by Frank A. Aukofer

If Subaru were a surfer dude, it would be riding the crest of a very big wave, and its 2019 Forester will help keep it there.

The redesigned compact crossover sport utility vehicle, now in its fourth generation, arrives with more streamlined and sophisticated styling, as well as a host of new features.

Subaru2019Forester-9Built on a new global platform that also underpins the Ascent, Impreza and Crosstrek, the Forester delivers improved access for passengers and cargo, a new engine and transmission combination with automatic idle stop-start for improved fuel economy, additional safety measures and standard all-wheel drive.

Except for the company’s rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, developed with Toyota, all Subaru cars and crossover SUVs put the power to the ground with all four wheels. The Forester doesn’t have the off-road credentials of muscular Jeeps and Land Rovers. But it can handle foul weather conditions and moderately challenging terrain, especially on versions with X-Mode, which includes hill descent control.

There are five trim levels, starting with the $25,270 Base, followed by the $27,070 Premium, new $29,770 Sport, $31,770 Limited and $35,270 Touring. Prices include the $975 destination charge.

Subaru2019Forester-75All Foresters come with Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which includes pre-collision throttle management and braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist with lane departure and sway warning.

The tested Sport model came with a $2,045 option package that included blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, and a power rear tailgate with pushbutton closing and adjustable open height.

The package also covered Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system with an eight-inch touch screen, premium Harman Kardon audio, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SXM satellite radio. It brought the Sport’s bottom-line price to $31,815.

Power surges from a newly-engineered 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque with city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 26/33/29 mpg.

Subaru2019Forester-26It is mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). CVTs ordinarily ordinarily multiply torque seamlessly without shift points. However, on the Forester Sport, the CVT incorporates a computer-generated seven-speed manual shift mode with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Under hard acceleration in automatic mode, it also mimics a conventional automatic’s upshifts.

The Forester is equipped with a system called SI-Drive that allows the driver to select throttle characteristics for fuel economy (“intelligent”) or maximum performance (“sport”), called “sport sharp” on the Sport trim.

The horizontally-opposed engine, also called a boxer or flat engine, has cylinders that lie supine, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning as with an inline or V configuration. Its low profile results in a lower center of gravity, which contributes to more secure road-holding and handling.

Subaru2019Forester-81As a vehicle that is oriented toward small families and adventuresome singles, the new Forester is designed to be both practical and comfortable. The rear doors are wider than before and swing open to nearly 90 degrees for adults to easily step in. Also, the cargo area, with 33 cubic feet of space, has an opening more than 43 inches wide and 32 inches high for ease of loading large objects. Fold the rear seatbacks flat and the space expands to 71 cubic feet.

Though not a racer, the Forester Sport’s suspension tuning and  performance-oriented wheels and tires, aided by brake-engaged torque vectoring, enhance handling on curving roads. At highway speeds, it tracks true and is quiet except for some intrusion of engine noise under hard acceleration.

The ride is compliant on all but the roughest roads and the Sport comes with supportive front seats upholstered in sturdy and comfortable cloth.

Subaru2019Forester-80One shortcoming: If the driver inadvertently shuts down the engine with the transmission in “drive,” the Forester will roll away. If that happens on many other vehicles, the transmission automatically shifts to “park.” The rollway scenario has been receiving increasing attention as a safety hazard.

Even at that, the Forester is a highly desirable vehicle and a staunch competitor in the compact crossover class. Since its introduction in 1997, it has totaled sales of 1.8 million, with many owners keeping them beyond expected trade-in times.

As a company, Subaru has been uncommonly successful, one of a few manufacturers that thrived despite the recession of a decade ago. In the last nearly seven years, it has had 81 consecutive months of year over year sales growth.

Subaru2019Forester-29Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Forester Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 182 hp, 176 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with seven-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 108/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,531 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,770.
  • Price as tested: $31,815.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Subaru2019Forester-4Photos (c) Subaru