• Car Review

Driven: 2019 Subaru Forester Review

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).