2019 Subaru Forester Drivers’ Notes Review | Space with a view

The Subaru Forester, launching in the 1990s, is one of the earliest crossover models, blending SUV design and capability with car-like handling and refinement. For 2019, the Forester was completely redesigned, though it might be hard to tell. The styling is conservatively updated, and the boxy, upright design people seem to like it kept as untouched as possible.

One of the bigger changes is the under-the-hood offerings. The 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 has been dropped completely. Also, the standard 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-4 no longer offers a manual transmission option. On the upside, power has increased from 170 horsepower to 182, and torque increases from 174 pound-feet to 176.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: I spent a couple of nights in the 2019 Forester and I generally liked it. The new gen feels fresher, without overt changes. The front end looks great. All of the sharp design lines, the now-standard LED headlights and the prominent grille work together to make a statement. Subaru, Ford and plenty of others, all seem to have taken a page from Audi’s playbook of using piercing headlights and a simple yet sporty silhouette. It works. The back is not as good. The last Forester looked cleaner. This one looks like a Honda CR-V knock-off. It’s tough to make rear styling in a crossover great, but the Forester went in the wrong direction. Overall, though, it’s a good looking machine, stem to almost stern.

Inside, the visibility is outstanding. The pillars are relatively thin and the seats are mounted up rather high. You can see out of this thing in all directions. The Forester has always had a good greenhouse feel, so I’m glad that continues. Inside is more of a mixed bag. The cabin pieces and shapes are a little cheap and odd. This one, done up in almost all black with some leather, is decent, but I’d prefer a simpler aesthetic. The boxer four is fine. It works hard to build speed, but it channels mid-range power and blasts by slower moving traffic. The Forester rides better than ever, thanks in part to Subaru’s new global platform. Steering is a little light in a good way, the brakes have a solid grab and in general, I like driving the Forester. I’m more of an Outback guy, but Subaru has fortified the Forester in enough ways to keep it competitive.

Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: When I first crawled into the new Forester, I couldn’t have been happier for what I could see. That is, I could actually see out of it! The visibility in front, back and all around is better than any other new crossover or SUV I’ve driven. It felt as though I was taken back a good 20 years, when being able to see out of a car was something we all took for granted. More intense crash structures and slicker profiles have worn us all down to the point that average to poor visibility is accepted nowadays. It doesn’t have to be that way; the Forester is one of the few to still prioritize a driver’s vision over nearly everything else.

What the Forester doesn’t have is an engine. Well, it has one, but don’t go bragging about it. The flat-four is flat-out underpowered. There’s no way around it, and you’re going to have to be OK with that if you buy one. Perhaps the old Subaru specialists at Cobb should take a crack at coaxing a bit more grunt out of it with some forced induction. Normally, I would accept it, because who actually buys a compact crossover for driving fun? But this vehicle is so good in every other department that Subaru is missing a prime opportunity at being the best in its segment.

All the utilitarian crossover things are done right, it’s supremely comfortable to cruise around in and the tech is easy to use. You’ll even be impressed by its mannerisms through the twisties — it refused to ever get out of sorts or feel top heavy when putting it through my little crash course. This little ‘ute is about 90 percent of the way there in my book. Make a more powerful engine as an option, and you’ll have the ideal crossover.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: Like my colleagues, I was impressed at the Forester’s light, airy interior, amazing visibility and loads of space. These have been hallmarks of the Forester for years, and they haven’t been lost. A lot of credit has to go to the Forester’s shape. While it hides it fairly well, few vehicles are as boxy and upright as a Forester. It’s particularly evident in the sides, where it seems every part of the car was pushed out to the edges of some invisible box and pressed as flat against it as possible. As such, it can looks a little awkward from some angles, but mostly just looks like an average crossover with Subaru cues.

The Forester is mostly a pleasant vehicle to drive. Besides the amazing visibility, it has quick steering, solid grip and feels far lighter than most crossovers in its class. As a result, even with a fair bit of body roll, it’s rather easy and fun to chuck it around corners.

I actually wasn’t really wanting for power from the 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It felt like it accelerated acceptably. But what I did want was more refinement. Subaru’s flat engines, as nifty as they can be, are still really thrashy and noisy. The CVT doesn’t help things. It doesn’t hide its variable nature as much as other CVTs, so there were more rev holding and “rubber band” sensations than I’d like. A manual transmission or better CVT tuning would go a long way to making the engine more fun. And while I do feel the power is fine, I agree with Zac that a turbo engine would still be nice. But those things aside, and the Forester is a really nice and extraordinarily practical crossover.

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