First Drive: 2019 Subaru Forester is Bigger, Looks Bolder, Lacks Oomph

September 28, 2018 by John O'Dell

Subaru has built its reputation in the U.S. on its admirable all-wheel drive systems, its dedication to safety; bigger interiors but smaller exteriors and the sporty power of its turbocharged models.

The all-new 2019 Subaru Forester continues — and betters — the traditions in almost every way.

But there’s one disappointment. The heavily revised engine, rated at 182 horsepower — a 7 percent increase from 170 ponies — feels less powerful.

Driving a pair of Foresters in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Asheville, N.C., found the paucity of power in the naturally aspirated engine became apparent when merging from an on-ramp onto a highway and when passing slower traffic.

Paddle-shifters allow the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, to emulate is a manually shifted seven-speed automatic making the Subaru more responsive at lower speeds. But those shifters only come on two of the five Forester trim levels.

For most Forester fans the slightly lethargic acceleration won’t be a problem. This is a crossover with real off-road credentials, made for cruising and camping and traversing muddy dirt roads and snow and ice. It’s not for the racetrack.

Subaru has even dumped the Forester’s manual transmission — standard on several lower-trim models in past years — and its sprightly turbocharged engine option after determining that in recent years only 5 percent of buyers had opted for the turbo and even fewer purchased the manual.


The 2019 Forester is built on the company’s new Global Platform, which offers improved ride and handling and greater capacity to absorb collision energy, diverting it away from the passenger cabin and those inside.

The direct-injection engine is almost all new — only about 10 percent of engine parts carry over.

Steering is quicker, and Subaru’s Active Torque Vectoring — which applies braking to the inside front wheel during cornering to improve handling — is now standard across the line.

SI drive, which lets the driver select between “intelligent” (what some call “eco”) mode and a more responsive “sport” mode, also is standard for all models, as are automatic climate control and door locking.

Inside, changes are mostly evolutionary. Previous Forester owners will certainly recognize everything, but it all looks fresher and of higher quality. The new model has more comfortable, supportive seats.

The 2019 Forester’s interior is familiar, but with more room and higher-quality materials than in previous model years. The Limited trim is pictured.

The 2019 Forester’s interior is familiar, but with more room and higher-quality materials than in previous model years. The Limited trim is pictured. (Photo: Subaru)

The 2019 Forester’s interior is roomier, with almost 1.5 inches more rear legroom, and a larger, wider cargo area. The Forester is 0.8-inch wider for 2019, but designers thinned the front door panels to increase front passenger cabin width by 1.2 inches.

Outside, the Forester features stronger character lines, more sculpted side panels, a multi-creased hood, lower-body cladding, wider door openings and a more upright C-pillar for easier back-seat access. The wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer to create a more stable ride. The overall body length grew just 0.6-inch to retain relatively short front and rear overhangs.

Tote that Load

The Forester now claims one of the segment’s largest rear liftgate openings — an impressive 51.2 inches wide and 32 inches high. It is 5.3 inches wider than on the 2018 Forester and is larger overall than the openings on some midsize crossovers.

The 33-cubic-foot cargo hold (35.4 cubic feet for the base model, which doesn’t have a sunroof) isn’t the biggest in the segment. But Subaru has reduced intrusion from the rear wheel wells, providing a spacious, flat floor that’s 43.3-inches wide and just shy of 3 feet deep. When the rear seats are flipped down, the space swells to 70.9 cubic feet (76.1 cubic feet in the base model).

Recognizing that cargo capacity is important to Forester buyers, Subaru gave the 2019 Forester the widest cargo opening in the compact crossover segment.

Recognizing that cargo capacity is important to Forester buyers, Subaru gave the 2019 Forester the widest cargo opening in the compact crossover segment. (Photo: Subaru)

The 2019 Forester also comes with the automaker’s OK to mount a rooftop camping tent (with weight limits) without voiding the warranty.

All Forester trims have a tow capacity of 1,500 pounds.


For the 2019 Forester, Subaru has made its EyeSight safety suite standard across the line. The camera-based system bundles pre-collision braking and throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems.

The top-of-the-line Touring trim also gets an exclusive safety feature — DriverFocus. The system uses facial recognition technology to determine when a driver is drowsy or distracted. It sounds a warning, and if the driver doesn’t respond it will slow the car to a stop. It can call for emergency assistance via Subaru’s StarLink system if the driver continues to be unresponsive.

Trim Levels, Features and Pricing

Subaru offers the 2019 Forester in five trim levels starting at $25,270 including destination charges. That’s $560 more than the base 2018 Forester, but the new base model offers much more, including Eyesight, LED headlights, active grille shutters, trailer stability assist, a power fuel door lock and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Premium trim, at $27,670, adds alloy wheels, a sunroof, roof rails, basic X-Mode, rear heating and cooling vents. Subaru figures this will be the most popular trim at about 38 percent of sales.

The new Forrester also comes in a Sport trim, starting at $29,770; Limited trim, at $31,770; and Touring trim, at $35,270.  Each add different sets of features, such a sport-tuned driving mode, power seats or a navigation system, depending on the target market.

Forester offers a new Sport trim with special detailing, and all Foresters can now mount rooftop tents without voiding Subaru’s warranty.

Forester offers a new Sport trim with special detailing, and all Foresters can now mount rooftop tents without voiding Subaru’s warranty. (Photo: Subaru)

Engine and Transmission

The only engine for all 2019 Foresters is a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter boxer rated at 182 peak horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission is a CVT with optional manual mode in Sport and Touring trims.

Fuel Economy

The EPA rates the 2019 Forester, in all trims, at 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. That’s up 1 mpg from the 2018 Forester and makes the new model one of the most fuel-efficient compact crossovers in the market.

Among all-wheel drive competitors it ties the Honda CR-V for leading highway and combined mileage, and it boasts better highway mileage than any front-wheel drive compact crossover except the CR-V.

Last Words

The 2019 Subaru Forester offers a comfortable, quiet, composed and sure-footed ride on paved roads, with surprisingly little body roll. Steering is tight and responsive.  It’s a crossover that welcomes road trips yet remains compact enough for easy driving and parking in crowded city traffic. Sluggish acceleration is the only problem.

Where the 2019 Forester shines brightest is off the road.

This is a real off-road capable crossover. With sufficient ground clearance — 8.7 inches — to scramble over some pretty rough terrain. Subaru’s full-time all-wheel drive system, augmented by the X-Mode system, gives the Forester the necessary sure-footedness to handle most surface conditions.

X-Mode is standard on all but the base Forester. It operates at speeds of 18 mph and under and includes hill-descent control and special off-road calibration and power management for transmission gearing, throttle response, stability control and torque vectoring.

A new enhanced X-Mode setting debuting on the 2019 Forester Sport, Limited and Touring trims lets the driver choose additional settings to maximize performance in light snow, mud, sand, gravel and deep snow.

Subaru’s been on a roll in the U.S., and Forester sales have more than doubled in recent years. The 2019 Forester isn’t likely to change things as its plusses outweigh its minuses.

Editor’s note: To do this report, attended an event where Subaru of America hosted travel and lodging.

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One Response

  1. Jack Wisneski

    Thinking of the new forester but was intrested in a stronger motor have an outback with the 3.6 love it and it gets 30 miles to the gallon on the highway .


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