Subaru Forester Generations

2019 – Present (SK)

Subaru introduced the fourth-generation Forester at the New York International Auto Show in March 2018. While the exterior of the 2019 model was only marginally different from that of previous models, the focus of Subaru shifted instead to quieter and smoother performance.

The compact five-passenger, four-door SUV sports a more prominent grille and sharper sides but maintains the low beltline and tall windows of its predecessors. The wheelbase is longer, giving the Forester 1.4 inches more rear legroom, and the doors open to nearly 90 degrees to give passengers improved rear access.

Subaru continues to offer the Forester in Base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels. The Touring and Limited versions come with a voice-controlled 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the Touring adds new heated rear seats.

A first-ever Sport trim joins the middle of the Forester lineup and features 18-inch wheels, standard X-Mode control and Hill Descent Control, which maintains a steady speed when coasting steep declines. All but the base trim levels now sport a panoramic moonroof, which stretches from above the front seats to the rear seats.

The Forester continues to use the 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine of the previous generation. However, the new engine packs more horsepower (182 instead of 179) and comes with direct injection for better fuel economy.

For this generation, Subaru discontinued the 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbo engines and no longer offers a manual transmission. All models now come with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

As part of its campaign to increase safety, Subaru also made EyeSight Driver Assist technology (adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and pre-collision braking) standard on all models.

2014 – 2018 (SJ)

The Subaru Forester was fully redesigned for the 2014 model year.

This Forester grew in length over its predecessor by 1.4 inches; it's also 0.6 inches wider. Interior volume is also up; maximum cargo area increased to 74.7 cubic feet when seats were folded down. This model has more front seat travel and more rear seat legroom than previous generations.

Updates to the interior design were subtle, highlighted by a simple, modern dashboard design with large buttons and knobs for stereo and climate controls.

The most common model has a 170-hp, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. It comes in base, Premium, Limited and Touring versions. The new 2.0XT trim offers a 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and is offered in Premium and Touring versions. Most Forester models came with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). On those that had the manual transmission, the number of gear was bumped to six from five. The X-Mode AWD control system, which Subaru designed for use on uneven or slippery roads, was available for some of the high-end models.

New safety features introduced for this generation included optional EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which was designed to monitor traffic movement and warn drivers if they veered off their lanes. Other safety features in later model years included an optional forward-collision prevention and forward and reverse automatic braking.

2009 – 2013 (SH)

The third-generation featured a major redesign that featured a less boxy exterior, characterized by a sloping roofline and softly rounded curves. With this transformation, the Forester became more of a small modern SUV than a rugged traditional wagon. The new design increased the wheelbase by 3.5 inches, and overall length, width and height by 3 inches, 1.8 inches, and 4.3 inches respectively. Second-generation models had a roomier interior and more cargo space. With the rear seats folded, cargo capacity was 69 cubic feet.

The trim levels offered in this generation were 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, 2.5X Limited, 2.5XT and 2.5XT Limited. A more powerful 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine became standard for the X trims. The XT version engines, which were turbocharged, delivered 224 hp. Turbo versions can be identified by their prominent hood scoop that's designed to direct air through the intercooler.

All-wheel drive remained standard, and buyers could still choose between five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission.

A 2013 mini-refresh made USB and Bluetooth audio input standard features in all models. Standard safety features that were standard for this generation included stability control, brake assist, and full side-curtain airbags.

2003 – 2008 (SG)

The second-generation Subaru Forester went on sale for the 2003 model year. It featured an updated design with a larger, boxy body, an enlarged chromed grille, new contoured bumpers above and redesigned halogen headlamps. The Forester also had flared fenders and an aluminum hood to shed weight.

This generation remained 175 inches long, but cargo space increased to as much as 64 cubic feet when the rear seats were folded.

The base trim of the previous generation was renamed X and the luxury S model was renamed XS. Both models featured a 165-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines. Subaru released the XT trim with a turbocharged 210-hp, 2.5-liter engine in 2004. It launched variants of these models in later years, including the XS Premium model and the XS L.L. Bean edition, which featured leather seats and a sunroof. Air conditioning and remote keyless entry became standard on all models.

Subaru updated the Forester slightly for the 2006 model year, boosting the output of the base engine to 173 hp and that of the turbo engine to 224 hp. Buyers could still choose between a manual or automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive became standard.

