The Subaru Forester is a hard-wearing, over-engineered SUV, but high price limits its appeal
The Subaru Forester is better than ever, blending the usual combination of sturdy build, off-road prowess and idiosyncratic engineering in a package that feels more luxurious and driver-friendly than before.
It may not look much different to its predecessor but the Forester is completely revised underneath, boasting mild-hybrid electrification and much-improved road manners. There’s more space and improved quality inside, while ride and handling also got a welcome boost – the Forester is the best yet from a driver’s standpoint. We still have reservations about the CVT gearbox and poor fuel economy, however.
The Forester sits in a niche almost entirely of its own; it’s not as good to drive as some cheaper, more road-focused SUVs, but there’s not much else that can offer such a breadth of ability and level of standard equipment at this price.
5 Feb, 2020 3.5
To the untrained eye the latest Subaru Forester looks much like the old car, but it’s actually entirely new – the familiarity of the car’s design was an intentional choice on the part of Subaru’s designers. The Forester uses Subaru’s latest mechanical underpinnings, shared with the Impreza and XV models. It’s longer and wider than before, with a sharper design that incorporates some modern touches with more traditional SUV dimensions.
Inside, quality is much-improved over that of the old model. It doesn’t boast the most cohesive design but the car’s cabin feels luxurious and built to last, with plenty of hard-wearing plastics and some genuine attempts to make things feel plush.
All models come well equipped too – dual-zone air con, heated door mirrors, keyless entry and go, eight-way electrically adjustable memory seats and automatic LED headlights are all included as standard.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Forester doesn’t feel quite as high-tech as some rivals; analogue dials feature behind the steering wheel and the overall layout isn’t quite as stylish as some of the competition. Infotainment isn’t terrible, however – there’s a total of three screens, one between the dials and two on the dash. A larger eight-inch main display is bright, clear and fairly easy to read, while a smaller screen on the dash-top is reserved for displaying vehicle data including the EyeSight safety systems and power flow for the car’s mild-hybrid set-up.
All models come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard; sat-nav is only available on XE Premium models, but smartphone users won’t need to worry. Voice recognition and Bluetooth connectivity are featured as standard on all models, as is DAB radio.
The Subaru Forester was thoroughly improved for the current generation, introduced in mid-2019. It sits on the Subaru Global Platform, a chassis that facilitates mild-hybrid power, more sophisticated suspension and improved safety. It’s the same as found underpinning the latest Impreza, XV and Levorg models.
It’s this platform that has vastly improved the way the Forester drives. The previous generation’s body roll and vague steering are gone, replaced by real dynamic ability that’s complemented by good levels of grip and a reassuring sense of plantedness. It’s not a sports car by any means, but the Forester makes making swift, comfortable progress easy.
There’s a pliancy to the ride that lends itself well to our rutted roads, all the while offering plenty of travel and ground clearance when venturing off-road. It’s remarkably refined on the move too – the engine is quiet in its operation and there’s very little wind or tyre noise.
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Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The Forester is powered by a 2.0-litre flat-four petrol engine that produces 148bhp and 196Nm of torque, assisted by a small electric motor and battery that provide mild-hybrid assistance and all-electric drive at speeds of up to 25mph. Select X-Mode and the mild-hybrid system injects more torque lower down in the rev range to make short work of slippery slopes and stationary obstacles ledges and tree roots.
Performance is adequate but not especially impressive: 0-62mph takes 11.8 seconds and top speed is 117mph. Select X-Mode and the mild-hybrid system injects more torque lower down in the rev rang to make short work of slippery slopes and stationary obstacles like ledges and tree roots.
Subaru has worked to improve throttle response in normal driving and while the CVT gearbox still feels a little detached in its operation, we noticed a small improvement in the feeling of immediacy from the Forester’s drivetrain. The car’s battery recharges through a mix of engine power and regenerative braking, but the latter does not adversely affect brake feel. Engineered ‘steps’ in the transmission can be accessed via paddles behind the steering wheel, but we never felt the need to interfere during our tests.
Subaru has stuck to its CVT guns to facilitate the rest of its clever systems, including that all important four-wheel drive system.
Safety and reliability are Subaru’s strong suits. The Japanese firm has placed a focus on making its cars some of the very safest on sale in recent years, while expertise gained from decades of producing hard-wearing cars has found its way into the brand’s current line-up.
