Subaru Forester SUV
"Despite its boxy looks, the Subaru Forester is good-to-drive, practical and now mixes sturdiness with an improved interior"
- Good to drive
- Improved interior
- Sturdy build quality
- Pricey to run
- Lacks some features
- Conservative styling
The Subaru Forester is a tough SUV with standard four-wheel drive that's known for its solid build quality and dependability. And while its boxy looks might not have changed much, this new model has an all-new platform - shared with the Subaru Impreza and XV - promising improved road manners, lower running costs and more interior space.
Forester spotters will need to be on top form, because an upright and angular nose, new rear lights and a black strip across the tailgate are about the extent of its new design cues. It's also slightly longer and wider, so there's plentiful knee room inside and its maximum luggage capacity (1,779 litres) now beats the rival Toyota RAV4.
Its interior is a vast improvement over the outgoing model, and while it's still not up to Audi Q3 standards, it can now fend off the Toyota and Mitsubishi Outlander for quality. Some of the latest features like digital instruments are missing, but the infotainment display has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility if you prefer your phone’s interface over Subaru’s ‘Starlink’ system.
The big news under the bonnet is the adoption of Subaru's first mild-hybrid petrol engine, badged e-Boxer, which is claimed to give better fuel economy than the old turbocharged petrol engine. Even with this slight gain, the Forester is still one of the thirstiest medium-sized SUVs, but loyal Subaru owners should appreciate a step in the right direction. Its small battery and electric motor recovers energy under deceleration from braking and coasting, and then deploys it to assist the petrol engine as you accelerate.
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A new chassis has also tidied up the Forester's handling, and it now feels lighter on its feet and more responsive. For a model that looks a lot like a raised estate, it's also remarkably capable off-road.
The Forester e-Boxer scored the maximum five-star safety rating, thanks in part to the Subaru EyeSight suite of safety kit that uses windscreen-mounted cameras to detect hazards when driving. Subaru also performed very well in our 2019 Driver Power ownership satisfaction survey, and the company claims that 100% of its customers would buy a Subaru again.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Subaru has turned its back on diesel and has chosen mild-hybrid petrol engines as its future, at least in the coming few years. Spearheading this move is an electrified version of its 2.0-litre petrol engine, now dubbed 'e-Boxer', paired with a CVT automatic gearbox that Subaru refers to as Lineartronic.
Subaru says the new mild-hybrid system should bring an efficiency gain of around 10%. Fuel economy stands at 34.7mpg - so most rivals are more economical - but CO2 emissions of 154g/km aren’t bad for an SUV this size. Unlike a plug-in hybrid, you'll never need to connect the Subaru Forester e-Boxster to a charger, but because it only recoups a small amount of energy it also can't travel on electricity alone for very long - covering around a mile at low speeds.
Instead, the electric motor is said to take some strain of the combustion engine to save fuel, while offering improved responsiveness and greater refinement. It also means the petrol engine can cut out more readily in traffic, and restarts unobtrusively.
Engines, drive & performance
The Forester now sits on the same new underpinnings as the Subaru Impreza, and feels better to drive than the old model as a result. It's even quite good fun through sharp corners, with plenty of grip and responsive steering that ultimately gives the Forester a planted and safe demeanour. Its CVT automatic gearbox is smooth around town and, if you don't like its 'elastic band' feel on country roads, the steering-wheel paddles mimic the fixed ratios of a more traditional automatic. Its performance figures aren't particularly impressive, though, with 0-62mph taking 11.8 seconds and a top speed of 117mph trailing most rivals, especially considering its £35,000-plus price tag.
It hasn't moved away from its rugged roots either, shining off-road, where it has good ground clearance and shrugs off tricky terrain. We found the hybrid setup could sometimes hesitate when faced with tougher uphill slopes, but descents were taken care of using hill-descent control.
Interior & comfort
While Subarus are renowned for being extremely robust, this has usually gone hand-in-hand with workmanlike interior design. The Japanese manufacturer is evolving, however, and the Forester's interior is now a much nicer place to sit. In fact, not only can its interior easily compete with the popular Toyota RAV4, but it also supersedes the Mitsubishi Outlander for quality and feels much more compatible with the Forester's price.
It's still a fairly conventional design compared with something like a Volkswagen Tiguan, however, with analogue instruments, a centrally located infotainment screen in the dashboard and conventional, simple to use controls beneath for the climate control. An additional display atop the dashboard provides additional information about the vehicle status, but the result is a slight lack of design cohesion. Handily, the main display can also run Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, even where standard sat-nav isn't fitted.
There are only two trim levels to pick from: XE and XE Premium. Plump for the XE and you’ll still get plenty of standard equipment, including automatic LED headlights, heated front seats, keyless entry, DAB radio and adaptive cruise control.
XE Premium adds extras including a sunroof, tinted rear windows, leather upholstery and a powered tailgate. Subaru doesn’t offer many options; besides dealer-fit accessories, you’re limited to the choice of paint colour.
Practicality & boot space
While it might look very similar to before, the latest Forester is longer and wider, with improved interior space. Knee room and shoulder room are especially generous, while headroom should be adequate for all but the tallest occupants.
Subaru has sped up the operation of the powered tailgate, which will be welcome in rain-soaked Britain, and once open it reveals a big boot. The Forester's boxy shape means there's 1,779 litres of cargo space with the back seats folded down, beating the 1,690 litres offered by the Toyota RAV4. With the rear seats in place, you’ll have 520 litres to fill.
Reliability & safety
After a hiatus lasting several years, Subaru performed well in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, and came top for safety features. You told us build quality deserved praise, along with overall dependability and a reasonably low 15.3% of owners experienced a fault in the first year. Subaru owners wished their cars were a little bit faster, cheaper to run and more stylish but they couldn’t fault the build quality, as the brand came sixth out of 30 manufacturers in our survey.
Independent safety experts Euro NCAP crash-tested the Forester, where it scored a full five-star safety rating. It scored 97% for adult occupant protection as well as 91% for the child occupant category, 80% for pedestrians and 78% for safety assist.
Euro NCAP commented that the standard-fit autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system performed well in tests and the Forester avoided collisions in all test scenarios. The system known as Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist technology scans the road ahead to identify hazards (including vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists) and lane markings, and activates autonomous emergency braking if necessary.The Forester will also detect driver fatigue or distraction and can even apply the brakes while reversing if an imminent collision is anticipated.