It looks visually similar to the last model, so has enough changed to entice buyers into the all-new Subaru Forester? Paul Maric finds out.
Don't worry, I too had to double check this was the all-new 2019 Subaru Forester we were about to jump in to. The design changes on Subaru's all-new SUV are subtle, but wide ranging.
Sitting on a brand new platform to Forester, the Subaru Global Platform is scalable and allows the manufacturer to adopt a number of different configurations with similar powertrains. This same platform is shared with the smaller Impreza and the bigger left-hand-drive-only Subaru Ascent.
To the average consumer that's irrelevant, but what is relevant is the adoption of this new platform means a bigger and safer Forester. It also means the the old turbocharged petrol and diesel Forester models are dead. Instead, it's now lumped with a single naturally aspirated powertrain offering.
Prices kick off from $33,490 for the entry-level 2.5i (plus on-road costs), which is a big $3240 step up from the outgoing entry-level manual Forester. There's a big step up in specification, but it's matched with an almost 10 per cent increase in price.
From there, it's on to the 2.5i-L with a list price of $35,490 (plus on-road costs), then the 2.5i Premium at $38,490 (plus on-road costs) and finally the top-specification 2.5i-S at $41,490 (plus on-road costs). You can read the full breakdown of pricing and specifications here.
Refinements to the front end include C-shaped daytime LED running lights, LED headlights across the range (with matrix LED on top-spec models), an alloy bonnet and front guards to aid with weight saving, while changes to the lower fog light cluster help differentiate it from the outgoing model.
Around the rear Subaru has changed the tail light design with a hooped C-shape that includes an LED cluster for better lighting efficiency. The range comes with 17-inch alloy wheels in 2.5i and 2.5i-L specification, while the 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S pick up 18-inch alloys with larger diameter brake rotors.
In terms of dimensions, the Forester has grown with an extra 15mm in length (now measuring 4625mm), an added 20mm in width (now 1815mm) and a 30mm bigger wheelbase (now 2770mm). Despite the added size, the turning circle comes in at an impressive 10.8 metres, despite all models featuring full-time four-wheel drive.
Step inside and Subaru has spent just as much time ensuring the interior remains a pleasant place to be seated for both the driver and passengers. Added focus on styling and materials has ensured soft-touch materials along the dashboard and lashes of 'leather' along the doors.
Infotainment comes in the form of two screen sizes depending on variant. You'll either get a 6.5-inch colour LCD screen on 2.5i and 2.5i-L models, while the top two specifications get a much better looking 8.0-inch colour LCD screen.
Both sizes feature Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and DAB+, while the bigger 8.0-inch unit comes with inbuilt satellite navigation and the top-specification an eight-speaker harman/kardon sound system with amplifier and subwoofer (the lower three model grades get a six-speaker sound system).
The screen is flanked by shortcut buttons and a home button, along with volume and tuning dials. The infotainment system works well overall, but can be a little slow at times. We found the home screen also requires a slow flick to move between menus, which sometimes doesn't work as intended. But it's all backed by a voice recognition system and the ability to forward voice commands through to Siri and the Google equivalent.
The front centre console offers a single USB port in 2.5i and 2.5i-L models, while the rest of the range picks up two USB ports at the front. All models get three 12V power outlets and two high-speed USB charging ports for second row occupants.
Storage around the cabin is excellent with big door pockets, a big centre console and an amply-sized glove box.
In typical Subaru fashion, there is an explosion of buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel. It can make it quite confusing to find the function you're looking for – but it's something we presume would become easier after spending more time with the car.
Moving to the second row, the first thing you'll notice is how wide the door aperture is. The doors almost open to an angle of 90 degrees, which makes getting in and out of the second row a breeze.
Folding in a 60/40 split-folding configuration, the centre armrest also acts a ski port for easy access to the cargo area. There's no fore and aft adjustment on the second row, but the seat backs can fold forward from the cargo area.
Cargo capacity has increased by 78 litres to 498 litres, with a new maximum opening of 1300mm (up 134mm). These are key dimensions because they mean access to the boot is much easier, especially for larger items. And it means there's room for a full-size spare alloy wheel.
If you've ever used the powered tailgate on a Forester, you'll know there's time for a coffee break between pressing the button to open it and the tailgate finally opening. Subaru has supercharged the boot motor and included a lock button on the tailgate, making access to the cargo area a very easy task.
Safety is a big priority for Subaru and it hasn't failed to deliver with the Forester. It's yet to receive an ANCAP score, but we expect it to hit the five-star mark when technical data is finally submitted.
