We drove an all-new Subaru Forester SUV to see if it can compete with Honda, Toyota, and Nissan — here's the verdict

Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderOur 2019 Subaru Forester Sport test car.
  • The Subaru Forester is all-new for 2019.
  • The Forester is one of the best-selling compact crossover SUVs in the world and competes against the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and the Nissan Rogue.
  • The new fifth generation Forester is powered by a 2.5-litre, 182 horsepower, boxer-four-cylinder engine.
  • The base Forester starts at $US24,295, while the top-of-the-line Touring starts at $US34,295. Our mid-grade Sport trim test car starts at $US28,795. With options and fees, our Forester came to an as-tested price of $US31,815.
  • We were impressed with the Forester’s solid feel, great cabin ergonomics, standard all-wheel-drive, and an impressive suite of safety technology.
  • We were underwhelmed by the Forester’s naturally aspirated powertrain and rough-around-the-edges demeanour.

The compact crossover SUV is a force to be reckoned with. The Subaru Forester has long been a leader in the segment.

Launched in 1998, the Subaru Forester was part of the initial wave of modern compact crossovers to reach the US market. Since then, the segment and SUVs, in general, have absolutely exploded in popularity. So much so that major automakers like Ford and General Motors have announced plans to ax the bulk of their passenger models.

According to data from Kelley Blue Book, nearly 3.1 million compact SUVs rolled off US dealership lots over the first ten months of 2018, equating to roughly one in every five vehicles sold.

And the public’s demand for these cars seems to be nothing less than insatiable with sales up more than 12% during that same period.

Read more: We drove a $US46,000 Subaru Ascent SUV to see if it’s ready to challenge Honda, Toyota, and Ford – here’s the verdict.

The Forester is a lynchpin in Subaru’s lineup. The crossover has consistently been its second best-selling model behind only the Japanese brand’s signature Outback off-road wagon.

For 2019, Subaru is back with a new fifth-generation Forester and it already seems to be a hit. In its first full month on the market, the 2019 model pushed Forester sales up 19% over the previous year.

Recently, Business Insider was able to spend a week with a 2019 Subaru Forester Sport in Crystal Black Silica. The base Forester starts at $US24,295 while the top-of-the-line Touring starts at $US34,295. Our mid-grade Sport trim test car starts at $US28,795. With options and fees, our Forester came to an as-tested price of $US31,815.

Here’s a closer look at the 2019 Subaru Forester Sport.


The original Subaru Forester launched in 1998 and joined the first wave of modern compact crossover SUVs that also included…

Subaru

… The first generation Toyota RAV4 and…

Toyota

….The first generation Honda CR-V.

Honda

Fast forward two decades and the Forester is still competing against the RAV4 and…

Toyota

…CR-V.

Honda

Now, a host of others have entered the fray such as the Nissan Rogue,…

Nissan

… Mazda CX-5,…


… Volkswagen Tiguan,…

Hollis Johnson

… Ford Escape, and …


… Chevrolet Equinox among others.


In Subaru’s lineup, the Forester slots in above the compact Crosstrek crossover but below…


… The mid-size Outback and…


… Ascent.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The new fifth generation Forester debuted for the 2019 model. Its all-new and built on the Subaru Global Platform that also underpins the Crosstrek and the Impreza.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Aesthetically though, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the new model and its outgoing predecessor. In other words, it’s undeniably a Subaru. Overall, the styling is restrained and handsome.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In Sport trim, the Forester gets a blacked out front grille, orange accents, and…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Blacked out wheels.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At 182.1 inches long with a 105.1-inch wheelbase, the 2019 Forester is about an inch longer than the outgoing model. This translates into a slight more roomy interior.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Speaking of the interior, it’s rather impressive. While the Forester’s cabin isn’t exactly stylish or plush, it’s very roomy and well-designed. Cabin ergonomics and button placement are on point.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The cabin feels solidly put together while material quality is impressively high. Everything about this interior gives you the impression that it’s built to last.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Although, the orange accents aren’t my favourite.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In front of the driver is a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It’s packed with the various button needed to operate everything from the drive mode selector to the adaptive cruise control. Fortunately, the buttons are clearly labelled and the controls are intuitive to use.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There’s also digital information display flanked by a traditional analogue gauge cluster.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Foresters’ center console features not one, but two infotainment screens. It’s the same setup found in both the Crosstek and the Ascent.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car came equipped with the optional eight-inch touchscreen running Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system. Forester’s come equipped with a 6.5-inch unit.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

