It’s not obvious at first blush but the 2019 Subaru Forester emerges from the crossover shop this year a fundamentally changed vehicle.
It rides on a rigid and lightweight new platform that enhances ride quality, bolsters passenger safety and cuts noise, vibration and harshness.
Its cabin is roomier and better equipped. Materials quality improves and Forester’s standard features list grows.
But because Subaru loyalists tend to be practical types who find beauty in utility, not sheet metal, design evolves incrementally.
Just as well, because the new Forester’s best attributes lie below the surface.
Longer wheelbase, roomier cabin
Outside, Subaru lightly massages the Forester’s ($24,295) grille and front fascia, bulks up its wheel arches and wraps its newly deepened shoulder line around the rear pillars.
LED headlights are now standard on all models.
The new Global Platform gives the Forester a more substantial feel. At speed, the newest Subie feels planted and stable. Overall ride quality is very good.
Other small crossovers better manage body lean, though, and the Forester is less nimble in quick transitions than others. Its segment-leading 8.7 inches of ground clearance — and the high center of gravity — is the chief culprit here.
Forester’s wheelbase grows, as do headroom, hip and shoulder room. New front seats provide better long-distance comfort and rear-seat passengers are accorded an additional 1.4 inches of legroom. A new electronic parking brake frees up space on the central console.
Torque-vectoring AWD standard
A panoramic power moonroof is standard on Premium ($26,695), Sport ($28,795), Limited ($30,795) and Touring ($34,295) trims.
A torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system and 8.7 inches of ground clearance give Forester the off-road chops that define the brand.
All but the base trim include X-Mode, a driver-selectable system that manages a bevy of systems to maximize traction on slippery surfaces. X-Mode is bundled with hill descent control, which allows the Forester to crawl down hills without use of the brakes.
Every Forester includes keyless entry and ignition, LED headlights, automatic brake hold, automatic climate control, a driver information display, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver-selectable drive modes, a height-adjustable driver seat and 60/40-split rear seats.
Fighting distracted driving
Tech highlights include Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a 6.5-inch touchscreen (upper trims get an 8-inch unit), and a four-speaker audio system with satellite radio and a CD player. The Starlink app suite includes access to Pandora and other online services.
The EyeSight driver-assist package — it fetches adaptive cruise, automatic pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane-departure alert and lane-keep assist and trailer sway control — is standard.
The new Forester also addresses the curse of distracted driving. Subaru's new DriverFocus technology, standard on the top-level Touring trim, uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction. If attention wanes, it sounds an alert. It also works with EyeSight to reduce the chance of an accident.
Last year’s 2.5-liter flat-four engine returns, but with slightly more power. Horsepower is up 12 to 182 and peak torque gets a 2 lb-ft bump to 176.
Jazzy new Sport trim
The only gearbox is a continuously variable transmission. Sport and Touring variants have steering-wheel paddle shifters and a manual mode that simulates a seven-speed manual transmission.
Off-the-line acceleration is decent, but the four fairly quickly runs out of steam. Two-lane passing takes care and a good sense of timing.
The 0-to-60 run requires an ample 9.6 seconds. The Forester is rated to tow 1,500 pounds.
We tested the new mid-level Sport trim. It’s largely an appearance package whose most striking element is an orange trim motif. Orange accents jazz up the black lower-body sections and roof-rail mount; inside, orange stitching and assorted trim bits accent a dark-gray interior.
The Sport also features a unique instrument panel, LED fog lights, automatic high beams, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors and windshield wiper deicers.
Along with the Limited and Touring models, the Sport offers two snow settings that alter the front-to-rear torque split and other functions.
Stem-to-stern updates produce the most advanced Forester yet. Just don’t expect them to be obvious.
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2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Vehicle base price: $25,270
Trim level base price: $28,795
As tested: $31,815 (includes destination and handling)
Options included blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert; power liftgate with automatic close and height memory; reverse automatic braking; Subaru Starlink Multimedia Plus.
Tow rating: 1,500 pounds
EPA rating: 29 combined/26 city/33 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified