Once regarded as a crossover relegated to outdoorsy types and wallflowers, the Subaru Forester has evolved into a very popular and mainstream model that has found homes with all types of drivers. With its boxy and upright style, it might seem conservative compared to some other CUVs, but the benefits of that design are that passengers have a lot of headroom and excellent outward visibility.
New for 2021: Though the Subaru Forester has remained relatively unchanged since the new generation debuted in 2019, the 2021 model features minor updates. Subaru has now made LED daytime running lamps standard across the Forester lineup. Other changes include the addition of seven virtual ratios to the CVT new paddle shifters to help operate the gear ratios manually. Though not a deal breaker, Subaru has also bumped the prices slightly across the lineup of its best-selling crossover.
Of course, Subaru’s full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive comes standard, making it the only one in the segment that does so. All others come standard with front-wheel drive. Subaru has also made huge strides in terms of interior quality and safety technology with the Forester.
The Subaru Forester also beat out the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, two former AutoGuide.com Utility Vehicles of the Year winners, in a recent comparison. Our editors picked the Forester as the best model because it was a well-rounded, affordable, and efficient crossover with a good blend of driving dynamics and comfort, but its unique safety technology really helped push it over the edge for the win.
The Subaru Forester has been in production since 1997 and is now in its fifth generation. Back in its early days, the Forester used to look more like a wagon, but since then, it has taken on a more traditional crossover/SUV shape. The Forester has become known for its stellar reliability record: Subaru says 97% of the Foresters sold in the last 10 years are still on the road.
The Subaru Forester is manufactured in Japan.
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Pros/ Standard all-wheel-drive, DriverFocus is segment-leading safety and driver assistance technology, Excellent outward visibility, Practical cargo capacity, Capable with off-road modes, Good balance between driving dynamics and comfort , Huge improvement over previous model, High reliability record and high residual value
Cons/ Can feel slow, needs to bring back the turbo model, Boring interior, Drive modes don’t change much about the experience, Conservative design
Bottom Line/ The Subaru Forester steps it up for the industry with some very impressive safety tech. It has the right stuff to be the best compact crossover in its segment.
Table of contents
Subaru Forester Fuel Economy
The Subaru Forester is only available with one powertrain combination: 2.5L boxer four-cylinder, AWD and CVT. This keeps the CUV’s fuel economy rating simple: the EPA rates the Forester at 26 mpg city, 33 highway and 29 combined.
Subaru Forester Safety Rating
The IIHS has given the 2019 Subaru Forester its Top Safety Pick award, the second highest available ranking. It scored Good in all the crash test categories and Superior in the front crash prevention tests. During testing, the Forester was able to avoid a collision at both 12 mph and 25 mph. The standard EyeSight suite of safety and driver assistance technology also helped it score highly. Its headlights were rated as acceptable, though the agency did give it extra credit for having high-beam assist. The agency also rated its LATCH child seat anchors as G+, meaning they were easy to use. Subaru says EyeSight reduces injury-causing rear-end collisions by up to 85%.
Subaru Forester Features and pricing
The Subaru Forester comes standard with EyeSight driver assist technology, which uses cameras near the rearview mirror to monitor traffic and lane markings to help keep you safe. It features adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and it also lets you know if the car in front of you has moved forward and you haven’t noticed. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard. It also has a feature that notifies you if the car ahead of you has moved but you haven’t noticed yet. You’ll never be the person to waste an advanced left turn.
Other available features include automatic reverse emergency braking, responsive headlights, high beam assist, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, wifi hotspot capability, raised roof rails, automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, one-touch folding seatbacks, heated steering wheel, dual rear USB ports, and X-Mode, which includes hill descent control and optimizes the AWD system for better traction on different surfaces including dirt, snow and mud.
A new feature available on the Forester is the DriverFocus system. Unique to the industry, the system is designed to help reduce distracted driving and it works by having a driver-facing camera monitor if the driver’s eyes are on the road or focused somewhere they shouldn’t be. If it detects distraction or drowsiness, it will alert the driver. The system also has facial recognition and can store five driver profiles to remember their seat position, climate settings, and side mirror position.
Subaru Forester Pricing
Subaru Forester: Starts from $ 28,045
For the 2021 model more year Subaru has made LED DRLs standard across the range. The base Subaru also comes with cornering headlamps and symmetrical AWD which is also standard across the entire Subaru model lineup. You also get a 6.5-inch Starlink touchscreen infotainment system as standard as well. In terms of safety too, the Forester is well equipped right from the base trim. It comes with the EyeSight driver assist system as standard which includes collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
Subaru Forester Premium: Starts from $28,845
The Forester Premium trim comes with 10-way power -adjustable driver’s perch, keyless entry with push-button start, and a sliding moonroof. You also get the Starlink safety and security suite along with an all-weather package with heated front seats. Lastly you also get 17-inch alloys as a part of the Premium trim.
