• Pricing starts at $24,295, plus $975 destination
  • Much roomier inside, but only slightly larger
  • Updated 2.5-liter flat-4 engine now has direct injection
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard
  • Super-wide rear hatch opening
  • Standard LED headlights
  • Up to 33 mpg on the highway

 

Subaru has been on a roll in the U.S., with 81 consecutive months of sales gains and nine straight years of sales records. Much of this relates directly to the Forester, the compact SUV that seems to have hit a sweet spot with buyers and represents 27 percent of Subaru sales in the U.S. Now, there’s an all-new 2019 Subaru Forester. This Japan-built model, which goes on sale in early October, recently was sampled by KBB on the mountain roads in and around Asheville, North Carolina.

New platform

When you see a 2019 Forester for the first time, there’s no doubt it’s still a Forester, a vehicle that’s about the same size as the one before. Subaru didn’t want to mess too much with success, but it did want to move the Forester over to its new global platform, versions of which already underpin the Subaru Impreza, Crosstrek and Ascent. And in the Forester, the new platform is put to good use. Torsional rigidity is up 40 percent thanks to a significantly stronger front bulkhead, along with the use of more high-strength steel and B-pillars now made of hot-pressed steel. Besides providing a more rigid foundation for the suspension (MacPherson struts in front, multilink rear), the new chassis is much better at absorbing impact energy, which has led Subaru to believe its 2019 Forester will receive the highest 5-Star NHTSA crash-test ratings.

The 2019 Subaru Forester has grown slightly in length (by 0.6 inches), and by nearly an inch (0.8 inches) in width. Similarly, the wheelbase has grown by 1.2 inches, which has resulted in significantly better rear-seat legroom (a 6-foot-tall passenger fits very comfortably behind a 6-foot-tall driver). The added width also has benefits -- even though the Forester is still narrower than most of its competition (compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4), Subaru has widened the front seating area by 1.2 inches and moved the front seats nearly an inch farther apart, which makes the area feel far roomier than before. Subaru has said the Forester is a perfect blend of interior capacity and external size, and we at KBB -- along with the hundreds of thousands of Forester buyers, 52 percent of whom are women -- understand what that means.

Under the hood

Subaru calls the Forester’s new engine the FB25, and although it’s a 2.5-liter flat-4 as in the previous model, some 90 percent of its parts are new. It now benefits from direct fuel injection, and the compression ratio has been increased from 10.0:1 to 12:0:1. As a result, this boxer engine, which also has a strengthened block, puts out slightly better power: 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm versus 170 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 174 lb-ft at 4,100 rpm. Of note: The turbocharged engine in last year’s Forester XT model, which represented only 5 percent of the volume, has been discontinued.

One transmission is available in the 2019 Subaru Forester: an updated continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that is lighter and quieter, and has an available 7-speed manual mode with paddle shifters that do their best to make this CVT simulate a traditional automatic. For the record, a manual transmission isn’t available in 2019, but before we all shed a tear, Subaru says less than 3 percent of Foresters were so equipped, so it didn’t make sense to federalize a manual-equipped model.

Models and Features

The new Forester will be available in five models, all equipped with the 2.5-liter flat-4 engine and CVT. They are:

Base
Starting MSRP: $25,270 (including $975 destination)
2.5-liter flat-4, Symmetrical AWD
17-inch steel wheels
6.5-inch audio unit
Electronic parking brake
Cruise control
EyeSight system

Premium
Starting MSRP: $27,970 (including $975 destination)
2.5-liter flat-4, Symmetrical AWD with X-Mode
17-inch alloy wheels
Panoramic moonroof
Power driver’s seat
Roof rails
Retractable cargo cover
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Privacy glass
Rear a/c vents
StarLink Connected services
Bodycolor mirrors

Sport
Starting MSRP: $27,770 (including $975 destination)
2.5-liter flat-4, Symmetrical AWD with Dual X-Mode
18-inch alloy wheels
Keyless ignition
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Paddle shifters
LED fog lights
Sport cloth interior
Blackened exterior trim
Orange exterior and interior accents
Color multifunction display
Rear USB ports
Removable cargo tray

Limited
Starting MSRP: $31,770 (including $975 destination)
2.5-liter flat-4, Symmetrical AWD, Dual X-Mode
Leather interior
Active LED headlights
8.0-inch audio screen
Power liftgate
Blind-spot detection

