In the mountainous regions of New England and the Rocky Mountains, Subarus reign supreme. They come standard with a highly regarded all-wheel drive system that sets them apart from the competition.
So what better time to try out the redesigned 2019 Subaru Forester compact crossover than during this month’s snowfall?
The latest Forester is a gentle evolution of the previous generation, with slightly better fuel economy, a slightly upgraded interior, more cargo room, some new features, and some slight styling tweaks. It was fully overhauled mechanically, but only to improve its existing flavor. It continues to focus on comfortable but hardy utility, rather than pursuing the maximum quietness, luxury and flashy looks found in its best-selling competitors.
The Forester isn’t all-business. It has pleasant interior materials, a crisply rendered infotainment system and, on the top-of-the-line Touring model, rich leather upholstery.
But this is a functional automobile, not a styling statement. Even trained automotive journalists would have to look twice to differentiate the redesigned Forester from its five-year-old predecessor. The dashboard controls are laid out to maximize functionality, with buttons that duplicate most of the touchscreen’s functions — serving those who prefer the old-fashioned operations. The gauges are plain but clear. The big windows and thin roof pillars maximize outward visibility in an era where designers prefer lots of metal and minimal glass. The floor mats are sturdy rather than plush. And while the suspension handles bumps with ease, the ride isn’t quiet enough for the Forester to feel premium.
Nor does it really try to be sporty to drive. It feels agreeably compact from behind the wheel, and its steering responses are more natural than some Subarus, but the Forester doesn’t encourage you to drive it fast. The 182-horsepower engine is noisy if you try to wring out maximum power. Last year’s manual transmission and turbocharged engines have been discontinued, so that Subaru can focus on the mainstream appeal of 29 miles per gallon in mixed driving — excellent for an all-wheel-drive crossover.
Prices for the 2019 Forester start at $25,270, representing an above-average bargain if you value its standard all-wheel-drive. (The system costs about $1,500 to $3,000 on most competitors, if you’re fine with their standard front-wheel-drive.) Prices can exceed $35,000, though, without the Forester ever feeling like a luxury car.
Another valuable standard feature is Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite, which used to be a pricey option on the Forester. It brings forward-collision and lane-departure warnings, along with semi-autonomous features that can slam the brakes to mitigate a crash or gently turn the steering wheel if you start to drift over the line. It also earned top scores in crash tests.
Turning back to our recent snowfall, the Forester’s all-wheel-drive adds new driving modes that maximize performance in either snow or dirt, or deep snow or thick mud. Heeding the advice of local authorities, we stayed off the streets until they were plowed, but the tested Forester exhibited no struggles during snowy excursions in a driveway and a private road. While we haven’t tried out the competition in the snow, other critics have found the Subaru to be among the top tier — along with Jeep and Mazda.
The Jeep Compass shares the Forester’s rugged character, high capability and affordable pricing, but the Subaru is roomier and more fuel-efficient, and it has more standard safety features, making it a leader for buyers seeking this type of compact crossover.
That said, plenty of buyers will want a different flavor than the Forester’s. The Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 feel more upscale and polished, like affordable luxury cars rather than just a comfortable utility vehicle. The CR-V and the Nissan Rogue boast even more cargo volume, thanks to low load floors. The CX-5 and Ford Escape have sportier handling. The Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage are quieter and less expensive.
However, the redesigned 2019 Subaru Forester continues to provide the rugged comfort that loyalists love, while also offering enough value, spaciousness, safety and fuel efficiency to interest nearly any compact crossover. If you don’t prioritize a high-end, cutting-edge feel, give it a try to see if it’s the right flavor for you.
Visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-forester to see more photos of the tested 2019 Subaru Forester.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.