Staying a Successful Course
By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | April 2018
Subaru unveiled its redesigned Forester at the New York International Auto Show recently. It’s an important launch for a brand that seeks to continue its momentum in the hottest segment in the industry.
What is this vehicle?
The Forester is Subaru’s number-two selling nameplate, a compact crossover that is entering its fifth generation. Subaru is relying heavily on the Forester to keep its sales momentum going in the U.S. market, which have been growing for 10 years straight, so its redesign in the hottest segment is definitely something to watch.
Subaru keeps the same formula, while making tweaks to size and specs to help its competitiveness against segment leaders like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue, and especially the Toyota RAV4, which also debuted at the New York Auto Show.
Who is this vehicle for?
Compact SUVs are taking over as the default choice for families, and indeed for many different types of consumers. One of the biggest flows of consumers between segments involves midsize sedan drivers trading into compact utilities, which offer similar interior room and pricing, but with better cargo space, a higher view of traffic and available all-wheel drive.
This segment may have one of the most diverse buyer groups out there, attracting everyone from young people with active lifestyles who want to load it up with sports gear, to families that appreciate the improved back-seat setup for child seats, to retirees who want to drive around their friends and grandkids, and appreciate the easier ingress and egress that comes with higher seating surfaces.
Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?
Subarus enjoy some of the highest loyalty in the industry, and this consistency is based on the brand’s reputation for quality and safety, and also stems from buyers’ appreciation of its expertise in all-wheel drive systems. This author’s father is currently on his second Forester in a row, capping off four total Subarus our family has had over the years. Each vehicle was owned for a fairly long span, and two of them were eventually passed along to my brother.
Subaru has been doing fairly conservative redesigns lately, since they want to capitalize on recent success. In fact, you might not even notice that the Forester has been completely redesigned, given its nearly identical front end and similar proportions and stance. My dad couldn’t really tell the difference looking at it head-on.
“It looks very similar to my 2017 model, which is fine because I like the current styling,” he said. “It’s clean and uncluttered.”
With the Forester, you know what you’re getting, which is a vehicle that has been a crowd favorite, particularly since its third-gen redesign, which followed the RAV4 up in size to match the segment leaders.
But this newest version expands its safety repertoire to make its EyeSight Advance Driver Assistance System standard across all trims, while adding its DriverFocus driver monitoring on the top trim. It also adds more interior space and an improved engine, giving drivers more of what they love.
“It’s a better version of itself,” said Dominick Infante, Subaru’s National Manager of Product Communications. “It’s safer, it’s got some enhancements, a better interior, more interior volume. You’re gaining leg room and hip room…overall refinement of the package.”
What Excites Us / Top Likes:
1 – While the front end hasn’t changed much, the rear of the vehicle has redesigned lamps that add some visual interest and are well-integrated. Subaru tends to do a more upright tailgate than others in the segment, who favor aggressive rear windshield rakes that cut down on max interior space.
“One of the benefits of a square rear is that you can get more cargo in,” dad mentioned, so he was definitely happy that Subaru has kept its proportions the same. But the company has widened the rear hatch opening by around five inches so you can get larger objects inside.
2 – Subaru has definitely emphasized safety as one of its core themes, in both its advertising and its product offerings. The company was one of the first to add an Advanced Driver Assistance System in an affordable segment, and it now offers its EyeSight windshield-mounted dual-camera setup on nearly every one of its models.
EyeSight, which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist and Pre-Collision Braking, is now standard in the Forester. And the compact SUV is the first in Subaru’s lineup to introduce DriverFocus, which monitors the driver’s face to detect distraction and fatigue. As Tom Doll, president of Subaru of America, mentioned, this is the only driver monitor available in a car here for under $70,000.
After about three seconds of looking away from the road, the vehicle will emit warning tones to get the driver’s attention back. Eventually it might even start to take action, in conjunction with EyeSight, by doing things like slowing the vehicle down. The system can even adjust certain vehicle settings, like seat and mirror position, and climate control, based on who’s behind the wheel. Some media have even compared the feature to Apple’s Face ID capability on iPhones.