These later models also had updated headlights, taillights, grille, front bumper and hood.

1998 – 2002 (SF)

Subaru unveiled the Forester at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. The first-generation models, which went on sale in the US in 1997, were crossover SUVs with a front-engine, four-wheel drive layout. They used the Impreza platform but carried a larger 165-hp, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engines of the Subaru Outback.

Although the first Foresters used a car-based body, they had the rugged, boxy look that would be the distinguishing characteristic of the next few generations. They were not designed as conventional SUVs, so they were close enough to the ground for easy access.

Early buyers of the Forester could choose between a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. Trim levels started with the base L, which came with air conditioning, cruise control, and other standard features.

The fully-equipped S version added keyless entry, heated front seats, and 6.5-inch alloy wheels. The front bucket seats for both trims were upholstered in light cloth.

The rear seats folded forward to create a flat load floor and cargo capacity in the rear was 14.4 cubic feet.

  • Car Review
Review: 2019 Subaru Forester
By David Undercoffler | September 27, 2018

Autolist rating: 5/5
But would we buy it? Yes
Price range: $25,270 - $35,270, including destination but before options

Key takeaways

  • The Forester is all-new for 2019.
  • All-wheel drive is standard on all models.
  • Impressive active safety features are also standard on all models.
  • Quieter and more refined than before with plenty of rear-seat and cargo space.
  • A bit boring and unengaging to drive -- also feels low on power.

What is it?

The Forester is one of Subaru’s bread-and-butter models, second only to the Outback station wagon in sales for the Japanese automaker.

The Forester is a compact crossover; it’s larger than the Subaru Crosstrek and Impreza, a bit smaller than the Outback wagon and a whole size down from the new Subaru Ascent three-row crossover.

The Forester is a five-seater and was completely redesigned for the 2019 model year. It now rides on a new platform that gives it more interior space and comfort.

It competes against some of the most popular crossovers on the market, including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Compass and the VW Tiguan.

The 2019 Forester comes in five trim lines: Base, Premium, a new Sport model, Limited and the range-topping Touring mode.

All Forester models have all-wheel drive as standard, plus a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a CVT automatic transmission.

In addition to offering more space and refinement inside, the 2019 Forester also comes standard with an impressive range of active safety features. Bundled under Subaru’s EyeSight package, every 2019 Forester comes standard with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.

The 2019 Forester starts at $25,270, including destination, but before any options. A fully loaded Touring model tops out at $35,270.

12. 2019 Forester Touring

What’s good:

TLDR: This is not your parents’ Forester.

  • Refinement. This was one of the biggest downsides to the Forester’s previous generation: it felt like a cheap tin can inside. This new 2019 model is a quantum leap in terms of interior comfort, refinement and the lack of road and wind noise. Even the rough dirt roads we drove the Forester on in the hills of North Carolina couldn’t shake the Forester’s poise.

  • Space. Subaru moved the Forester to an all-new platform that it will eventually share with nearly every model it sells. In this case, it adds space where it counts: rear legroom is up, cargo room leaps to the top of the Forester’s segment and the rear hatch opening is now more than five inches longer -- wide enough to lay a bag of golf clubs down lengthwise, Subaru is keen to point out.

  • Safety gear. As we mentioned earlier, Subaru has made its EyeSight suite of active safety gear standard on all Forester models from the Base to the Touring. This should bring excellent peace of mind to any consumer.

What’s bad:

TLDR: Styling, power, sportiness. Or lack thereof.

  • Funky styling. Subaru’s exterior designs have been hit or miss over the years, and this Forester is no different. Though it’s certainly not ugly or ungainly, it’s also not as refined or stylish as some of its competitors, particularly the stunning Mazda CX-5 and also the 2019 Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, Jeep Compass or Chevy Equinox. Most Subaru buyers won’t care about this, but as these rivals prove, you can have your cake and eat it too.

  • Lukewarm handling. No one buys these compact crossovers because they handle like a sports car, but competitors like the Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V show that it’s possible to dial in a little pizzazz at least (especially the Mazda). Unfortunately, this Subaru’s handling is a bit plodding; the steering is heavy but numb, and the vehicle rolls around a bit on corners. It also feels like it could use some more power. None of these issues are grave enough to prevent you from buying it but know that there are sharper handlers out there.