Subaru Forester Sport: Starts from $30,445
Now we are in the more premium territory of the Forester lineup. The Sport trim as the name suggests comes with orange accents on the body and in the cabin. The screen size of the Starlink increases to eight inches from 6.5. Plus, you also get the dual function X-Mode with hill descent control and SI-Drive engine management system with intelligent and sport driving modes. It also comes with blind-spot detection with rear cross traffic alert along with the other active and passive driver assistance systems.
Forester Limited: Starts from $32,445
The Limited trim comes with leather upholstery, 18-inch machine-finish alloy wheels and 10-way power adjustment for driver’s seat and a 4-way manual adjustment for the front passenger. In addition, you also get the 8.0-inch Starlink with Navigation as an optional extra only along with reverse automatic braking. The rear powered tailgate however is part of the Limited package.
Forester Touring: Starts from $35,945
Touring is the top trim in the Forester lineup and also the best equipped and comes with features that are exclusive to the Touring trim. For starters, it is the only trim to feature brown leather upholstery which is an optional extra. The 8.0-inch Starlink Navigation system though is standard on the Touring. In addition, customers will get Driver-focus distraction mitigationa nd 8-way power adjustable driver’s percha nd an 8-way power adjustable passenger’s seat.
Subaru Forester Competitors
The Subaru Forester competes with other compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Volkswagen Tiguan, Jeep Cherokee/Compass, Mitsubishi Outlander and more. The Forester is unique in this segment because it offers AWD as standard equipment, where all the others offer AWD as an optional upgrade.
Future Subaru Forester Plans
The fifth-generation Subaru Forester debuted not too long ago, so we don’t see any major changes being planned until a mid-cycle refresh a few years from now. There has been speculation that STI, the performance-oriented division of Subaru responsible for the WRX STI rally star, might come out with a more hardcore Forester STI or slightly softer Forester Tuned by STI, but there hasn’t been any confirmation that such a Forester variant is coming, though it makes a ton of sense. We also wouldn’t be surprised if a Subaru Forester Hybrid debuts in the near future as the automaker grapples with stricter fuel economy standards across the globe.
2019 Subaru Forester Review
By Sami Haj-Assaad
When it arrives this fall, the new Subaru Forester will be the best compact crossover on the market you can get. The familiar styling and other low-key specs hide the Foresters true form as one of the best products that Subaru or any of its competitors has put out in quite some time.
It’s a culmination of a number of factors: a brand new 2.5-liter engine finds its home, a new transmission, new driving modes, a new platform and an important new driver safety feature that puts everyone else to shame.
The Top Safety App
I want to start with that specifically, the newly available DriverFocus system, that sticks a driver-focused camera with facial recognition in the cabin of the vehicle. After registering your face with the system, it can set up the cabin to your liking, arranging the seats, mirrors and climate control to your liking. It can be registered for five users, which is far more than the 2 or 3 memory seat settings that most cars have, but in reality, this part of DriverFocus is just a convenience gimmick, the true benefit is that the system can tell when the driver is fatigued or distracted and bring them back to the task at hand.
In the worst case scenario, the system works in collaboration with Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite, and will preload features such as automatic braking to prevent an accident caused by the distracted driver. This can help prevent so many accidents, needless injuries and deaths, especially as driver assistance features like an adaptive cruise with stop and go capabilities, lane keep assistance and rear automatic braking become more common, and drivers lose touch with the weight of their responsibilities on the road. In fact, a week prior to testing the Forester, my colleague and I witnessed the entirety of an accident caused by distracted driving. Features like DriverFocus aren’t just useful, they’re practically necessary these days, and to see it in one of Subaru mainstream models, the Forester underlines that fact.
It’s the killer app of the car, and it shows just how far Subaru has come, as it offers a feature that’s currently only found on the flagship Cadillac CT6 that costs over $85,000. Consider that the Forester will cost less than half of that, features standard all-wheel drive, over 76 cubic feet of storage and it’s pretty easy to see what makes the Forester so impressive, but nothing comes close to impressing more than the safety features, which makes the brands track record with the IIHS so impressive, where almost every vehicle in the lineup has scored a Top Safety Pick or better rating.