Subaru’s reputation is backed up by a strong showing in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. A 6th-place finish (out of 30 manufacturers) put the brand ahead of Honda, Jaguar, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen to name but a few, although the current Forester itself is too new to have made an appearance. It’s also worth noting that Subaru was voted top for its safety features, beating traditional safety champion Volvo in the process.
Subaru’s EyeSight safety system is fitted as standard – it uses a series of cameras mounted in the windscreen that are used to scan the road for hazards and can use automatic emergency braking to avoid collisions with cars, pedestrians and cyclists. It also incorporates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision throttle management and lane keep/departure assistance. The car includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane-change assist as standard, plus reverse automatic braking.
Subaru supplies all of its cars with an impressive 100,000-mile, five-year warranty, so the Forester is competitive in this respect in its class. Hyundai offers its Tucson and Santa Fe SUVs with the same level of cover, while Kia still rules the roost with its famous seven-year, 100,00-mile warranties.
Traditionally, Subaru owners have had to be prepared for fairly steep servicing costs – albeit with the tradeoff of their cars rarely going wrong in between visits to the dealership.
The latest Forester may look similar to the car it replaced but it’s actually longer and wider than before; the result is a family SUV with even more space inside. There’s a great view out from the the driver’s seat – a huge area of glass, narrow pillars and a high, squared-off bonnet mean the Forester retains a pleasingly old-school feel and is easy to place on the road.
The cabin features some large doorbins on all for doors, plus a large storage cubby under the front centre armrest. In true Subaru fashion, everything feels built to last – it’s easy to see how so many Subaru owners can work their cars hard over a number of years. Despite its hard-wearing nature, the Subaru feels pretty luxurious.
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The Forester is bigger than ever; at 4.6 metres long and just over two metres wide including mirrors it’s not too far off the SEAT Tarraco in its considerable dimensions. It’s a large SUV with all the space you’d expect – but there’s no seven seater option.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The Forester’s slight increase in size has paid dividends inside its cabin, where front and rear-seat passengers have plenty of space. Headroom is huge and there’s more than enough legroom in the rear seats for adults to travel in comfort.
Access to the rear seats is easy thanks to doors that open wide and the tall ride-height; those regularly battling with child seats will welcome this, along with the easily accessed ISOfix points. Big windows mean there’s an airy feel inside, further adding to the sense of space.
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The Forester’s boot is big – 520 litres of space with the seats up, or an impressive 1,779 litres with them folded flat. It’s a well-shaped load space with a low lip so it’s very practical and perfect for dogs. A Toyota RAV4 has more space with the seats in place (580 litres) but loses out with them folded (1,690 litres). The larger, similarly hardy Ssangyong Rexton is altogether more spacious, boasting 820 litres or 1,977 litres with the seats down.
The Forester is rated to tow a braked trailer of 1,870kg. If you plan to tow heavier trailers regularly we’d still recommend opting for a diesel rival, though – the Ssangyong Rexton can manage an especially monstrous 3,500kg, for example.
Petrol-powered Subarus have never been synonymous with fuel efficiency and the latest Forester’s e-Boxer system aims to address this. Unfortunately, thanks to the fuel-sapping demands of its permanent four-wheel drive system, the Forester isn’t especially frugal – figures on the WLTP average cycle are 34.7mpg; CO2 emissions sit at 154g/km.
The majority of the Forester’s rivals will be cheaper to run. Most are available in lighter, more efficient front-drive formats, while most four-wheel drive options will be powered exclusively by diesel engines. Within the niche of off-road-ready family SUVs, even the much larger SsangYong Rexton runs the Forester close from a running costs standpoint: an entry-level five-seater model returns 36.2mpg on average, with CO2 emissions of 204g/km – all in a package that’s more akin to a Land Rover Discovery in size.
Subaru has made an effort to tackle emissions with its e-Boxer mild-hybrid system, which alongside a CVT transmission allows for coasting and electric assistance at lower speeds. The system is also used as part of Subaru’s X-Mode system, helping improve low-down torque when tackling difficult obstacles.
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British security expert Thatcham has given the Subaru Forester e-Boxer an insurance rating of group 19 for the XE, with the XE Premium slightly higher at group 20.
Our experts predict that the Forester will hold on to around 35 to 36 per cent of its value after three years and 36,000 miles come trade-in time. That’s a pretty lacklustre figure; by contrast, the SEAT Tarraco looks set to retain as much as 51 per cent of its value over the same period, while the Ssangyong Rexton will retain up to 46 per cent. Traditional Subaru owners who keep their cars well beyond the usual three-year cycle won’t have too much to worry about, however.