We were impressed with Starlink’s simple, straightforward layout as well as it’s high feature content.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Features include Apple CarPlay,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Android Auto, and Pandora App integration.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There’s also satellite radio,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Weather information,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Local fuel prices,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… roadside assistance, and Wi-Fi hotspot capability. This is also where the display for the standard back-up camera lives.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The secondary display, which is controlled using the “Info” button on the steering wheel, is just as useful. It offers readouts of the vehicles trip computer, climate control,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Secondary engine gauges,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

…Its active safety systems,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… The radio,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… The weather,…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… The all-wheel-drive system, and…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… The state of its EyeSight driver assistance systems that comes standard on all Foresters.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and pre-collision throttle management. The system, which works through a pair of cameras located on either side of the rear-view mirror, worked brilliantly and is a true asset to Subaru.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Here’s better view of the EyeSight cameras.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The center console also houses the shifter, the electronic parking brake, the heated seats, and the drive mode selector, more on that later.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Under the armrest, there is a sizable storage bin with an additional power plug.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The second row is particularly impressive with ample head and legroom for even the taller amongst us.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The rear seats now have 39.4 inches of legroom, up 1.4 inches from the outgoing model.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Overall, the Forester’s cabin feels roomy, airy, and inviting.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The massive, standard panoramic sunroof certainly helps create that environment.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Open the power rear hatch and…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… You’ll find 33 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up. Fold the second row down and cargo capacity increases to a voluminous 70.9 cubic feet.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

You’ll also find a spare tire located underneath the rear cargo area.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Power for the new Forester comes from an updated version of Subaru’s trusty 2.5-litre, boxer-four-cylinder engine. The naturally aspirated powerplant produces 182 horsepower, up 12 horsepower from the outgoing model.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission or CVT that sends power to all four wheels…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

…Thanks to the company’s signature Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Forester’s AWD system can operate in several modes including dirt, snow, and mud. This, along with…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… The Forester’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance should be able to get you through most sticky situations.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

For everyday driving, Subaru has included two additional driving modes you can activate using the buttons on the steering wheel.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Sport mode calibrates the drivetrain for performance, while Intelligent mode aims for smoothness and fuel economy.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Testing by Motor Trend, found the 2019 Forester capable of sprinting from 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Source: Motor Trend.


So, what’s it like to drive?

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Slow, but quite good in every other regard.

The biggest issues with the Subaru Forester is the lack of power. The naturally aspirated engine simply doesn’t have to juice to haul the 3,400-pound SUV around, especially if its loaded with people and cargo.

The Forester struggled mightily on highway on-ramps. The CVT worked hard to keep the engine in the meatiest part of its powerband, but it could only do so much. We did eventually find some speed, but it took a while. The powertrain just didn’t feel eager to perform, even in Sport mode. In fact, the 9.6-second 0-60 mph makes it one of the slowest compact crossovers around. For comparison, the Honda CR-V did 60 mph in 7.5 seconds while the Nissan Rogue made the run in a less pedestrian 9.0 seconds during Motor Trend’s testing.

One way around all of this would be the return of the 250 horsepower, turbo engine available as an option in the previous generation Forester. Another option would be to the 260 horsepower turbo-four-cylinder found in the big brother Ascent.

Straightline performance aside, the Forester performed well in pretty much everything else. Its handling was quick and nimble, albeit a bit numb. The suspension and chassis are both very well tuned giving the Forester a smooth and comfortable ride while achieving solid high-speed stability.


The verdict.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The 2019 Subaru Forester isn’t perfect. Its engine doesn’t quite have enough power for the job and its overall demeanour just feels a bit too unrefined. Some may love the rough-around-edges nature of the Forester, but with top-end models pushing $US40,000. It’s time to do some polishing.

But apart from that, there isn’t a heck of a whole lot to complain about. In fact, the 2019 Subaru Forester is one of the most complete and capable compact crossovers we’ve ever come across.

It’s solidly built with a well-designed and spacious interior. It’s loaded with an impressive array of standard safety features and, of course, there’s Subaru’s tried and true all-wheel-drive system.

Over the past two decades, the Forester has built a strong and loyal following among consumers. With the new 2019 Subaru Forester, things just got even better.

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