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2019 Subaru Forester: First Drive Review

After just driving the redesigned 2019 Subaru Forester in the foothills of the Blueridge Mountains around Asheville, North Carolina, we are reminded of just how far this nameplate has come. There was a time that not only were we unsure exactly what the Forester was supposed to be, Subaru apparently had its doubts, as well. The 2003 media launch of the second generation was at Talladega Superspeedway where we donned helmets and zipped around the track. This is supposed to be some sort of an SUV, right? Why are we on a race track? It certainly wasn’t to experience the volatility of the 165-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-4 engine.

Neither quite fish nor fowl, early Forester versions were unassuming and unspectacular but decent wagons attempting to cash in on the popularity of the Outback. The fourth generation, which the 2019 replaces, began sharpening the focus. We are happy to say that with the fifth generation, scheduled to be in showrooms early this month, Subaru produced a vehicle that is better by nearly any metric. Smoother, quieter, larger, sturdier and more technologically advanced than previous models, the 2019 Subaru Forester provides more reasons to buy than simply all-wheel drive, a roof rack and a slightly elevated seating position.

The Wrapper

Subaru continues its sales roll with 81 consecutive months of year-over-year growth. Very little of that success, however, can be attributed to irresistible styling. In fact, hardly any of the time presenters spent regaling media about fifth-generation improvements to the Forester was devoted to lauding its exterior design. That could be because there are so many other areas of improvement, the styling tweaks took a backseat, or it could be that styling-wise, it’s evolution not revolution.

Having said that, the latest Forester’s exterior lines are more homogeneous than earlier examples. Although Subaru wants us to think of the reimagined Forester looking more SUV-like than its predecessors, we think instead that it looks more upscale. That’s okay for a vehicle that competes with crossovers and not SUVs. When compared to a key competitor like the Honda CR-V, the Forester does appear more capable, but still right at home.

The Forester is the fourth vehicle Subaru has assembled on its Global Platform that also underpins the Impreza. As with nearly every notable part in the newest Forester, all of the sheetmetal is new. The grille and the newly standard LED headlights flanking it are joined in one sweeping line from the Subaru badge in the grille’s center. In profile, this is a sleeker Forester, not nearly as upright as its forebears.

The Package

With the integration of the Subaru Global Platform came a 1.2-inch stretch in the wheelbase, translating into a 1.4-in increase in rear-seat legroom to 39.4 inches. There is slightly more head, shoulder and hip room, as well. Rear-seat passengers will rave about the easy entry due to huge rear-door openings.

Cargo-carrying capacity behind the front seats with the 60/40-split backseat folded is up by about two basketballs. The load floor is lower, and the rear opening is wider by more than 5 inches. This is the widest load opening in the segment, besting some peers by as much as 8 inches. That’s a huge deal when loading stuff. All of this, and it still offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

The Mechanics

Subaru’s Global Platform also takes much of the credit for Forester’s improved ride. Its redesigned suspension and greater use of high-strength steel add rigidity for a more composed ride, especially over uneven surfaces. Subaru boasts reduced body roll by as much as 50 percent. Steering response is also improved. All-new braking hardware provides better stopping power. Torque vectoring is now standard.

Although it still carries the 2.5-liter designation, the flat-4 engine is composed of 90 percent new components and is lighter than its predecessor. Delivering 182-hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, it uses a CVT to distribute output to all the wheels. Engineers have built in some artificial shift points (seven to be exact in manual mode) to mimic a regular transmission. Subaru claims nearly no one opted for the manual transmission, nor the turbo engine on the last Forester. Apparently, the manual gearbox is gone for good, but an uprising of Subaru loyalists could bring back a turbocharged engine.

Although the CVT doesn’t add much to the driving dynamics, it does help reduce gas-pump visits. Government estimates put mileage at 26 miles per gallon in city driving, 33 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined. This ties the Forester with the CR-V for best-in-class AWD highway fuel economy. Auto stop/start also helps stretch the mileage.

The Features

Subaru is offering the Forester in five grades: Base, Premium, Sport (new for 2019), Limited and Touring. Pricing, including factory delivery, begins at $25,270 for the Base trim and escalates to $35,270 for the Touring model.

The biggest news among the features standard on all grades is EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. This is a suite of safety-/driver-assist technologies, including adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane-departure warning, Lead Vehicle Start Alert (LVSA) and lane-keep assist. LVSA notifies an inattentive driver if the car in front begins moving forward after coming to a stop. Other new across-the-board standard features include a tire-pressure monitoring system with an individual tire-pressure display, trailer-stability assist, active grille shutters, automatic climate control, auto door locks and X-Mode for the AWD system that includes down-hill descent control.

The Drive

Everything Subaru promises regarding the Forester’s driving dynamics and passenger experience, it delivers. Other than some tire noise, the cabin was quiet, the ride comfy and the AWD fully capable of lighter off-pavement duties. No doubt the AWD will also be fully adequate in slush and snow.

Nothing about our Asheville-area drive was particularly taxing, but the Forester isn’t a vehicle people expect to rock crawl. On gravel and dirt paths, it fulfilled our needs. Where Forester may disappoint is situations where some aggressive acceleration is required, such as heading up an on-ramp and merging into 70-mile-per-hour expressway traffic. It also needs a fair length of runway to pass on a two-lane road.

The Uptake

As a vehicle for family errands during the week and transport to activities with a kayak or bicycle on the weekends, the Forester won’t disappoint. Oh, and the standard features list of even the Base grade, make it a heck-of-a value.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More

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