It’s not turbocharged anymore – like all Forester trims – and doesn’t have Subaru’s highly-touted EyeSight safety suite, but those aren’t really what makes this baby a superb compact SUV.
Satisfying performance, sedan comfort, and off-road capability are must-haves for people who live active lifestyles and I test this base model to see if it checks all of those boxes.
This fifth generation unit may appear to have retained its overall exterior look but look closely and you’ll see that minor tweaks have been added. Bumpers (front and rear) have been enhanced, the surface of the bumper, along the shoulder line, and around the area of the C-pillar has been retouched, and shiny chrome frames have been added to the air intake/fog lamp housing. It looks like a gangly teenager with long overhangs on top of a wheelbase that’s longer by 1.2 inches. The plus though is an extra 1.4 inches of rear legroom. The rear gets the least amount of work done and looks simple with plain wrap-around C-shaped taillights. It’s not exactly the beauty queen of compact SUVs but like we all learned back in grade school, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.
Subarus are known for stylish cabins and the Forester is no different. The color scheme is always an elegant black and this one is made up of soft-touch materials with carbon-fiber-looking trim and some silver accents.
Fabric seats aren’t as great a fit as the ones in the higher trims. They’re only two-way adjustable but they do get you in a good driving position with the help of the tilt and telescopic steering wheel.
The cabin’s contrast comes from the beige headliner, which you’ll barely notice, and the very neat stitching on the steering wheel, seats, and dashboard all the way to the center console. Dual-zone AC and 60/40 split folding rear seats come standard across all four variants.
If you’re averse to seeing lots of switches, knobs and buttons, you’ll have to get over that quickly because between the steering wheel, door panel and center stack, it’s like Mission Control over here. Then you’ll have to deal with the infotainment touchscreen that doubles as the reverse camera, the multifunction display above with vehicle data and the one in the instrument cluster that shows which Subaru Intelligent-Drive (SI-Drive) mode you’re on. It can get overwhelming but it’s nothing anyone who can operate a smartphone can’t handle.
If you golf, you’ll love to know that the redesign made the boot wider by 5.3 inches, which means golf bags can now be loaded sideways and still be laid down flat across the cargo floor.
Powering the all-new Foresters is what Subaru calls an ‘improved’ 2.0L engine in the same boxer layout. They gave it direct injection to increase output by 6-PS for a total of 156-PS and 196-Nm of torque and paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual mode.
A lot of people will miss the turbo, myself included. The difference is night and day but don’t sleep on this new engine though. Throttle response is quicker. There was barely a gap between the engine revving and the movement forward on any gear. It is so good that a heavy foot may make it jerky at times. All four wheels get power with Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system – that’s traction and control that not many SUVs this size have.
Steering delivers real-feel – not too light and not too heavy either. It’s just the right weight for its size, which helps a lot in split-second decisions in traffic and tight streets. Fuel consumption in pure city, rush hour driving is a commendable 7 kilometers per liter.
Even with the new Subaru Global Platform – with revised suspension and a more rigid body – the ride comfort is without reproach and it feels comfy even under stressful driving situations. To top it off, this new platform has received highly favorable numbers in various crash test ratings.
I pushed it a few times and even with the engine roaring and the tires screeching, the cabin felt composed and balanced. I hardly felt body roll and that’s amazing for a vehicle with 220 mm ground clearance.
I know it sounds cliché but this all-new model is totally bigger and better. It’s literally longer and wider and lives up to Subaru’s claim of being more fuel efficient than its turbocharged predecessors without losing its renowned driving qualities.
It has plain seats, understandably so as a base model, and doesn’t come with EyeSight (automatic pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, lane departure and lane sway warning), but despite all that, the 2019 Forester 2.0i-L still has all the essentials of a true Subaru SUV.
Text and photos by Eric Tipan