2020 Subaru Forester review

Everything you need to know about the all-new 2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Safety, handling, AWD traction, space and comfort
Not so much
  •   Plain looks, no diesel or turbo-petrol options

What stands out?

Subaru’s tall-riding Forester is a practical medium SUV that is also fun to drive – and surprisingly handy on tracks and trails. It’s powered by a 2.5-litre petrol engine, or 2.0-litre hybrid, and has all-wheel-drive. Driver assistance technology such as autonomous emergency braking is standard. Forester also has facial recognition technology that does everything from detect driver fatigue to moving the seat to each driver’s preferred setting.
The Forester was a top-three finalist for the 2019 Wheels Car of the Year Award.

What might bug me?

Every country town has a host of them – but they are popular for good reason.

Not really seeing substantial fuel savings if you paid extra for a Forester Hybrid.

That your brand new Forester doesn’t look too different from the previous generation.

What body styles are there?

The Forester comes only in one body style, a five-door SUV-style wagon.

All Foresters drive all four wheels at all times.

The Forester is classed as a medium SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Foresters have?

An automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

All-wheel-drive traction with X-Mode, which optimises the Forester’s stability and traction controls for driving at low speeds on loose and slippery surfaces. X-Mode will even restrain the speed of the car on steep downhill slopes, without help from the driver.

‘EyeSight’ driver assist with autonomous emergency braking, and other active safety technology such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, lane sway warning, and brake light recognition that provides an additional sign that the car in front is stopping. They also now have a auto unlock feature after a collision as of October.

Blind-spot monitor and rear-cross traffic alert.

Touchscreen display, with reversing camera monitor.

A sound system with an AM/FM/Digital (DAB+) radio, a CD player, aux and USB inputs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone pairing, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, voice control, and at least six speakers.

Voice command recognition for infotainment and phone functions.

Dual-zone air-conditioning, which allows the driver and front-seat passenger to set their own cabin temperatures. Rear air vents and floor heater ducts.

Leather trim on the gear shift and steering wheel that has paddle gear shifters, and buttons for operating the cruise control, the entertainment system and your phone.

Self-levelling, auto on/off headlights, tail-lights and daytime running lights all illuminated with long-lasting LEDs, plus front fog lights.

Roof rails, for mounting luggage systems, rear spoiler, and shark fin antenna.

Rain-sensing windscreen wipers, and technology that lets you get in and start your Forester without taking the key out of your bag or pocket.

Aluminium alloy wheels, and a full-sized spare wheel.

Seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control, which Subaru calls Vehicle Dynamic Control. This helps you maintain control in a skid. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Forester safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

A five-year warranty, with no limit on distance travelled in that time.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.0-litre hybrid powertrain, called e-Boxer, joined the Forester range in March 2020. It is the same 2.0-litre hybrid drivetrain as available with the smaller Subaru XV, which means stepping down from the more powerful 2.5-litre used in regular Foresters.

Available in the 2.0-L and 2.0-s specification grades, it has a claimed 6.7-litre/100km fuel consumption, which represents a modest improvement over the regular Forester.

Subaru calls the e-Boxer a mild hybrid, but it does more than usual mild hybrid systems which simply offer a power boost on take-off but don’t drive the vehicles on batteries alone.

However, it is a lot more subtle than full hybrid powertrains, with the single electric motor giving way to engine power at lower speeds and preferring to take up the slack when you’re coasting.
The e-Boxer's single electric motor contributes just 12.3kW of extra boost; by comparison, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has 131kW and 88kW electric motors for the front and rear axles respectively.

Apart from the extra cost and limited efficiency gain, another reason you wouldn't choose the e-Boxer is that you want the additional power available in the 2.5-litre petrol engine.

The the 2.5-litre petrol engine's fuel economy is rated at 7.4litres/100km for combined urban and country driving, according to the official lab testing.

