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Subaru Forester 2.5i-Premium 2019 review

EXPERT RATING
7.8
Not going for the top-grade Forester could be the smartest was $3000 you never spend, if you buy the 2.5i Premium, that is unless you really like silver bits.

Nobody’s ever likely to give you a hard time for buying a Subaru Forester. If anything, you’ll get a respectful, knowing nod from the resident know-it-all at the backyard barbie or dining table. 

That’s because the Forester has earned a reputation as one of the original and best mid-sized SUVs out there, morphing from all-wheel drive (AWD) station wagon to what it looks like today.

That you’re interested not in the top-of-the-range car, but the grade below it, the 2.5i Premium, is also a clever move.

Case closed, then? Well, not so fast, because there are some idiosyncratic elements the majority of Forester 2.5i Premium owners will have to get used to. 

So, along with all its excellent traits, here’s the rest of the Forester's personality profile, including the things you should probably keep to yourself rather than give the know-it-all at the end of the dinner table something to look smug about. 

Subaru Forester 2019: 2.5i PREMIUM (AWD)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.4L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$38,890

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The Forester we are testing here is the fifth-generation model, which debuted in Australia in September 2018. Although Subaru promises it's ‘all-new’ it looks nearly identical to the previous version. 

The crab-claw tail-lights of the new car are the easiest way to spot the difference between it and the old model. But there are many other less obvious exterior differences, such as restyled rear and front bumpers, a new grille and headlights, plus the shape of the windows running down the side of the vehicle.

With longer and wider dimensions than the outgoing model the Forester measures just over 4.6m in length, 1.8m across and 1.7m tall. 

For those planning some off-highway adventure the Forester has an approach angle of 18.7 degrees, a departure angle of 24.6 degrees, and a 19.6-degree break-over angle. Ground clearance is 220mm, but keep in mind the Forester isn't a hardcore off-roader, lacking the low and high range four-wheel drive system of something like a Toyota LandCruiser.

Our test car was the 2.5i Premium, which sits high in the Forester line-up, but is hard to pick visually from the rest of the range, save for the 18-inch wheels (which the top grade 2.5i-S also wears).

 Our test car wore 18-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Richard Berry) Our test car wore 18-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Richard Berry)

You’ll know it’s not a top-grade Forester because it doesn’t have 2.5i-S’s ‘silver bits’ (silver mirrors and cladding), but it does come with a tough body kit, roof rails and a rear spoiler. As with the Forester before it, it’s a robust looking SUV.

The more noticeable signs the 2.5i Premium lives up to its name are on the inside with premium cloth seats, metal-finish pedals and an 8.0-inch LCD touchscreen.

There’s a lot going on in this cabin design-wise, with bulging surfaces, different textured materials, a small dash-top screen sitting high on the stitched dash, and awkward looking directional air vents flanking the bigger screen below it.

There’s a small dash-top screen sitting high on the stitched dash. (image credit: Richard Berry) There’s a small dash-top screen sitting high on the stitched dash. (image credit: Richard Berry)

The tiny icons on the screens for functions such as the facial recognition are cute but hard to make-out and add to the busy-ness of the cabin design. 

So, if you like a bit of order and minimalism like me, the cluttered cockpit with its screens and their graphics, a steering wheel covered in buttons, many layered materials and busy styling could be a bit much. 

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

The 2.5i Premium lists for $38,490, plus on-road costs, which makes it $3k less than the top-grade 2.5i-S and $3k more than the 2.5i-L below it.

The Premium is good value because it comes standard with premium cloth seats and most of the 2.5i-S’s equipment such as the bigger 8.0-inch LCD screen and sat nav, power front seats, electronic folding rear seats, metal finish sports pedals and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The 8.0-inch LCD screen comes with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Richard Berry) The 8.0-inch LCD screen comes with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Richard Berry)

Also included is Subaru’s new driver monitoring system (including facial recognition), climate control, reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights, paddle shifters, a six-speaker stereo, digital radio, CD player, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Our car wasn’t fitted with a single option, but Subaru’s Forester can be had with accessories galore, from luggage pods to STI rims.

As a model comparison also check out the Nissan X-Trail ST-L, Toyota RAV4 GXL and Mazda CX-5 Touring.

How practical is the space inside?   9/10

The Forester is practical on all fronts – cargo capacity, storage space, people room and for utilities such as power outlets.

First the Forester’s boot space is 498 litres (and there’s storage under the boot floor, too) with the back seats in place. That’s 56 litres more than the Mazda CX-5’s luggage capacity and 21 litres bigger than the Toyota RAV4’s boot.

The Forester’s boot space is 498 litres with the back seats in place. (image credit: Richard Berry) The Forester’s boot space is 498 litres with the back seats in place. (image credit: Richard Berry)

The cargo area also has hooks and a 12-volt power outlet. That cargo cover is also easy to slide out and when in place leaves a good-sized gap to run the top tether strap for a child seat to the anchor point located on the seat back.

Second-row practicality is great, too, with plenty of leg- and headroom – and even at 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position with 40mm of knee room to spare. On one mission we had two adults sitting up front, two children in car seats in the rear and a third adult sitting between them. It was a tight squeeze but fine for a 30-minute trip.

Second-row practicality is great, with plenty of leg- and headroom. (image credit: Richard Berry) Second-row practicality is great, with plenty of leg- and headroom. (image credit: Richard Berry)

The second row also has giant, wide-opening doors, double map pockets, two cupholders in the fold-down armrest, two USB charging points and medium-sized door bottle holders. There are also directional air vents back there.