The entire range comes with Subaru EyeSight (Subaru speak for Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)). It works from low speeds through to 50km/h to stop a collision from occurring and from 50km/h upwards to top speed to mitigate a collision. It can detect cars and pedestrians. It can also work in reverse to prevent the driver hitting a stationary object or a person that has moved into the field of the car reversing suddenly.
Other notable inclusions available in the range are a facial recognition system that can not only detect drowsiness, but can store the preferences, seating position and climate controls of up to five drivers. It automatically adjusts to their preference when they enter the car with no button pushing required – it's very clever stuff.
The entire range comes with rear-cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, a rear-view camera and seven airbags (including a knee airbag).
While it's great to see EyeSight standard across the range, it's disappointing the automatic reverse braking and drowsiness warning isn't available on the entry-level model.
Subaru has dropped any form of forced induction from the Forester range, sticking instead with a single engine and gearbox offering. Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 136kW of power and 239Nm of torque, mated to a stepped Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
It consumes a combined 7.4 litres of fuel per 100km and can be fuelled with 91 RON regular unleaded petrol. All models send torque through Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system, which is superior to the on-demand all-wheel drive system used in most other medium-sized SUVs.
Towing capacity comes in at 1500kg (braked) and 750 (unbraked) with a maximum 150kg down ball weight.
Normally we'd be pretty alarmed when a company slashes more powerful engines in favour of less powerful options. But, in the Forester's case, it's actually not such a bad thing. Tipping the scales at 1523kg to 1577kg, it's not overly heavy.
And equally, while CVTs are sometimes quite fussy and not great to drive, the Forester is the exception to the rule. Producing peak torque at 4400rpm, you sometimes need to wind the engine out if you jump on the throttle, but the CVT will get up to peak torque levels and hold revs there delivering continuous maximum torque.
With two people on board and limited luggage, it felt spritely and was happy to overtake with little fuss. We'd be keen to drive it with a full complement of passengers and luggage when we get it in the office, though, it may struggle a bit with more cargo on board.
Our drive route included a mixture of highway and corrugated gravel roads – the perfect stomping ground for the Forester's permanent all-wheel drive system. In its standard drive mode the steering feels a little light, but offers ample feedback throughout its turning range.
It can become artificially heavier when the Sport drive mode is engaged by the steering wheel, but it's a bit of a pointless exercise because it doesn't increase the feel through the wheel itself. In Sport mode throttle response is also sharper, which removes any laziness from the CVT at lower revs.
Traction on loose surfaces like gravel is excellent. It offers excellent levels of traction and doesn't leave you worried about scrabbling at any point. It's quite engaging to drive in these conditions.
The ride and handling is also excellent. Subaru spent time in Australia tuning the ride and handling for Forester to ensure it matches our conditions. It's soft enough to be comfortable, but compliant enough to deal with dips in the road that can be hit at highway speeds without the ride bottoming out or rebounding excessively.
Noise within the cabin is good, but we found it be to a little intrusive at highway speeds on coarse chip surfaces, despite added sound damping in and around the engine bay.
While it's no sports car, the Forester feels agile and playful on winding country roads and can confidently be thrown into corners – again, unlike a lot of other SUVs in this segment. And that's despite its rather high driving position and bigger feel on the road. Visibility out of the cabin is excellent thanks to viewing ports on the A-pillar and a huge side and rear glass house.
Subaru's new vehicle platform offers an extra 100 per cent of lateral flexural rigidity and an added 40 per cent of torsional rigidity. This would normally translate to a firmer ride and a brittle feel over corrugations, but Subaru has matched it nicely to the ride and handling setup.
If you plan on doing any light off-road driving, the Forester offers 220mm of ground clearance and a newly tuned X-Mode system that allows the driver to configure the traction and stability control systems to work in sand, mud and snow conditions.
Migrating to this new engine also means less time spent at the dealership. Service schedules remain at 12,500km intervals, but now only need to happen every 12 months, as opposed to 12,500km and six months. That means lower servicing costs over a three year period thanks to capped price servicing, with total servicing coming in at $1278 ($347 for the first year, $585 for the second and $347 for the third year).
Disappointingly, the Forester is only offered with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, which is well behind the five- and seven-year options available from other manufacturers.
Subaru has developed a solid replacement for the previous generation Forester. While it misses out on a turbocharged engine and looks visually quite similar to the outgoing model, it delivers on safety and the Subaru fun to drive factor.
But, you will ultimately need to weigh up whether you'll settle for a three year warranty – a full four years shorter than industry leader Kia.
Click on the Gallery for more images of the 2019 Subaru Forester.