Efficient with space and comfort
But other aspects of the car are solid too. Take the new engine, for example, a newly minted 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer, that has a lot in common with the 2.0-liter engine found in the Crosstrek and Impreza. It makes 12 more horsepower and 2 more lb-ft of torque than the outgoing 2.5 and the total figure of 182 horsepower means that the Forester looks pretty comparable to its closest rivals in that sense. The new transmission has some say in allowing the Forester to be more responsive and fuel friendly, with a wider spread of ratios. Finally, Subaru has improved the engine thermal management system of the car, which will bring the engine up to temperature much quicker, which will again provide benefits in both comfort and efficiency.
Another interesting tweak has been added to the Foresters climate control system which can use the airbag sensors to determine whether passengers are on board. If the front passenger and rear passenger spots are empty, the climate control system won’t provide conditioning to those areas, which improves efficiency.
The rest of the cabin has been designed with more comfort in mind. It’s designed without too much flair or drama, looking more like the Crosstrek but with better materials and seats. There are more padded soft-touch materials found at key touch points like where knees and elbows would bang plastic panels, which means the Forester would be more comfortable when cruising with your hands out the window.
Rear Window into the Passenger and Cargo Area
In the rear, there’s more foot room, which makes getting in and out of the vehicle easier, while the rear seat pockets have been redesigned to better suit the needs of passengers in the year 2018. There are special cutouts in the pocket so that it’ll snugly hold a gadget and is easily within reach of the rear USB ports. I’m not as big on the rear seat side sills in the Forester as I was on the Ascent, in the latter vehicle there are two steps to help you reach your roof rack, while the Forester’s step is quite small in comparison. But the Forester gets a similar smart roof rack with helpful tie-down spots.
The cargo area is wide and extremely practical, allowing for a full golf bag to easily fit in it sideways. There’s an abundance of space, with 76.1 cubic feet of storage, and the hatch opens quicker than before thanks to a new strut design.
On the road perfection
The Forester being practical is nothing new, as is the fact that it has fantastic visibility, but what about it being fun to drive? That’s the case here, as the new global platform that underpins the Forester is more rigid, that allows for a more responsive drive. There’s a limited amount of body roll, especially in comparison to the outgoing model, and the automaker mounts the rear stabilizer bar right to the chassis, which helps with on-road feel. Subaru says that the stiff new platform makes the suspension do the work in minimizing the feeling of imperfections on the road, but here in Japan, all the roads are meticulously maintained so I’ll have to test that theory back on our crummy roads in North America.
The steering is light but responsive. It doesn’t feel as heavy as the last model, but it’s definitely tighter feeling, as the car can change directions with ease. The two drive modes don’t change the handling feel of the Forester but will change the throttle response for a somewhat more engaging drive. There’s also a manual mode for the CVT, that allows you to swap between seven pre-set gear ratios.
More than just a mall crawler
But this being a Subaru, people will want to take it off-roading, and we have a lot of evidence to prove that it can handle conditions ten times worse than it’ll be subjected to. Through an off-road course built for mountain bikes, the Forester impressed, and there’s a new X Mode system with two settings: snow/gravel and deep snow/mud. The big difference between the two is that the latter setting also turns off traction control to let the vehicle power through trickier messes. The vehicle also packs down-hill stability control as well, and one of the displays can show you the pitch and yaw of the vehicle when you’re off-roading.
My complaints with the Forester are few, and honestly, I’m much more impressed by what it offers at what will sure to be a competitive price. Seeing how it’s been one of Subarus best selling vehicles of all time, I trust it’ll maintain its place in the lineup in that $22,000 to $40,000 sweet spot.
The Verdict: 2019 Subaru Forester Review
Without a doubt, the Forester is going to be a stand-out in the segment. It’s not only better than it’s ever been but better than anything else out there. It’s hard to fathom why someone shopping in this class wouldn’t buy it, but it’s likely factors like warranty length (where Subaru has just a 3 year, 36,000-mile new car warranty) and dealer location and availability are scaring off some potential customers. Trust in the Forester though, it’s more than worth the switch.
|Engine /||2.5-liter four-cylinder|
|Torque /||176 pound-feet|
|Drivetrain /||Standard AWD|
|Seating Capacity /||5|
|Cargo Capacity /||35.4 cubic feet/76.1 cubic feet max (without moonroof)|
|Towing Capacity /||1,500 lbs|
Our Final Verdict
The overhauled Subaru Forester has the right stuff to be the best vehicle in its segment. With excellent driving dynamics, an interior that’s better than ever, standard all-wheel drive, and class-leading new safety features, the Forester easily tops many of its competitors. The Subaru Forester is a smart and practical choice for a driver looking for a well-rounded compact crossover with some off-road credibility.