The Forester is Subaru’s compact crossover SUV. Taller and more of a traditional SUV than the Outback, the Forester is well-regarded for its safety, reliability and off-road ruggedness. Subaru redesigned the Forester on a new platform for the fifth generation. Much of the charm carries over from the popular fourth generation. Options for an upgraded powertrain and a six-speed manual transmission do not.
The Good: Subaru’s reputation for reliability. Strong resale and residual values. Precise steering. Active torque vectoring in corners. Excellent visibility. Impressive safety technology suite. Solid low-mid grade off-road capability. Easy access with wide rear doors and trunk opening.
Who They’re For: Mountain town dwellers, active lifestyle enthusiasts and folks with snowy winters. Forester owners need off-road capability, but not specifically for off-roading. Buyers skew older and more female than the Outback. Dog ownership and previous Subaru ownership are strong possibilities.
Watch Out For: Power is only adequate. The base trim is missing essentials. Safety and fuel economy tech may annoy you. The Forester Sport is heavy-handed with the orange.
Alternatives: Other versatile and family-friendly compact crossover SUV options in this price range include:
• Honda CR-V ($24,250, base)
• Ford Escape ($23,940, base)
• Toyota Rav4 ($24,660, base)
Verdict: The plucky 2019 Forester brings character, toughness, and practicality at a reasonable price. It’s safe. It should have outstanding resale value. Driving one, unlike most of the compact crossover SUV segment, may inspire you to get outdoors and leave life’s mundanity behind. If the Forester is not on a young family’s shortlist for their first practical car, it should be.
Review: Subaru brought media members to Asheville, one of the nation’s most prominent “Subievilles,” to test the redesigned 2019 Forester in its natural environs. The fourth generation Forester proved a sales phenom, doubling its sales volume over the previous generation. To build on that success with the fifth generation, Subaru wants to attract younger buyers. More young families. A smaller percentage of retirees clogging two-lane highways in New England and the Northwest.
I was an ideal test subject for the Forester’s appeal. I’m a 34-year-old male. I’m married. I have a one-year-old. My wife and I are currently in the market for a family car in the $25,000-$30,000 range. I have not run out to my local Subaru dealership and L.L. Bean outlet yet, but call me impressed. The 2019 Forester is versatile, charming, practical and safe. It’s equipped for almost any activity that isn’t driving like a complete knob.
Subaru equipped the Forester well for its natural habitat, windy mountain roads both paved and unpaved. Steering was spot on. Active torque vectoring allowed for relatively flat cornering. The Forester often felt more secure than I did handling sharp, poorly labeled mountain turns. The standard AWD took on a bumpy mountain trail with equanimity. The X-Mode, 8.7-inch ground clearance and hill descent control handled a basic off-road course without issue. The ride was quiet. The suspension absorbed most of the punishment. I did hit my hotel room jacuzzi after a day of driving, but that was because I’m a little prince. My back felt fine.
The Forester is practical. The SUV keeps its “modern cubic form” for this iteration. In non-PR-speak, the Forester is boxy. Boxiness offers advantages. Big windows with narrow pillars and a high seat offer excellent visibility. Boxy also means a lot of cabin and cargo volume within a small, easy to park footprint. Wider doors and a vertical C-pillar provide easy access to the rear seating area. That will please car-seat toting parents, grandparents, and concupiscent teenagers alike. Subaru separated the taillights, permitting a super-wide cargo opening for a compact SUV. That Venn diagram sliver of Forester owners who golf will be thrilled.
Subaru emphasizes safety. The Forester features the latest in Subaru driver assistance technology. The dual-camera EyeSight system, including pre-collision braking and lane keep assist, is standard on all Foresters. The top-of-the-line Touring model will have Subaru’s DriverFocus distraction mitigation system that uses facial recognition technology to detect drowsy or inattentive driving (the same system can also save driver settings by sight). Limited and Touring Foresters also get LED steering responsive headlights. Remember that such technology is good, but not flawless. Curvy roads produced frequent lane departure dings. We also had one instance where the pre-collision braking engaged prematurely when a car some distance ahead turned abruptly.
Millennial buyers do like fuel economy. That means more money for avocado toast. The 2019 Forester improved to all but best in class at 26/33/29 mpg combined. The FWD version of the Honda CR-V gets 34 mpg highway. Subaru pairs that economy with a large 16.6-gallon fuel tank, which in theory should provide nine hours and 550 miles of continuous highway driving. You will require a pit stop before the Forester will. The auto stop/start feature did not bother me. It may bother you. You can disable it, but you have to keep turning it off every time you drive.
Campers will be pleased to know that pitching a tent on a Forester’s roof is now a Subaru-sanctioned activity. When parked on level ground, the Forester’s roof is rated for up to 700 pounds, which should be enough to cover two standard-sized adults in a tent. The aggressive orange detailing and contrast stitching from the Sport trim will also ward off hunters.
Orchestrated media rides emphasize the car’s strengths and mask its weaknesses. It’s no surprise we spent little time on straights and major highways. Subaru did give the 2.5L base engine a horsepower upgrade to 182hp from 170hp. But, that’s now the Forester’s only option. Subaru dumped both the turbo and the six-speed manual from the lineup. Power is adequate for most purposes. A sport mode and transmission that mimics a standard automatic under heavy acceleration help a bit. But, the Forester is missing some oomph. The engine emits a groan of exertion when going uphill or having a daft automobile writer floor it. Appreciate the Forester at a leisurely pace.
A plurality of Forester buyers ends up at the second-tier “Premium” trim. That is the sensible move. An extra $2,500 adds essentials such as X-Mode for off-roading and weather, roof rails, power seats, a leather steering wheel and shift knob, a tolerable sound system, Starlink and 4G LTE Wifi capability. However, Subaru doesn’t lux out its cars. Moving beyond those trims is mostly peripherals and extraneous detailing. Do you need black alloy wheels and paddle shifters? DriverFocus is great, but maybe not great enough to make the $34,250 Touring trim worth it.
2019 Subaru Forester Key Specs
Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder
Transmission: Lineartronic CVT
Torque: 176 lb-ft
Weight: 3,449 pounds
MPG: 26 city/33 highway/29 combined
Read More Gear Patrol Reviews
Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story
Subaru hosted us in Asheville to experience the new Subaru Outback.
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.