Touring
Starting MSRP: $35,270 (including $975 destination)
2.5-liter flat-4, Symmetrical AWD, Dual X-Mode
Power front seats
DriverFocus
Heated steering wheel and seats
Navigation system
Reverse automatic braking
Available Saddle Brown interior
Exclusive 18-inch alloy wheels
One-touch folding rear seatbacks
Silver exterior accents
576-watt Harman Kardon stereo

Impressive packaging

All Forester models have much in common, but perhaps their best shared trait is a well-designed cargo area beneath the rear hatch. The available cargo space has increased by one cubic foot, which may not seem like much, but is good. What’s most significant here is the added width of the cargo opening. At 51.2 inches, it is 5.3 inches wider than the previous Forester, and more than six inches wider than the Forester’s nearest competitors. The opening actually is wider than a Toyota Highlander’s, and Subaru enjoyed pointing out that the Forester’s cargo opening is exactly the same width as the 360, the company’s original model it sold in the U.S.

Other examples of improved packaging: The 60/40-split rear seat folds flatter than before, and there’s an additional 1.1 inches of space between the rear-wheel intrusions in the cargo area. Additionally, the cargo light has been moved from a side panel to the headliner above, and the new Forester’s rear door openings have been made much larger to greatly ease ingress and egress.

Driving impressions

It’s a pleasurable experience, driving the new 2019 Subaru Forester. It’s much quieter than before, and the electric-assist steering, which feels a bit heavy at first, accurately communicates what’s happening with the front wheels. The ride quality is outstanding, and even though the new Forester has 8.7 inches of ground clearance (the same as the 2018 model), body lean in corners is kept well in check.

Power from the updated 2.5-liter boxer engine isn’t overwhelming, but it moves this 3,500-pound compact SUV reasonably well, up mountain passes with nary a challenge. The CVT, built by Subaru, works well in most situations, “downshifting” and “upshifting” like a traditional automatic when the driver is aggressive with the throttle. We’d prefer a traditional 6- or 7-speed automatic, but there likely would be a cost in fuel economy. And as it is, the 2019 Forester has laudable EPA fuel economy ratings of 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway/29 mpg combined. Given its 16.6-gallon fuel tank, the new Forester should be able to travel around 550 miles between fill-ups of regular unleaded (no premium required).

Subaru has worked to improve the feel of the brake pedal, and this can be felt in the reduction of stroke needed before actual speed-retardation occurs. Also, the Limited model KBB drove had a particularly active beeper for lane-keep assist, and it took us a while to find the shut-off switch (it’s above the rearview mirror).

Overall, the 2019 Forester is a very easy vehicle to drive, and if you take corners aggressively, a new torque-vectoring system will automatically apply the brakes to the inside wheels to help the Forester follow its intended path and not push wide. One technology that needs further refinement is the automatic stop/start system, which is designed to be unobtrusive and save fuel while your Subaru would normally be idling at stoplights. The restarts simply aren’t as smooth as they should be, perhaps because Subaru is employing the Forester’s standard starter, not a more powerful unit. Fortunately, the system can be shut off, which we did.

Trick technologies

Beyond its capabilities as a compact and frugal SUV that’s your best friend in harsh climates, the 2019 Subaru Forester is loaded with advanced technologies. All new Foresters, for instance, have EyeSight as standard equipment. This multi-faceted driver-assist system uses two forward-facing cameras that control the Forester’s adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, pre-collision braking, and pre-collision throttle management.

The Touring model is also available with what Subaru calls DriverFocus. Although KBB didn’t get a chance to sample a Forester Touring with the technology (the first of its kind in a compact SUV), this is what it does: DriverFocus works with EyeSight technology to identify driver distraction or fatigue, to identify situations (or conditions) in which an accident might be likely.

DriverFocus uses infrared sensors and facial recognition technology (like that in an iPhone X) to identify driver fatigue or distraction. If it senses that you’ve looked away from the road for three seconds, it will sound a warning. If there’s no response from the driver, the car will actually slow to a full stop. If the driver is determined to be completely unresponsive, the StarLink system automatically notifies a live operator.

Of note, DriverFocus can recognize up to five faces, and it can remember individual preset preferences such as seat and mirror positions, along with climate-control settings.

Final thoughts

Subaru has done an impressive job with the new 2019 Forester. It’s still on the compact side of the compact SUVs, so it remains in a sweet spot sizewise, but through some clever packaging Subaru has made this new 5th-generation Forester feel much larger from the inside. Refinement is up, too, along with the quality of materials inside. While we wish the new Forester had a traditional automatic transmission (and perhaps an optional turbo engine as before), this small Subaru 5-passenger SUV nevertheless has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a stellar reliability record that sees 97 percent of Foresters sold in the last 10 years still on the road today.

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