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Subaru Forester 2.5i 2019 review

EXPERT RATING
7.6
Foresters sit well in the minds of Aussies, from brand-new family haulers, to beaten up P plate buys. Will the latest iteration continue that legend, or fall to the wayside?

The Forester is one of those cars that just seems suited to Australia.

Usually starting out as brand-new family haulers, Foresters often end up littering the Australian landscape as beloved hand-me-downs for teenagers who need something tougher than your average hatchback, with a practical space in the back to hold all their hopes and dreams (usually camping, sport or music gear... with a side of forgotten fruits and socks).

Over the years though, the Forester has changed. It's way bigger and more high-tech than it used to be, and more family-focused than ever. 

Does it still have the Forester charm that's infected the Australian populace in the past, or is it set to drown under an influx of competitor SUVs? 

Read on, and we'll find out whether the newest-generation base-model 2.5i has what it takes.

Subaru Forester 2019: 2.5i (AWD)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.4L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$33,840

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The Forester's new larger dimensions make it 'largely' unmissable on the road. It now has a 30mm longer wheelbase than the previous generation. It has an imposing look, leaning into its boxy shape with square bits jutting out all over the place.

The Forester's new larger dimensions make it 'largely' unmissable on the road. (image: Tom White) The Forester's new larger dimensions make it 'largely' unmissable on the road. (image: Tom White)

Is it a wagon or an SUV? Depends on who you ask. The Forester started out as simply a lifted wagon, but especially with this latest generation, Subaru has pushed the SUV vibe. 

There are sculpted lines that swoop across the door panels much like current SUVs, but then it's all chunky at the front. The back, too, seems unresolved, like the brand didn't know what to do with all the extra space allowed by the new dimensions.

It adds up to an exterior visage which sort of looks like a caricature of its former self. Different enough to be ‘new', but not something ‘new' entirely...

It now has a 30mm longer wheelbase than the previous generation. (image: Tom White) It now has a 30mm longer wheelbase than the previous generation. (image: Tom White)

Inside there's no question the Forester has ample space, but it's made to feel tighter courtesy of an abundance of chunky dark-coloured switchgear jutting out from everywhere. 

There are lots of angles and surfaces to take in on the over-complicated dash centre. It houses a dual-screen set-up, with one 6.5-inch touchscreen embedded in the front, and a second information display deep in the top section.

Combine all that with a small-font instrument cluster and information is coming at you from too many angles.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   9/10

The base-spec Forester tested here comes in at $33,490, which sounds expensive for an entry-rung mid-size SUV.

Keep in mind, though, this is the cheapest new Forester you can buy. The 2.5i gets 17-inch alloy wheels, heated and power-folding wing mirrors, a 6.5-inch (small) multimedia touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, keyless entry on the front doors, push-start ignition, a six-speaker audio system, leather-bound steering wheel, LED headlights (directional) and Subaru's impressive 'EyeSight' safety suite. We'll cover what that does and doesn't include in the safety section.

LED headlights are particularly impressive at this price. (image: Tom White) LED headlights are particularly impressive at this price. (image: Tom White)

That's an impressive serving of standard equipment. LED headlights are particularly impressive at this price, as many competitors will ask you to spend $40k or more on a car before the feature is included. The atmosphere in the cabin even feels more premium than base-model rivals.

It leaves you wondering what equipment there is left to add aside from the usual luxuries of leather seats and a sunroof. 

Built-in sat-nav is notably omitted, Subaru has also stripped memory functions out of some of the settings and, although you get powered and heated folding mirrors, they don't automatically fold when you lock the car. I'm sure the 8.5-inch multimedia touchscreen in the 2.5i Premium is a sight nicer than the one in our car, too.