The 2.5-litre petrol engine works best when cruising. It feels smooth and is reasonably responsive but can struggle a little when fully loaded with cargo and passengers.

The CVT automatic gearbox does a half-decent job at masquerading as a conventional automatic gearbox with synthesised steps instead of the usual revvy rubber band feel.

The more expensive Foresters have ‘Subaru Intelligent Drive’ with two driving modes including Sport that changes the gearbox settings for take-off acceleration.

The ‘Boxer’ engine’s four cylinders are laid flat in pairs and oppose each other. As well as helping maintain smooth operation it keeps the weight of the engine low in the car, which improves handling.

(Power outputs and all other Forester specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The most affordable Forester, the 2.5i has cloth seat trim, 17-inch wheels, a 6.5-inch touchscreen and all the above-mentioned features that all Forester versions have.

Spend more for the 2.5i-L and you get the Driver Monitoring System that uses facial recognition to detect if you’re drowsy or distracted and also personally greets you when you get in the car and sets the climate control to where you had it last.

The auto-braking also works in reverse to prevent you from hitting an object when parking, and the reversing camera also provides front and side views.

Spend more again for a 2.5i Premium and the facial recognition system also ensures the driver’s seat and door mirrors are at your preferred setting.

Performance is boosted with Intelligent Drive and Sport mode, and the passenger-side door mirror dips when you’re in reverse to help you see the kerb or other hidden obstacles. Other extras include in-built satellite navigation, powered tailgate, premium cloth seating trim, eight-way powered front seats, power-folding rear seats, and the alloy wheels grow to 18-inches.

The most expensive Forester, the 2.5i-S gains leather seating trim, electric sunroof, and an eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system.

The Forester L and S spec grades are available with hybrid powertrains, priced for about $3000 more than the 2.5-litre petrol versions.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The 18-inch tyre package on the more expensive Foresters ride a little rougher than the standard 17s, and the tyres can be more damage-prone on rough roads.

As well as producing less power, the Forester Hybrid doesn't come with a spare wheel, meaning you have to make do with a puncture repair kit which isn't as ideal if you're in the country and have quite a drive to get to a tyre repairer.

How comfortable is the Forester?

The Forester has a comfortable, roomy and well-appointed cabin even in the least expensive variant. The fit and finish is excellent and the overall feel is one of modernity and technical precision. Top-spec versions add to that with additional luxury and convenience features.

The driving position feels very natural, and the second row of seating is bigger in every direction compared with the previous model and cavernous even with the front seats adjusted back far enough for generous room in the front row.

The Forester is composed and quiet, even on coarse surfaces and unsealed tracks, with a nature that feels as though it was designed specifically for Australian conditions.

What about safety in a Forester?

All Foresters also have anti-lock brakes, stability control, seven airbags, a reversing camera, and seatbelt reminders for all seats.

The airbags are in the usual places: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; an airbag in front of the driver’s knees; airbags immediately outside the driver and front passenger that protect at chest level; and curtain airbags extending down each side of the car at head level to protect passengers front and rear from side impacts. ISOFIX anchor points for two child seats are also standard.

The Forester is also one of the best-equipped SUVs in its price range in terms of active safety, with all versions equipped with Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ package that relies on stereo cameras. It brings autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which works at city and highway speeds and detects pedestrians, warning you first and then braking you automatically if a collision seems imminent.

EyeSight also supplies adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, brake light recognition that provides an additional sign that the car in front is stopping, and lane-drift assistance – alerting you if you start to drift out of your lane on the highway, perhaps from distraction, and gently attempting to steer the car out of trouble.

Other active safety features that come standard in all Foresters include rear-cross traffic alert, that senses if a car is approaching from either side when you’re reversing, and a blind spot monitor.

All Foresters except the 2.5i come with facial recognition technology that detects if the driver is distracted or becoming drowsy, and reverse automatic braking that helps prevent collisions while parking.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Subaru Forester a 5-Star safety rating in March 2019.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The Forester manages to provide an excellent balance between comfort and driveability.