  • Unsporty Sport. Subaru introduced a new Sport model for this generation of Forester. Initially, we thought this was a good thing -- the black exterior trim and blacked-out 18-inch alloy wheels give it a hip and somewhat dark and intimidating look. But we’re disappointed that there weren’t any mechanical upgrades to go along with it. Sure, there’s a Sport Sharp mode for more aggressive throttle and transmission performance (on top of the standard “Intelligent” and “Sport” modes), but there’s no extra horsepower, upgraded suspension or other performance tweaks to go along with the sport theme.

4. 2019 Forester Limited

5 stars of execution:

Safety? YES

  • As we mentioned, all Forester models come with its EyeSight suite of standard safety gear: adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking (pre-collision braking), lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. This is a great package of no-cost additions.
  • Though no test results have been released yet, Subaru is also targeting a five-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (its highest designation).

Value? YES

  • Each trim level of Subaru’s Forester comes with a healthy amount of standard gear, from the Base to the Touring, so buyers with a variety of budgets have a lot to look forward to with this Forester.

Efficiency? YES

  • The EPA rates the 2019 Subaru Forester at 26/33/29 MPG city/highway/combined.
  • That’s in line with the top non-hybrid models in this compact CUV segment for efficiency and not too far off from the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and 2018 Nissan Rogue Hybrid.

Driving experience? YES

  • We were impressed with how quiet, smooth and refined the Forester was to drive, both around town and on the freeway (even rough dirt roads and trails). This is a very easy car to live with on a daily basis.
  • It also comes with Subaru’s legendary all-wheel-drive system as standard, one of the key ingredients in the automaker’s success over the years.
  • But as we mentioned, we were a little disappointed with the lack of any meaningful driving character and power in the Forester.

Execution? YES

  • Subaru hit almost a home run here (we’ll call it an inside-the-park homer); this new Forester took aim at the exact complaints we had with the previous generation’s lack of comfort and refinement and made huge improvements to both.
  • This new Forester also has cavernous back seats, a huge loading area in the cargo space and a wide array of modern amenities.

Total Rating: 5 stars

16. 2019 Forester Touring

What’s it gonna cost me?

The Base Forester starts at $25,270, including destination. That model comes standard with all-wheel drive, a touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, remote keyless entry, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

The Premium costs $27,670. It adds to the base model 17-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, a panoramic moonroof, a multi-function digital display in the dashboard, 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, off-road driving mode with hill-descent control and an available WiFi hotspot (with subscription).

Next up is the Sport model, which sells for $29,770.

It adds to the Premium some orange and gloss black trim elements throughout the exterior, unique (and black) 18-inch alloy wheels, a sharper sport setting for the throttle and transmission, an additional off-road mode, heated front seats and mirrors and LED fog lights.

The Limited then starts at $31,770 and comes with leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, some minor exterior trim upgrades, blind-spot detection, lane-change alert, cross-path detection when backing up, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and a power rear hatch.

Finally, the Touring model caps the Forester lineup off at $35,270. It comes with automatic emergency reverse braking, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a larger 8-inch touchscreen navigation and infotainment system and a Harman Kardon stereo system.

The Touring model also comes standard with DriverFocus, a driver-alert system that uses a facial-recognition infrared camera mounted on the dashboard. It detects when the driver is distracted or drowsy and will send an audible alert to remind the driver to pay attention. It also alerts the EyeSight system that the driver could be more prone to errors and primes the active safety systems to react when needed.

The DriverFocus system also uses its facial recognition on up to five drivers to remember their seat and mirror settings, automatically adjusting them every time that driver gets in the car.

If it were our pick, we’d probably opt for either the Premium or the Limited. The Premium is an excellent value (and the trim which Subaru expects to sell the most of) because it gives you everything you need and want and nothing else.

The Limited is nice because it’s not the Sport (we’re not a fan of the orange trim) and because it adds luxuries like leather seats and a power rear hatch and because it adds additional safety gear.

See Current Forester Listings

Also consider

As we mentioned, the Forester is in one of the most popular vehicle segments in the industry: compact crossovers. So buyers have a lot of choices. This new Subaru Forester should definitely be at the top of that list because it does nearly everything very well. But you should also try out the Honda CR-V and 2019 Toyota RAV4 (also well-rounded contenders), along with the Mazda CX-5 (excellent design, craftsmanship and handling).