I'm sure the 8.5-inch multimedia touchscreen in the 2.5i Premium is a sight nicer than the one in our car. (image: Tom White) I'm sure the 8.5-inch multimedia touchscreen in the 2.5i Premium is a sight nicer than the one in our car. (image: Tom White)

The rest of the kit available on higher spec Foresters is mainly aesthetic; a larger set of alloy wheels and an upgraded AWD system, but I'd still argue for the asking price, with almost all its bases covered, the base-spec is easily the pick of the range.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Subaru's determination to stick with the Forester's wagon shape pays dividends in terms of the available space inside.

As though the previous Forester wasn't big enough, Subaru brags that it's added a few mm everywhere in the Forester's cabin. Headroom is ridiculous and won't bother even freakishly tall specimens like Richard Berry, plus leg and shoulder room are ultra-generous no matter which seat you're in.

Subaru brags that it's added a few mm everywhere in the Forester's cabin. (image: Tom White) Subaru brags that it's added a few mm everywhere in the Forester's cabin. (image: Tom White)

There are nicely-sized cupholders in all doors and down the centre column for front passengers, a large stowage bin under the armrest and a space for even the largest phones and wallets to live under the dash, also the spot where the USB ports are housed.

I'm even a fan of the base grade's synthetic seat material. It seems hard-wearing and well put together. It's comfortable and breathable, too. 

In terms of ergonomics it's all a little confusing. There are about five too many buttons on the steering wheel (it took me a while to figure out how to even use the cruise control) the touchscreen is a bit small and not particularly well laid out, but, mercifully, the air-con and volume controls have dials.

  • The boot is relatively voluminous with 498 litres edging it toward the top end of its segment. (image: Tom White) The boot is relatively voluminous with 498 litres edging it toward the top end of its segment. (image: Tom White)
  • The boot is relatively voluminous with 498 litres edging it toward the top end of its segment. (image: Tom White) The boot is relatively voluminous with 498 litres edging it toward the top end of its segment. (image: Tom White)
  • During my test it proved itself as I used its full capacity (1768L to the roof with the seats down) to help a friend of mine move units. (image: Tom White) During my test it proved itself as I used its full capacity (1768L to the roof with the seats down) to help a friend of mine move units. (image: Tom White)
  • During my test it proved itself as I used its full capacity (1768L to the roof with the seats down) to help a friend of mine move units. (image: Tom White) During my test it proved itself as I used its full capacity (1768L to the roof with the seats down) to help a friend of mine move units. (image: Tom White)

The boot is relatively voluminous with 498 litres edging it toward the top end of its segment. It is bested by the deep boot of the RAV4 (552L) and generous dimensions offered by the CR-V (522L), but it is larger than every other competitor in this size bracket. During my test it proved itself as I used its full capacity (1768L to the roof with the seats down) to help a friend of mine move units.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The Forester now only has one engine, the smaller 2.0-litre, the diesel and the turbo are now all eliminated, replaced across the range with one 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine which Subaru claims is “90 per cent new”.

It produces a decent 136kW/239Nm of torque and is mated only to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Yes, the manual Forester is officially dead. RIP.

The engine produces a decent 136kW/239Nm of torque. (image: Tom White) The engine produces a decent 136kW/239Nm of torque. (image: Tom White)

While this sounds limiting, the work Subaru has done under the skin is impressive. It's all the engine you'll need for an SUV like this. Responsiveness in particular has taken a huge jump. More on how it drives later in this review.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Fuel consumption has occasionally been a sore spot for Subaru's boxer engines in the past, but the story here is not bad at all. 

Subaru claims you'll consume 7.4L/100km on the combined cycle, and in reality after a somewhat demanding week I landed on 9.0L/100km. A miss, but not by much. A less demanding owner could quite easily get it down further. 

Subaru claims you'll consume 7.4L/100km on the combined cycle. (image: Tom White) Subaru claims you'll consume 7.4L/100km on the combined cycle. (image: Tom White)

I also turned off the start-stop system which ruined the otherwise-brilliant engine responsiveness.

The Forester has a 63 litre fuel tank and will happily drink standard 91 RON unleaded.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

The Forester feels lighter and more playful than I had expected. 

