2019 Subaru Forester Limited Review

The cult favorite gets even more mainstream

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: More spacious interior, more attractive exterior, robust safety system, improved driving dynamics.
Negatives: Continuously variable transmission is just ok, seats a bit hard for our liking, engine is on the weak side.
Bottom Line: The Forester has gone from slightly weird to much less weird in a just three generations. The new Forester is now a bonafide crossover and not just a taller wagon. Of course, it's lost some of its niche appeal, but for that reason it will sell better than it already does. It's well-appointed, more roomy, and the driving experience has improved. All of this points to a cult crossover that has mainstream written all over it.
The Forester has been around for 20 years, and that's a lifetime in the automotive industry. Other crossovers have come and gone. 2019 marks the Forester's 5th generation, and it looks pretty much nothing like what it started out as. It's bigger, more refined, safer, infused with more tech, and generally more everything. And this is a tough field in which to compete, but the Forester has the goods to go up against the Jeep Compass, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and the Toyota RAV4. We drove the Forester in Limited trim for a week to see how much it's changed since the 2018 model. Read on for our detailed review.

Driving Experience



The Forester drives better than ever. Granted, the 250-horsepower stick shift XT is sadly gone for 2019, but the new Forester remains well angled for some degree of driving fun that's not present on the Outback.

Ride Quality: A good blend of comfortable and firm that doesn't totally isolate the driver from the road. The Forester uses the new Global Platform that's stronger, lighter, and quieter, which is a good thing.

Acceleration: It won't set your hair on fire since the car provides a 0-60 jaunt in 9.6 seconds. At least throttle response is good. The CVT shifts well but feels jerky at launch.

Braking: Brakes feel progressive and stopping distances are good.

Steering: The steering feels light but effort increases in turns. It just doesn't have any feedback to speak of.

Handling: Though we'd never consider it a street carver, the tall Forester manages body roll very well with the new platform.




Overall, the interior systems work decently, but the in-car tech, namely the infotainment seems wonky in terms of functionality and ease-of-use. It seems they're trying too hard at times.

Infotainment System: The STARLINK system has way too many colors, despite the fact that the 8.0-inch screen is vivid and fairly responsive. The colors are a bit much, but the menus are pretty easy. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, a better interface we think.

Controls: Oddities like the volume toggle in the middle of steering wheel control buttons, as well as the need to hold down a button to see the rear climate control screen and to make the necessary adjustments just don't seem well thought out.




The uninitiated may not be able to distinguish between the 2018 and the 2019, especially since body panels carry over, but the fascias are more complex and more refined looking. The Sport gets a lot of color highlights, which can be polarizing.

Front: The changes are small but make a big difference in the Forester's sophistication. The grille gets a slightly larger chrome crossbar and more horizontal bar elements below. The headlights now have an LED signature, and have a boxier outer edge. Foglight housings are now vertical instead of horizontal. The side mirrors also get turn signals in higher trims and a crease.

Rear: The back end of the Forester exhibits the greatest changes by losing the vertical tailights and adopting a bracket-style that looks like someone turned an uprooted tooth on its side. The license plate cutout no longer stems from creases dropping from the rear window. Reflectors are thicker, as is the rear black valence.

Profile: There's not a lot of difference here between the 2018 and 2019. There are more creases above the rocker panel, and the greenhouse appears more leaned out.

Cabin: Subaru interiors are distinct, but they're not attractive. It still looks very chunky inside, but the ethos does go with the outdoorsy-ness of the brand.




The Forester has grown in size and comfort over the years, and the 2019 is the best of the bunch. The sheer amount of headroom, though, seems overwrought. We're 6-feet tall and had numerous inches of extra room.

Front Seats: Seats are supportive and comfortable.

Rear Seats: The rear legroom has grown by a not unsubstantial 1.4 inches. Seats have good contouring and cushioning.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The new platform provides added quietness, and though you can hear the engine being worked hard, the Forester is quieter than ever.

Visibility: It's one of the Forester's high points. Big glass all around and a good seating position means it's easy to place the Forester.

Climate: The dual automatic climate system works well. Vents are well-sized and potent.




Though the new Forester hasn't been crash tested yet, we expect it will perform very well. The past two generations have scored top scores by both testing bodies.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The EyeSight Driver Assist System is a huge plus for the Forester because it comes with Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Pre-Collision Throttle Management. It also comes standard with Tire Pressure Monitoring and a rear vision camera.

Optional Tech: Our Limited tester came with blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, automatic LED high and low beams, high beam assist, and steering responsive headlights.




The Forester is great for errands and trips since there are smart storage options and a solid amount of cargo space within.

Storage Space: There's a cubby at the base of the center stack, easily accessible center console twin cupholders and a deep armrest.

Cargo Room: The Forester has 35.42 cubic feet behind the 2nd row and 76.1 with the seats folded flat. That's way more than the Jeep Cherokee and a smidge less than the big Honda CR-V.

Fuel Economy



The Forester's non-turbo engine is pretty efficient. But the fact that you have to work the engine pretty hard to get just a modicum of acceleration doesn't help.

Observed: 23.2 mpg

Distance Driven: 104 miles




Our tester was optioned out with the upgraded 9-speaker Harman kardon premium audio system with a 576-watt amplifier. Sound was crisp and clean with decent bass. It's a good system, but confusingly a Rockford Fosgate system is now the only audio upgrade on the Subaru site. Weird.

Final Thoughts

The Forester is definitely an evolution of the species in its 5th generation. It's a well-rounded vehicle that draws customers in droves. The fact that it's got four-seasons traction, room for gear, and better looks than ever before means many will flock to it. Too bad it's just dog slow and the turbo XT is no more. The 2019 certainly makes a strong case for shoppers who want a great crossover, but we'd have to go with the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, or the upcoming new Toyota RAV4.
Shopping for a used
Subaru Forester?