Dad was definitely excited about DriverFocus, since he has certainly experienced fatigue behind the wheel—haven’t we all!—and would welcome a warning tone to snap him out of it. DriverFocus is only available on the top-of-the-line Touring trim, but rolling out EyeSight across the board helps Subaru compete with other brands that are aggressively equipping their vehicles with driver aids.
“We’re trying to bring as much of this high-end stuff down into the affordable marketplace [as possible],” says Infante. “That’s our goal.”
And when it comes to those other systems, “It’s not apples to apples,” he adds. “Ours is a dual camera system, which reacts much faster than a radar. It’s got a wider focus, a wider view as well, so it’s a more expensive and better system.”
3 – Subaru has finally fully modernized its 2.5L four-cylinder engine, which powers most of its lineup, by adding direct injection. Many of its competitors have had this for years, but Subaru until now has only had this tech on its turbo engines. The engine is once again paired with a highly efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT). Combined with standard auto stop-start, the company estimates that it will achieve 33 mpg on the highway with the new engine, up 1 mpg from the previous model, and matching the AWD segment leader Honda CR-V with its 1.5L turbo engine. This achievement comes despite also upping horsepower by 7 to 182. Torque is 176 lb-ft.
4 – While the vehicle dimensions are very similar to the outgoing model, rear legroom has increased by 4% due to an increase in the wheelbase by over an inch, and there are also increases in head, hip and shoulder room, thanks to better interior packaging. The wider hatch opening complements more interior cargo volume, and Subaru says my dad will now be able to get his golf bag into the trunk without having to tilt it.
5 – It’s unlikely that many buyers will see the Forester as the segment’s style leader, but Subaru has introduced a trim for ’19 that has kicked up the cool factor, both inside and out. The Sport model (pictured above) includes black 18” wheels, a blacked-out grille and light bezels, and cool orange striping applied to the lower edges of the vehicle. Inside things are even more stylish, with orange vent and shifter trim, and orange stitching that really makes the sewn dash pop. It also gets some sweet looking two-toned seats.
Unfortunately this visual flair doesn’t come with performance upgrades, but it will serve to help the Forester make more of an impact for some buyers.
Items to make better (Least Favorite things):
1 – Speaking of performance, the 2019 Forester will no longer be able to slake your thirst for speed if you were hoping for a turbo version.“We had less than a 5% take rate, unfortunately, on the turbo,” says Infante. “We love them, and hopefully we can get them back in some form.” But for now the XT, with its 250-hp 2.0L turbo engine, is dead.
Subaru also dropped manual transmissions from the Forester lineup during the previous generation, and they’re not coming back, since they don’t work with EyeSight, which is now standard. So currently this snore-inducing combo of naturally-aspirated four-cylinder plus CVT is the only configuration for the Forester.
2 – The 2019 model is all new, moving to the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which will span all the way up to the Outback—a modified version even carries the new three-row Ascent SUV. Historically there was a decent gap in refinement between the compact vehicles, like Impreza, Crosstrek and Forester, and the Legacy and Outback which rode on a more expensive platform. But this move promises to close that gap, with sources expecting stiffness to increase by over 70% for the new Forester.
When you introduce a new model with this sort of change, it generally helps if people know it’s new. The outgoing Forester is fairly handsome, but the new model won’t even represent an evolution for anyone but the most eagle-eyed Subie watchers, unless they’re behind it.
Segment and Competitors
The other available compact crossovers are:
- Toyota RAV4
- Nissan Rogue
- Chevrolet Equinox
- Honda CR-V
- Ford Escape
- Jeep Cherokee
- Mazda CX-5
- VW Tiguan
- GMC Terrain
- Hyundai Tucson
- Kia Sportage
- Mitsubishi Outlander
Pricing and Availability
Subaru plans for the 2019 Forester to arrive at dealerships on October 1st. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date. You can see more about the vehicle at Subaru’s website. And check out our video walkaround with Jessica Tullman from Subaru!