Unlike the Mazda CX-5 or Hyundai Tucson, Subaru has stuck with a more traditional family feel with light steering and soft high-riding suspension compared to its rivals' sporty focus. It's a refreshing change, with the Subaru soaking up potholes and imperfections like they aren't even there.

The Forester feels lighter and more playful than I had expected. (image: Tom White) The Forester feels lighter and more playful than I had expected. (image: Tom White)

The engine is one of the most impressive aspects. It's instantly responsive, plenty of torque arrives quickly and the CVT doesn't seem to hinder performance at all. It goes alongside the Honda HR-V as one of the best CVT's I've used. You can't even hear it.

That said, the engine can be a bit thrashy when pushed, probably not great for fuel consumption, and, as editor Mal noted in his initial review, there's a lack of mid-range power that could be fixed with a turbo.

Even so, the engine is well-insulated in terms of noise, and on the freeway the large tyres and soft suspension make for quiet journeys.

The steering is a pleasure as well, making the 1563kg SUV feel light under your hands. It removes a bit of feedback from the experience, but it's a worthy trade-off.

There's no escaping physics and the high-riding suspension does make it feel a little on tilt if you take a corner too quickly, but it's generally a comfortable, quiet and responsive drive.

The all-wheel drive system makes itself unknown in the best possible way, Subaru has added torque-vectoring to its already very good symmetrical AWD system. I never felt at risk of spinning any of the wheels.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

All Foresters benefit from Subaru's EyeSight suite, but there are different items available at each level. Thankfully this doesn't mean that the 2.5i base-spec misses out on anything important.

Standard is auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (said to work to a maximum of 50km/h), pre-collision braking, Lane Keep Assist (LKAS), adaptive cruise control and Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM). The LKAS and AEB systems even come with LED warning lights which reflect off the windscreen to make the driver acutely aware of dangerous situations.

Again, impressive kit for a base-model. Higher grades add driver attention alert systems, extra surround cameras for changing lanes and AEB which works in reverse.

Higher grades add driver attention alert systems and extra surround cameras. (image: Tom White) Higher grades add driver attention alert systems and extra surround cameras. (image: Tom White)

This Forester has not been rated by ANCAP yet, but its predecessor carried a maximum five-star safety rating from 2013.

A notable inclusion is the full-size spare wheel under the boot floor. Safe for long-distance travellers.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

Subaru powers ahead in an increasingly small group of manufacturers with three-year warranty offerings. You do get unlimited kilometre coverage for all the good that does. 

Most rivals have moved on with at least five-year/unlimited km warranties, and in this segment, the Kia Sportage still rules the roost with seven year/unlimited km coverage.

Subaru has improved the ownership proposition by stretching the service interval out to 12 months/12,500km from six months/10,000km on the previous Forester.

Services cost $346.39 or $584.45 under a three-year capped-price program. This is a short and relatively expensive capped price plan.

Verdict

The base-spec 2.5i Forester is pretty much all the Forester you could ever need. It carries an impressive equipment level and safety offering at the price, and is comfortable, quiet and even entertaining to drive.

It's only really let down only by a sub-par warranty offering and some confusing ergonomics for the driver.

Does the base-spec Forester tick the boxes for your next family hauler? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$37,890
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$33,840
Highest Price
$41,940

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.5i (AWD) 2.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $33,840 2019 Subaru Forester 2019 2.5i (AWD) Pricing and Specs
2.5i PREMIUM (AWD) 2.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $38,890 2019 Subaru Forester 2019 2.5i PREMIUM (AWD) Pricing and Specs
2.5i-L (AWD) 2.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $35,890 2019 Subaru Forester 2019 2.5i-L (AWD) Pricing and Specs
2.5i-S (AWD) 2.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $41,940 2019 Subaru Forester 2019 2.5i-S (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.6
Design7
Price and features9
Practicality8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety9
Ownership6
Tom White
Journalist

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