a new version of the Subaru “ring-shaped reinforcement frame design”, a design that has made pretty much every Subaru model a permanent fixture at the top of crashworthiness charts for ages. Helping to avoid collisions altogether, EyeSight includes Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist, and Pre-Collision Throttle Management if you should need them. While not standard, you can add other driver-assist features in Subaru’s arsenal: Reverse Automatic Braking and Blind Spot Detection with Lane-Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
Even if you don’t load up on parking aids, the Forester’s outward visibility carries over mostly unchanged for great vision in almost every direction. A brand new safety system Subaru is introducing on the top Touring trim is DriverFocus, a system that alerts the driver of fatigue or distraction. Other vehicles have systems that detect fatigue via steering wheel inputs, but DriverFocus uses facial recognition to catch signs of fatigue or distracted behavior and delivers a 10,000-volt shock to remind you to focus on driving. Okay, it just dings or beeps a warning, but it probably should zap texters and other distracted drivers.
DriverFocus also uses facial recognition to remember up to five different drivers and match presets for seat position, climate and other settings when it recognizes them. Despite the subtlety of the Forester redesign, it will serve compact crossover shoppers looking for something a little more rugged than some of the milder soft-roaders in the segment, with competitive practicality and features. Subaru has turned the corner on efficiency as well, so that’s no penalty, and driving manners should be among the best. Some Subaru loyalists might decry the lack of manual transmission or the hi-po XT model. Doubtless, the sad reason for this is that it will be more profitable for the company to narrow its lineup to one powertrain combo.
A sporty-looking Sport trim will have to suffice. No word from Subaru on pricing, but with a simpler lineup when it arrives this fall, we don’t expect to prices to change drastically. To stay competitive, it might be aggressive and match the current base price, even with the manual and so much safety equipment standard. The 2018 Forester 2.5i manual currently starts at $22,795 with $915 destination, adding $1,000 for the CVT and climbing to about $34,000 for fully loaded 2.5i models. Pricing is key to whether Subaru’s new one-size-fits-all 2019 Forester offers greater value for the majority of owners by giving consumers what they want for less.