Subaru Forester SUV (2019 - ) review

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The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.5

The Forester is an impressively capable and practical SUV, and it’s nicer inside than Subarus of the past, too. The performance isn’t as impressive as in some hybrid rivals, but the ride and handling are good, and it’s got a tonne of clever safety kit. The Forester remains a niche offering, as its impressive off-road ability means it compromises on things like fuel economy, but if you need a spacious go-anywhere SUV then it’s well worth looking at.

Pros

  • Excellent off-road ability
  • Impressive ride and handling
  • Lots of safety kit as standard

Cons

  • So-so engine performance
  • Niche appeal
  • High fuel costs compared with rivals

Interested in buying a Subaru Forester?

How good does it look? 5/5

The Forester is a rugged machine and its looks reflect that, with chunky visuals and protective elements to prevent off-road damage. It comes in two trim levels – XE and XE Premium – both of which come with plenty of features. All models get LED headlights and front fog lights, as well as electric folding door mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels. The XE Premium version gets 18-inch wheels and a sunroof, too.

What's the interior like? 3/5

Subarus haven’t, historically, boasted particularly impressive interiors, but the Forester is a step forward, with plastics that are on a par with plenty of rivals for quality. Build quality is largely good, too, although we did hear a few odd rattles coming from the dashboard when we ventured off-road. Overall, though, it feels comparable to rivals like the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V Hybrid. XE Premium models have sat-nav courtesy of TomTom included on the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. We found the navigation unreliable, losing track of where we were on the road and sending us on detours for seemingly no reason. However, the presence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means it’s easy to plug your smartphone in and use a third-party navigation app instead.

The seating position is high enough that you won’t forget you’re in an SUV, but there’s plenty of adjustment in both seat and steering column to find your preferred position, and the seats are comfortable.

How practical is it? 4/5

There’s an impressive amount of space in the Forester, with lots of head and legroom for rear-seat passengers and large rear door apertures that should make it (relatively) easy to load small children in and out. The boot aperture is big too, and with 520 litres of space it should easily cope with multiple large suitcases. The overall boot space isn’t quite as cavernous as Toyota’s RAV4 or Honda’s CR-V, but if you need more room, the rear seats fold down flat. Storage spaces around the cabin include large door pockets, a cubbyhole under the centre armrest and two big cupholders.

What's it like to drive? 5/5

What’s particularly impressed us about the ride in the Forester – which is comfortable on almost any kind of road surface – is that it remains very well-behaved away from the road, too. We tried it at different speeds on mud and gravel tracks, and the suspension does an admirable job at soaking up the surface beneath, keeping things far more serene in the cabin.

Subaru has moved away from its historic rally-inspired performance car image, but it’s still retained plenty of the technical knowledge, which means that the Forester handles impressively well. There’s no hiding the fact that, with hybrid tech and all-wheel drive mechanicals on-board, it’s a heavy machine, but even so it’s agile through the corners, keeping flat and composed.

The steering is nice and sharp, and some very clever systems send power to individual wheels to ensure you’ve got the maximum amount of grip and traction available. This works especially well off-road and in wet, slippery conditions. We tried it on gravel tracks, through sand and on muddy lanes and the Forester never felt like it was being particularly challenged, even on steep climbs and descents.

How powerful is it? 3/5

Power in the Forester comes from a 150-horsepower, 2.0-litre petrol engine with a small electric motor and battery attached. Subaru calls this the e-Boxer, a play on the four-cylinder boxer engine that’s become one of the brand’s hallmarks over the years. It’s a relatively small hybrid system, with less than 20 horsepower coming from the electric motor, but in the absence of a diesel-powered Forester, the extra low-down electric grunt serves to add extra zip when you put your foot down. The petrol engine itself is at its strongest high in the rev range, and this means that performance is zippy when you’re revving things hard, but it does lack a bit of punch before that. The automatic gearbox – a continuously variable transmission, if you’re technically minded – doesn’t help, either, as it often sends the revs soaring without a huge jump forward in acceleration.

There’s no option on Subaru’s hybrid system to choose when to go into electric-only mode, or when to use the petrol engine to recharge the battery. Instead, the car manages these processes itself, and it works fairly well, but don’t expect to be able to cruise very far on electric power alone.

How much will it cost me? 3/5

We don’t yet have full running cost estimates for the Forester, so when it comes to resale values and service, maintenance and repair costs we’ll have to wait and see how it performs. Purchase prices, however, are competitive against other hybrid SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V Hybrid, especially when you consider its capability off-road and generous equipment levels. Fuel economy figures and CO2 emissions don’t look quite so impressive, though, lagging behind those rivals, and that’s before you consider that the rivals also offer two-wheel drive models that will be even more efficient. This means that fuel bills and company car tax could be quite a bit higher in the Subaru, but that’s a price you pay for the extra all-wheel drive capability that the Forester offers.

How reliable is it? 3/5

Subaru sells in small numbers in the UK, which means it’s often missing from industry reliability surveys and doesn’t show up on JD Power’s 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study. As a brand, Subaru sits mid-table in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, although this focuses on older, out-of-warranty cars and the Forester has rather newer mechanical bits. It’s difficult therefore to get an accurate picture of how reliable a new Subaru is, but should anything go wrong with your Forester, Subaru offers a three-year, 60,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty, and an extended five-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the engine.

How safe is it? 4/5

The latest generation of Forester hasn’t yet been crash-tested by safety organisation Euro NCAP, but with Subaru scoring the maximum five stars with every car tested since 2009, we’d be very surprised if it doesn’t fare well.

What we do know is that the Forester is crammed with safety technology as standard. Subaru’s EyeSight package features a range of systems including automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, while all Foresters also include blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, which keeps an eye out for oncoming traffic when you’re backing out of a parking space. There’s also a driver monitoring system, which uses infrared cameras to keep a virtual eye on you as you drive, and will sound an alert if you take your eyes off the road for too long. If that’s not enough, there’s also a reverse automatic braking system to stop you inadvertently backing into stuff.

Each Forester has front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a driver’s knee airbag, and Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.

How much equipment do I get? 5/5

Both trim levels in the Forester come with a very decent amount of equipment. The XE has fabric upholstery on heated, electrically adjustable front seats, keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control and dual-zone air-conditioning. Upgrade to the XE Premium, and you’ll get tinted glass in the rear windows, a heated steering wheel and leather upholstery, as well as heated rear seats and an electric boot lid.

Why buy? 3/5

If you’re in the market for a spacious SUV with good handling, then there are plenty of options. But if you also need to mix in surefootedness on-road with serious off-road capability, then the Forester has few rivals at this price.

Interested in buying a Subaru Forester?