2019 Subaru Forester: Diluting the Soul

Strong points
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Well-put-together and spacious interior
  • Excellent infotainment system
Weak points
  • Only one engine choice
  • Usual CVT downsides
  • Inconsistent and intrusive driving aid technology
Full report

Any Subaru faithful will tell you that their cars have a soul, a definitive way of sounding, driving, handling and operating. And frankly, we agree. With its rumbling Boxer engine, low centre of gravity and witty all-wheel drive system, a Subaru is a different kind of car.

But lately, it seems even the carmaker itself has been dulling its own character. Once regarded as a rebellious, rally-stage conquering, out-of-the-box niche player, Fuji Heavy Industries’ automotive division has now grown into a profit-making juggernaut, rivaling industry big boys Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. And good for them!

But all that success comes at a price: Subaru must now sell a lot more cars. Sensible, mass-market vehicles that do very little to excite their owners. The 2019 Forester is that car, a clear indication that Subaru isn’t what it once was.

Photo: William Clavey

Simply Following a Trend

In all fairness, the entire automotive landscape isn’t what it used to be. Who can blame Subaru for delivering what consumers want? The Forester is, and remains, a bread-and-butter vehicle for the brand, comfortably lodged within the highly popular compact SUV segment alongside other mass-selling people haulers such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Cherokee and Volkswagen Tiguan.

It’s entirely new for 2019, running on Subaru’s Global Platform (SGP) which first debuted in the Impreza. It’s now significantly stiffer and more crash-resistant, says Subaru. Its wheelbase is longer, yet the entire vehicle is shorter by 15 mm. Overall curb weight goes down roughly 100 lbs., or 45 kg, and its appearance has mutated from simple boxy, to Japanese Gundam boxy.

Engine choices have been simplified by narrowing them down to a single unit across the board. It’s essentially the same 2.5-litre Boxer four as last year, except it’s now direct-injected. Gone is the punchy WRX-like turbocharged 2.0-litre, as well as the engaging manual gearbox. All Foresters now come with a soul-sucking continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Photo: William Clavey

Power is rated at 182 horsepower and 176 lb.-ft. of torque. All-wheel drive is, of course, standard. Our test vehicle was a Premier, the most equipped trim level in the lineup, stickering for $39,495 before freight and destination charges.

The Right Amount of Utilitarian

What the Forester lacks in sportiness and engagement, it makes up for with a comfortable, spacious, and frankly solid interior. Contrasting leather surfaces, good quality materials and impeccable build quality stand out. The vehicle’s box-like proportions make way for large windows all around, leading to immaculate visibility.

The Forester accomplishes its utilitarian mission rather well. With 2,008 litres of total cargo space with the rear bench folded flat, it ranks among segment leaders such as the Honda CR-V (2,146 litres) and the Nissan Rogue (1,982 litres). The upright seating position of the rear bench at least prevents the Forester from being a drag for tall passengers, and the adjustable seatback is a welcome touch.

Photo: William Clavey

We find the central knob that helps adjust the Forester’s X-Mode all-terrain features to be quite pleasing, with its late-eighties, Sega Genesis-type interface, but the system does very little to convey actual alterations in driving dynamics.

Meanwhile, we continue to congratulate Subaru for fitting its cars with one of the simplest and most intuitive infotainment systems out there. While an all-new interface will be introduced in the next-generation Legacy, we appreciate the large icons and redundant physical controls of the current system. It can also integrate Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Subaru’s SI-Drive driving mode device, trickled down from the WRX and WRX STI sports cars, is noticeable, significantly and positively altering the Forester’s otherwise dull torque curve.

Photo: William Clavey

Tamed Locomotion

On the road, there’s no denying the Forester’s underpowered feel. Boxer engines provide the benefit of meaty low-end torque, an appreciable feature in the Forester, but acceleration is borderline lamentable when compared to even the small engines found under the hood of the competition.

That CVT gearbox definitely doesn’t help, attenuating all possible eagerness this engine could dispose of. To Subaru’s credit—and we’ve said it several times before—it’s one of the best examples of this sort of transmission. It maintains revs where the engine is at its most potent, and the clever simulated step-gear system, with paddle shifters, diminishes the traditional elastic moan of such systems.

But we still think the Forester deserves a standard automatic given how good such systems have become. We’re saying this, because while the Forester’s 8.7 L/100 km fuel consumption average is competitive, it’s not significantly better than rivals relying on automatic gearboxes.

Photo: William Clavey

Traction remains the Forester’s tour de force. A lightweight construction and impeccable weight distribution lead to a vehicle that’s agile on its feet, and faultlessly well grounded on any surface.

Most Foresters now come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight system, comprised of automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and rear-collision mitigation. Our test model was also equipped with blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring.

While innovative, we’re still not convinced by EyeSight’s inconsistent behavior in changing weather. Often, sensors get obstructed by rain or snow, cancelling the system’s operation. Plus, Subaru’s DriverFocus distraction mitigation system may be witty, but the constant beeping, reminding us to keep our eyes on the road is not just intrusive, but downright irritating.

If you’re not into that kind of stuff, you’ll be happy to know it’s still all optional, and that Subaru has fitted an off switch to all these toys. Rest assured, underneath the fancy tech, there’s still a Subaru hidden within the Forester. But if you’re expecting to get that seat-of-the-pants involvement you’ve appreciated in past models, we regret to inform you that you’ll need to turn to a WRX or a WRX STI to have it.

Share on Facebook

More on the subject

GenevaSubaru VIZIV Adrenaline Concept Takes Styling to a New Level
Yet another concept being unveiled at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show . The Subaru VIZIV Adrenaline Concept is notable for the fact that it represents a bolder and more aggressive expression of the Japanese automaker’s “Dynamic x Solid” design language, which was first introduced in 2014 and will now be …
New YorkThree Faces for the New 2019 Toyota RAV4
Popular doesn’t seem like a strong enough term to describe the RAV4. Its worldwide sales numbers have doubled in the last five years. In Canada alone, the RAV4 is far and away the best-selling Toyota model. It became Canada’s top-selling SUV all categories combined two years ago when the hybrid …
New YorkHere’s What to Expect From the All-New 2020 Subaru Outback
Among the many premieres we’re anxious to see at the 2019 New York Auto Show next week is the all-new 2020 Subaru Outback, which marks the sixth generation of the iconic Japanese wagon/crossover. The outgoing model was originally introduced for the 2015 model year. While the company released this partial …
New YorkBehold the New 2020 Subaru Outback
After the launch of the 2020 Subaru Legacy earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before the next-generation Outback made its debut. Much to the delight of wagon lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the world premiere took place on Wednesday at the New York Auto Show. The Turbo …
News2020 Subaru Forester Gains Safety Tech, Convenience Features
Just a year after the launch of its fifth generation, the Subaru Forester is making a few changes to its lineup for 2020. It will arrive in Canadian dealerships next month with a price increase of $500 to $900. The biggest news is that the EyeSight advanced safety system is …
BuzzThis Special-edition Subaru Forester Has a Dubious Acronym
Automakers sometimes choose vehicle names that sound funny or weird in certain languages, but it’s not like they do it on purpose. This time, it’s different. At the Singapore Auto Show this week, Subaru presented a number of concepts and modified cars including one that’s officially known as “Forester Ultimate …