It’s an easy car to drive, with light steering and responsive acceleration at low speeds. It handles bends well, and the steering and chassis compliance (how the rear of the car follows the front) are above average for SUVs in its class.

Anyone used to a non-turbocharged petrol engine will find the Forester’s 2.5-litre powerplant adequate to the task, but will notice a lack of oomph when its fully loaded or when attempting a quick overtaking manoeuvre. This is also the case with the 2.0-litre Hybrid struggles, which can protest a little loudly when accelerating to overtake or join freeway traffic.

On the plus side, the hybrid system further improves traction because of the more precisely controlled torque distribution.

We like the general operation of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto, which is one of the finest when it comes to the principle. Some drivers don’t like the feel of a CVT, which allows the engine speed to rev out without a change in road speed. But the Forester’s addresses this problem, cutting fuel use when cruising but acting more like a conventional automatic, with stepped ratios, when you ask it to accelerate hard.

The Subaru Forester’s X-Mode all-wheel-drive traction system helps maintain its confidence-inspiring ride when grip levels drop off or the road gets truly choppy. Aided by a 220mm ground clearance, it handles unsealed surfaces better than most small or medium SUVs, making it excellent on gravel roads, good on sand, and even some tracks that are rough or steep. Its full-size spare tyre is a major bonus here.

How is life in the rear seats?

The Forester’s rear-seat legroom is plentiful even when the front seats are pushed back for longer legs. Headroom is also bountiful.

The seating is ergonomically well finished, though putting someone other than a child in the middle seat might be asking a bit much on extended trips.

Rear-seat occupants get their own air vents and two USB sockets to charge their electronic devices.

All Foresters have three child-seat anchor points, the outside two of which have ISOFIX fittings.

How is it for carrying stuff?

With the rear seats in place, the boot accommodates 498 litres of stuff and expands to 1768 litres with the 40/60-split seats folded.

The load opening now measures 1258mm wide between the tail-lights and the widest point of the luggage area is up to 1300mm – enough to fit a golf bag sideways.

The 2.5-litre petrol Foresters are upgrading to a towing capacity of 1800kg for trailers with their own brakes when the new model arrives October 2020, or 300kg more than before, thanks to an upgraded cooling fan. Unbraked towing capacity remains at just 750kg. The Hybrid versions can tow up to 1200kg braked, and 750kg unbraked.

Where is the Forester made?

All Subaru Foresters are made in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

A punchier and more economical turbocharged petrol engine as found on other medium SUVs including the Ford Escape, Holden Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Peugeot 3008, Skoda Karoq, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The extra torque and fuel economy of a turbodiesel, as available with the Escape, Equinox, Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Peugeot 3008, Renault Koleos, Toyota RAV4 and Tiguan.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

All four Forester variants feature the same powertrain, and advanced driver assistance technology such as autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, so picking one will come down to preferred features and budget.

We like Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium, which has most of the features available in the most expensive Forester the 2.5i-S, including facial recognition system’s safety and convenience functions, Intelligent Drive with Sport mode, powered tailgate, premium cloth seats with powered settings and in-built satellite navigation.

The new Forester 2.5i Sport strikes a balance in technology, features and price, stepping in at just under $42,000 and offering further exterior differentiation with black roof racks and side sills.

Are there plans to update the Forester soon?

The fifth-generation Forester went on sale in August 2018 with just the one powertrain option and smaller, four-variant, range than the previous model – which you can find out more about in a separate range review.

For 2021, Subaru plans to introduce a new 2.5i Sport variant that will rely on the same petrol engine as other variants while introducing a new cooling fan that upgrades towing capacity for them as well. It also heralds a new headlight design and a collision auto-unlock feature across all vehicles.

Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Safety, handling, AWD traction, space and comfort
Not so much
  •   Plain looks, no diesel or turbo-petrol options


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