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2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S long-term review

By Ash Westerman, 03 Nov 2019 Reviews

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S long-term test

Fresh from a strong COTY showing, the 2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S is looking for a podium spot in Westerman’s garage


I’LL concede it’s entirely possible the new fifth-gen Subaru Forester is no great fan of my exterior styling. So yes, our feelings toward each other may be completely mutual.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Forester’s Eyesight camera recognition system scanned my face for the first time, and the software basically translated this to: “You’re kidding! I’ve got to look at this every day for the next six months?”

Read: 2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S review

2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S Blue

Sorry, pal, but arranged marriages often don’t ignite with a passionate flame. It’s said that women fall in love via their ears and men fall in love via their eyes. So maybe it’s not pathetically shallow of me to admit that the biggest hurdle from the outset for me bonding with the Forester is the look of it. Maybe I’m genetically programmed to feel this way.

The tall-boy roofline, those contrived sliced-segment tail-lights … it just looks a bit ungainly to my eye, so my first mission is to attempt to get past this and seek out the virtues that took it to the pointy end of COTY late last year.

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S City Driving

Because what would I know? The sales success of the Forester would indicate I’m solidly outnumbered here. It’s unequivocally more popular than I am. I’ve amassed a few thousand views for my online content published this year, while the Forester has netted approximately $64m worth of retail sales in the first two months of 2019 alone. It’s currently Australia’s top-selling AWD soft-roader, and regular readers may remember that it triumphed over three rivals (Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan) in our November 2018 comparison.

Subaru Forester 2019 Car of the Year finalist review

I sure can’t moan that I’ve been short-changed in terms of spec. Mine is the range-topping 2.5i-S, which, over the Premium model below it, adds leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio with subwoofer, and additional mud/snow modes for the X-Mode off-road-drive program. It will be a challenge to get down and dirty to evaluate the true benefit of these latter two, but I’ll try.

What should be easier is making a call on whether the extra $3000 my S model charges over the Premium is money well spent. (Never mind the fact that I reckon the naming convention for these two is about-face. Shouldn’t Premium be the range-topper?)

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S Interior

Anyway, early niggles are minor. I’d appreciate more under-thigh support from the driver’s seat, and the steering has a tiny dead spot either side of centre. Countering this is the visibility, cabin space, absorbent ride and useful driver aids. As for the engine, that’s like the old footy adage – a game of two halves, which we’ll kick off next month.  

Update #2

PLENTY of us with a taste for fast and nasty motorcycles would argue there’s never a bad day to buy one. My partner, on the other hand, has no such affiliation, so she did mount a case that this particular day wasn’t exactly ideal to be throwing a leg over an unfamiliar 125kW crotch rocket for a 50km ride home.

2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S Getaway

Sydney skies were chucking it down, and the barometer in our neighbourhood – a vast storm water drain we can see from our back balcony (“water views!” claimed the agent) – was a brimming torrent, clearly at max capacity. My partner was mouthing words that I would later learn were to do with road closures and dangerous standing water and leaving it for another day, but all I could hear was, “blah blah blah … Italian V4 … Sachs suspension … every carbonfibre option … won’t last at this price …”

View the entire Forester Range

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S Parked

So Ana just rolled her eyes and settled into the Subie’s passenger seat, agreeing to drive it home after I’d sealed the deal on the bike. The seller was on a tight time frame, so I hustled as quickly as I dared as cats and dogs and even the odd sodden pigeon tumbled from the skies. As the wipers tried their best to clear the deluge, I took a moment to grudgingly acknowledge that yes, all-wheel drive can occasionally be genuinely beneficial.

The Forester’s 18-inch Bridgestone Duelers are not exactly limpet impersonators in the wet, but they do telegraph their modest limits with a decent degree of clarity. It’s the AWD system that really took most of my attention, though. Subaru is a bit unusual in insisting on a set-up that delivers a near-constant 50-50 front-to-rear torque split in normal driving, rather than an on-demand system favoured by many manufacturers. The theoretical downside of constantly driving both ends of the car is fuel consumption, but clearly Subaru says bollocks to that, and obviously believes that the consumption penalty is worth it for not having to wait that millisecond for slip to be recognised and for drive to be apportioned to the end in need. 

Read next: We crash test a 2019 Subaru Forester with ANCAP

The Forester’s traction is outstanding. You can monster the throttle and it just gets the torque down to the road with barely a flicker of the ESC light.

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S for the dog

It was still belting down after doing the deal on the bike, so as my partner slipped behind the wheel for the drive home, I took some solace in the fact she was driving an SUV with such accomplished wet-weather performance. She grew up in the São Paulo suburb right next to where Ayrton Senna was raised, but sadly doesn’t quite have his mastery in the rain. 

Update #3

Release the hounds

This Subie’s gone to the dogs, and everyone’s happy about it.

Please go ahead and award yourself one RocKwiz bonus point if you’ve even heard of the Fauves, an Aussie four-piece formed in Victoria in the late ’80s. The Fauves are still together, but yet to top the modest success of their minor radio hit of 1996; a track I still believe to be something of a definitive social commentary regarding the messed-up realities of the modern world. Its title? ‘Dogs are the Best People’.

Okay, it’s not a song of huge lyrical depth; it’s really more of a catchy rock ditty set to crunching guitars and a propulsive bass hook, but certain lines really resonate with me: “His love comes free and unconditionally / …he never lied to me once / he never flaunted my trust…”

Dogs have been a big part of my life since childhood, but these days, apartment living and work travel don’t make dog ownership possible, so there tends to be a canine-sized void in my existence. To help fill it, I often spend time with dogs belonging to other people, but mostly with dogs who belong to no-one.

Read next: How to keep your pets car-safe

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S Boot Space

Each Saturday, my partner and I drive to our local dog rescue shelter (doggierescue.com, if you’d like to make a donation) and walk a couple of the 70 or so hopeful souls there. This is mostly satisfying and enjoyable, although occasionally heart-wrenching when one decides he ain’t going back, so locks the parking brake on the hind legs and fixes you with those “adopt me NOW!” eyes.

Anyway, dogs at the shelter often need transporting to various events, so no long-termer can truly be considered to have fully slotted into our family unless it passes the doggo-Uber test.

Now, we all know dogs tend not to be too picky about these things – I’m pretty sure I could turn up in a Panzer tank and I’d still be swamped by panting, wagging mutts pirouetting hot laps of excitement at the prospect of an outing – but the Forester does ace two important criteria.

Read next: Essential car accessories for dog owners

Subaru Forester rear

Firstly, the chassis tune delivers real ride comfort. Whether the doggos want to do a bit of open-window surfing, or just take a nap in the footwell, I reckon all of them appreciate an SUV that breathes with the road and blots up the bumps. The Subie is the master of this; a fact brought into even sharper focus recently in our five-SUV comparo (Wheels, June.) The new Toyota RAV4 may have gotten the nod overall, but the Forester is even better when it comes to easy-riding, unstressed passage over bumpy bitumen. 

Second criterion – and stay with me on this one – is a quality sound system. Occasionally we’ll have a dog on board who’s over-excited, or stressed, so one sure-fire way to chill them out is to crank up a bit of late-’90s deep house, with some soothing female vocals and a rich, velvety rhythm section.

The Forester’s Harman/Kardon system, with its 10-inch subwoofer mounted in the cargo compartment, fills the cabin with the aural equivalent of canine Valium. The Fauves may consider me an Oz-rock sell-out, but it does give peace a chance.

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