Based on sales statistics, the love affair that North American buyers have with all things Subaru continues to intensify, and nowhere is it more obvious than with the Forester tall wagon.
As one of Subaru’s top-selling models, the Forester earns kudos for its tough-when-it-needs-to-be attitude, passenger comfort and straight-up reliability. On good roads and bad, the standard all-wheel-drive system operates virtually unnoticed. But when called upon, which is a regular thing in Canada, a generous 22 centimetres of ground clearance — and mountain-goat-like capabilities — combine to make the Forester a capable travel companion.
For the 2019 model year, Subaru added more refinement to the Forester, starting with a new platform that’s also the basis for every other company model except the BRZ sporty coupe.
The slightly enlarged structure is lighter and more rigid, and the retuned suspension is claimed to reduce noise and vibration. The distance between the front and rear wheels has been increased by about 2.5 centimetres, resulting in added legroom for rear-seat passengers.
The Forester’s sheetmetal makeover incorporates new front-end styling with standard LED lighting and active grille shutters that close up at higher speeds to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy. New side cladding protects the rocker panels from unpaved surface debris.
Buyers will also appreciate the slightly increased cargo room with the 60:40 rear seat folded. The rear doors are wider to facilitate entry and exit while a 13.5-centimetre increase in liftgate width means bigger cargo can be loaded.
Passenger-compartment changes extend to the redesigned front seats that are reshaped to reduce driver and passenger fatigue, especially on long trips. The revised dashboard and control panel has the available 20-centimetre touchscreen positioned in a more prominent spot, and a standard electronic parking brake has replaced the pull handle.
The Forester’s drivetrain possibilities are now down to just one with the elimination of the optional turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder powerplant. The remaining non-turbo 2.5 has been reworked to deliver 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque, up from the previous 170/174 ratings.
With the deletion of the six-speed manual gearbox, the sole transmission is a continuously variable unit (CVT) with Intelligent (which is standard) and Sport modes. On upper trim levels, the CVT’s paddle shifters control seven simulated gears. According to Subaru, a lack of demand meant dropping the stick shift and the turbo engine.
The mostly new 2.5/CVT combo achieves 9.2 l/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway and 8.2 combined, which represents a slight improvement from the previous model.
Added to the Forester’s AWD is torque vectoring, which applies light braking to the inside front wheel when turning. This helps reduce understeer, a tendency for a vehicle to continue in straight line even when the driver is turning the steering wheel.
The Forester comes in six models with a base price starting at $30,250, including destination charges. However Subaru’s Eyesight dynamic-safety grouping that includes adaptive cruise control, emergency braking and lane-keeping assist is only available on upper trims.
The top-level Premier adds DriverFocus, which identifies possible distracted-driving indicators and then emits visual and audio alerts. Reverse Automatic Braking, which keeps the Forester from hitting objects when backing up, is also part of the Premier’s content.
Subaru has also added a Sport model that comes with contrasting orange accents, blacked-out grille and wheels, rear roof spoiler, roof rails and orange interior trim. Mechanically, the Sport’s “Sport Sharp” driver-select mode improves throttle response. It comes with a few other amenities and adds about $7,000 to the base price, while a loaded Premier tops out at $41,800.
Whatever the final cost, the newest Forester delivers more refinement and economy of operation, while maintaining a go-anywhere competency that frequently places it on most buyers’ consideration lists.
What you should know: 2019 Subaru Forester
Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive compact utility vehicle
Engine (h.p.): 2.5-litre DOHC H-4 (182)
Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: Among the range of vehicles in the category, the Forester is consistently popular. It has a reputation for solid construction, a comfortable interior and an effective all-wheel-drive system.
Points: Conservative styling is a modest improvement over previous versions. • More passenger and cargo room is always appreciated. • Too bad about the loss of the turbocharged engine and manual transmission, but understandable given the lack of popularity. • Optional Sport package is out of character, but might entice younger buyers.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt.); drowsy-driver alert (opt.)
L/100 km (city/hwy) 9.2/7.2; Base price (incl. destination) $30,250
Toyota RAV4 AWD
Base price: $32,400
Tougher-looking 2019 model is available with a hybrid powertrain.
GMC Terrain AWD
Base price: $34,900
Chevy-Equinox-based wagon available with a turbocharged 252-h.p. I-4.
Hyundai Santa Fe AWD
Base price: $30,900
Renewed 2019 model looks beefier than before. Both four-cylinder engines return.
-written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media.