Review: Subaru Forester (2019)

Rating:

Permanent four-wheel-drive. Very capable off road. Likely to be a reliable choice.

Expensive. Just one engine. Navigation only standard on top-spec XE Premium. Not as frugal as you might expect.

Subaru Forester (2019): At A Glance

The Subaru Forester has always been a rugged rival to SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. It's a car that's popular with those who value capability over looks; bought by those who shrug off PCP finance cycles in favour of a car they will keep for a very long time. And that's equally true of the latest model, launched in 2019.

The brand's made a bold statement by only offering the latest Forester as a mild-hybrid. Badged the e-Boxer, this combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with a small electric motor. In truth, you won't really notice the hybrid side of the e-Boxer. Subaru says it can run in electric mode at speeds of up to 25mph, but you'll probably find the engine kicking in as soon as you set off.

While traditional Forester buyers might be disappointed that it can no longer be sold with a diesel engine, the good news is that it's still a very capable four-wheel-drive. Snow poses no problem for the Forester, while its 220mm of ground clearance and permanent 4x4 means it can tackle a muddy farm track comfortably.

Like with many four-wheel-drives with an off-road focus, it's not as efficient as you might expect from a hybrid. Officially, it'll return 35mpg - which is pretty poor compared to the likes of the Toyota RAV4. 

On the road, its soft setup means it's a very comfortable SUV, soaking up bumpy roads well. It's sharper to drive than before, too - with considerably less lean in the corners compared to its predecessor.

The cabin isn't as premium as rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan, but all the materials feel almost indestructible. It's practical, too - with a very generous 520-litre boot. 

Equipment levels are fairly generous, although we'd expect no less considering the Forester's heavy list price. If you want features like navigation, leather seats and a sunroof, you'll have to fork out for the XE Premium with its close-to-£40,000 price tag.

One of the Forester's big selling points is its comprehensive suite of safety features. Its EyeSight system acts a second pair of eyes, while Euro NCAP scores it five stars in its crash tests. Combine this with the Forester's excellent off-road ability and the Forester feels like it could tackle almost anything.

What does a Subaru Forester (2019) cost?

List Price from £25,380
Buy new from £23,804
Contract hire from £485.18 per month

Subaru Forester (2019): What's It Like Inside?

There's a robust feel to the Forester's interior. It's definitely been designed with functionality in mind - if you want a premium cabin you'd be best looking a Volkswagen Tiguan or Mazda CX-5, but it feels well-built.

There are lots and lots of buttons (particularly on the steering wheel) , but everything's logically laid out. There are knobs and buttons for the climate control system and the radio, meaning there's no need to go trawling through the infotainment system.

There are two displays in the centre of the dash - a 4.3-inch LCD information display and an eight-inch touchscreen display below it. Navigation is only available on the XE Premium, although both models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - meaning you can mirror your phone's features including navigation apps on the car's media display.

It's very comfortable, with electric seat adjustment as standard on both models meaning it's easy to get a comfortable, high-up driving position to give you a commanding view of the road. 

There's plenty of space for front and rear passengers, with loads of head and legroom. You can even fit three adults in the back fairly comfortably, if you wish.

The boot's big, too. The wheel arches impede slightly and it's got quite a high lip, but with 520 litres there's plenty of space. Dropping the rear seats is easy, and increases that to 1779 litres.

Specifications (February 2020):

XE gets automatic LED headlights, high-beam assist, headlight washers, front LED fog lights, rear fog lights, power-folding door mirrors with built-in indicators, automatic windscreen wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, roof spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, one-touch folding and reclining rear seats, fabric seats, heated front seats, eight-way power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, driver's seat memory function, 60:40 split folding rear seats, aluminium pedals, electric windows, remote central locking, electronic parking brake, keyless entry and push-button start system, three 12V power outlets, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated door mirrors, heated rear window, eight-inch infotainment system with CD player, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB radio, Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, 4.3-inch LCD information display, adaptive cruise control, Subaru Intelligent Drive, Stop and Start, X-Mode with Hill Descent, auto hold, EyeSight (with Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking, Pre-collision Throttle Management, Lane Sway and Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Lead Vehicle Start Alert), Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection (with Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert), reversing camera, driver monitoring system.

XE Premium adds privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, leather seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, power tailgate, navigation.

Child seats that fit a Subaru Forester (2019)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Subaru Forester (2019) like to drive?

Anyone expecting the Forester e-Boxer to drive around town in silence before the petrol engine kicks in will be disappointed. Although Subaru says it can travel at speeds up to 25mph under electric power, we found the petrol engine to kick in the moment the wheels started rolling.

It's not necessarily a bad thing - it can actually set off under electric power, meaning you don't have to wait for the petrol engine to start as with a conventional petrol car fitted with a stop-start system. When the petrol engine does start up, it is noticeable, with a fairly clear jerk as the powertrain transitions from electric to petrol power.

You may also be frustrated if you're expecting big fuel savings from the hybrid system, too. Officially it'll return 35mpg, which means you'll probably see early-30s at best in the real world. This is a big, heavy, petrol four-wheel-drive vehicle - don't go expecting much in the way of eco-credentials. The old diesel model was better on fuel.

The diesel would have provided more torque, too. Despite having an electric motor helping out the petrol engine, the Forester e-Boxer isn't quick and the engine does seem to make quite a lot of noise when tackling steep hills, for example. CVT gearboxes aren't associated with refinement but the one fitted to the Forester isn't bad, save from the unusual drone when you attempt hard acceleration.

With its high ground clearance and soft suspension, the Forester does tackle bumpy or broken roads very well. A trade-off of this is that it's not as sharp to drive as rivals, with quite a lot of body lean in corners. There's loads of grip, though, and it's also very capable off road.

We've driven it through deep snow and we suspect only a Land Rover Discovery Sport would provide as much confidence. You can use the X-Mode dial to select one of two off-road modes (snow/dirt and deep snow/mud), and let the car take care of the rest. It'll shuffle torque between axles and use the electric motor to provide greater torque if required. Hill Descent Control is useful for controlling your speed when dropping down a steep hill, too.

As well as being very capable off road, the Forester has a whole host of safety features on its side. Subaru's EyeSight is fitted as standard. This acts as a second pair of eyes, warning the driver to take action and even applying the brakes to mitigate a collision if required. If you are in a crash, Euro NCAP's five-star rating for the Forester suggests it's one of the safest SUVs you could transport your family in.