Subaru unveiled the fifth-generation 2019 Forester at the New York auto show in March. The model has been one of the brand’s top sellers in the Canadian market thanks to, among other things, a growing interest from the public for small SUVs.
Though the all-new Forester is only expected to arrive in dealerships later this year, its popularity is already well established. Of course, as a car enthusiast, a writer, and a curious person by nature, I had to understand what makes this SUV so popular. So in true journalistic fashion, I got my hands on the 2018 Forester 2.5i Touring to experience for myself what all the excitement is about. My guess is that the standard all-wheel drive has something to do with it.
Looks-wise, the Forester isn’t sore on the eyes, but it doesn’t exactly stand out either. Especially with these 17-inch wheels that look like a 6′ 5″ man is wearing size 8 shoes. That’s the same-size wheels as on my personal car, the much, much smaller Hyundai Veloster.
But a vanilla design can be redeemed by a high-degree of utility. The cabin feels airy thanks to a neutral colour scheme that opens up the space. The minimalistic cluster, devoid of any excess buttons and knobs, contributes to the design’s simplicity. The seats are a little hard for my taste, but leg and headroom are enough to keep everyone happy, including passengers in the back.
Rated at 892 litres, cargo volume behind the second row of seats is in the lower tier of the segment. Compare this to the Nissan Rogue (1,112L), Honda CR-V (1,110L) and the Toyota RAV4 (1,087L). At under 1,000L, this positions the Forester closer to the Korean duo of Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, despite it being 20 cm longer.
My test vehicle is powered by a capable 2.5L, four-cylinder Boxer engine that produces 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are somewhat average for the segment. However, contrary to most of its competitors offered with optional all-wheel drive available at an extra cost, there’s no need to check that box on your list of options with the Forester.
It comes with standard symmetrical, full-time AWD, a feature that has helped Subaru gain its notoriety. And, if the Lineatronic CVT transmission isn’t responsive enough for you, the entry-level trims can be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission, one of only a few SUVs to still offer this option.
What I find most fascinating is that despite its pretty standard, dare I say bland performance numbers, Subaru has managed to make a vehicle that isn’t boring to drive. Go figure.
I believe the automaker’s strength resides in its ability to produce vehicles accessible to a broad audience, without completely eliminating its personality and diluting it with technology and driver assist functions. This is something I had also noticed in the 2017 Impreza. The drive is more engaging than most vehicles in this segment. There is just enough feedback for the driver to feel connected to the road, in a completely predictable manner.
Of course, the Forester has been awarded top safety ratings and this helps its reputation as well. It is equipped with a full suite of safety features such as the EyeSight package that includes pre-collision braking and brake assist, throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert and lane keep assist.
Other features include a standard 6.2-inch touchscreen display with Starlink infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, wheel-mounted controls, power windows, power sunroof and more. For the 2.5i Touring with EyeSight package, pricing starts at $33,295. This represents an almost $3,000 premium for the safety technology suite.
As for what makes the Subaru Forester one of the brands stronger players in the market, it is most likely a case of offering the right model at the right time. Canadians love SUVs with all-wheel drive, and no other brand name has a stronger reputation for doing it right than Subaru.
2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring
Price as tested: $33,295.00
Configuration: Front engine/AWD
Engine/Transmission: 2.5L 4 cylinder / CVT
Power/torque: 170 hp/ /74 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): 60L
Fuel ratings (L/100km): 7.4 (highway), 9.2 (city)
Observed combined fuel rating: 10.8L/100km
Competitors: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage
- Standard all-wheel drive
- Cabin is airy and spacious
- Rare SUV left with available manual transmission
- Below-average storage
- Plain looking
- Seats are a little hard