Up front there’s a deep centre console storage bin with a 12-volt outlet, a large hidey hole (but not big enough to fit my iPhone 8 Plus) under the dash containing two USB ports and another 12-volt outlet, big door pockets and a pair of cupholders.

Up front there’s a deep centre console storage bin with a 12-volt outlet, big door pockets and a pair of cupholders. (image credit: Richard Berry) Up front there’s a deep centre console storage bin with a 12-volt outlet, big door pockets and a pair of cupholders. (image credit: Richard Berry)

Chunky climate dials, an actual volume control knob (they’re becoming an endangered species) and other easy-to-use controls make the cabin ergonomics great, too.
 
The Forester’s sun visors are enormous and come with slide out extensions. They were a god-send because my morning commute combines driving straight into the sun with stretches where that big yellow furnace blares into the side of my head.

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

All Foresters have a 2.5-litre four-cylinder 'boxer' engine, so-called because the pistons lay flat and punch flat like a prize-fighter, rather than up and down as the ones in a conventional in-line engine do. 

This configuration is a Subaru favourite because it provides a lower centre of mass and better balance. In a front-on impact, Subaru says its boxer engine is also designed to travel under the passenger compartment thereby reducing potential risk of injury.
  
It’s not turbocharged, and the engine in the 2.5i Premium makes the same 136kW/239Nm as the base grade Forester.

It's matched with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) - an automatic that helps improve fuel consumption. If a genie gave me three wishes I’d be willing to use one of them asking Subaru, or any manufacturer, to never use a CVT again and go with a regular torque converter type, or dual clutch automatic.

CVTs tend to cause the engine to drone loudly and acceleration in cars with them tends to be underwhelming, to say the least. And that’s even with Subaru making the best CVTs, in my opinion, out there.

So, if you’re wondering why the score for this section (and the one below on driving) seems a little low, you can blame the CVT, because that engine is wonderful.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

The first thing that came into my head as I pressed the start button was: “What do all those icons on the screens mean?” They weren’t warning lights, just tiny glowing hieroglyphics which I later learnt symbolised different Forester functions such as the facial recognition and lane keeping assistance. 

Their tiny size makes them hard to make out and until I sat down with the manual and learnt what they all meant it was a bit distracting, and even now I’m not sure what having them all displayed does other than look pretty.
 
Other cars brands such as Volvo will have a screen menu that shows you what safety functions are active but hides the list away until you need to access it again. If Volvo is the master of minimalism then Subaru is the boss of busy design. And we haven’t even really started driving.

Big windows offer excellent visibility, which combined with a high driving position, makes it easy to pilot the Forester through concrete jungles, or actual jungles if you’re venturing off-road. 

You can get slightly adventurous in the Forester with its AWD system. There’s a selectable 'X-Mode' which increases off-road and steep incline capability, but keep in mind the Forester isn’t a full-on four-wheel drive with a low-range setting.

Steering is electrically-assisted, and while it feels slow-geared it’s accurate, well weighted and light enough for car parks.

My testing of the Forester 2.5i Premium was purely on the tarmac, where it proved fun and easy to drive. Ride is on the firmer side, but still composed and comfortable – more so than the Nissan X-Trail.

Also, more comfortable than the X-Trail are the Forester’s seats – they’re supportive around the legs and back, too.

Steering is electrically-assisted, and while it feels slow-geared it’s accurate, well weighted and light enough for car parks.

The 2.5i Premium and the grade above it come with two drive modes – 'Intelligent' which optimises fuel efficiency, and 'Sport' which brings a sharper engine response.
 
The only part letting this great driving experience down is the CVT. The engine drone and lacklustre acceleration (caused by the transmission) is disappointing. That CVT is why the score here is a seven, not an eight out of 10.

On my regular 16 degree test incline the Forester accelerated away, with plenty of noise but without any loss of traction

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Subaru says the Forester 2.5i Premium should use 7.4L/100km over a combination of open and urban roads. 

My time with our test car consisted mainly of city and suburban running, and according to the trip computer I used an average of 9.9L/100km, which isn’t bad.

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

Only five minutes into my first drive of the Forester and it was telling me to keep my eyes on the road. That’s because, like all Foresters, the 2.5i Premium features a driver monitoring system which knows when your eyes have wandered.

It begins with registering a profile. When you first get in the car the system will scan your face with an infra-red camera and remember it. When you come back to the car and start up, it recognises you. All Foresters are equipped with the system, but the 2.5i Premium and the grade above have a more comprehensive version which will set up your preferred seating position and door mirror angles, along with climate control settings.
 
That’s just the tip of the safety system iceberg in the Forester. There’s also the latest generation of Subaru’s 'EyeSight' system which uses cameras to watch the road ahead and brake autonomously if it calculates an impending collision with a car or pedestrian. 

The AEB also works while reversing – this should be standard on every car. There’s also lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. Those giant windows and low sills also provide excellent visibility.

Under the boot floor is a full-sized spare wheel.

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

The Forester is covered by Subaru’s three-year/unlimited km warranty. It would be good to see Subaru move to longer coverage with more manufacturers offering five-year warranties these days.

Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 12,500 kilometres and is capped for three years at $346.49 for the first, $584.45 for the second and back to $346.49 for third service. 

Verdict

The Forester is an easy to drive, practical and safe SUV only let down slightly by a transmission which stops if from being a great driver’s car, too. It’s really only worth stepping up to the 2.5i Premium if you want nicer seats, the drive modes and a few extra convenience features such as the seat memory system.

Is the Subaru Forester the mid-sized SUV king? 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
7.8
Design7
Price and features9
Practicality9
Engine & trans7
Driving7
Fuel consumption8
Safety9
Ownership6
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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