It’s hard to believe that the Subaru Forester has only been around for a little over 20 years. It’s such a well-known model and icon of the brand that it’s easy to think it’s much older than it is. Four generations of Foresters have splashed through streams and climbed muddy hills to take their owners on adventures far away from it all.

This year marks the dawn of the fifth-generation Forester. It’s new from the ground up. The 2019 model sports fresh sheet metal and rides on the Subaru Global Platform, which was designed to enhance the Forester’s agility, safety, comfort, and quietness. Thanks to a longer wheelbase, it’s roomier inside for passengers and able to carry more of their stuff.

Five trim levels are available: base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring. Even in its most budget-friendly form, the Forester offers features that include Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, LED headlights, automatic climate control, a space-saving electronic parking brake, the Subaru Starlink multimedia system with 6.5-inch screen, Trailer Stability Assist, Active Torque Vectoring, and the EyeSight suite of driver assist technologies. The new Sport variant gets special styling inside and out, and upgrades that make it more engaging to drive. The DriverFocus system, which, according to Subaru, “uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction and provides an audio and visual warning to alert the driver,” is standard equipment on the Forester Touring. Certain trim levels are available with an eight-inch multimedia system and the same setup with TomTom navigation.

No matter which Forester you pick, it’ll have a new, more powerful version of Subaru’s signature 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine under the hood. That’s connected to a Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission.

I recently spent a week in a 2019 Forester Sport. I thought I knew everything to expect from it because I had read Subaru’s press kit on the all-new model. I was wrong. Once I got behind the wheel, I made a few pleasant discoveries about the newest iteration of one of Subaru’s most beloved models.

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester Sport Exterior

Whenever a company redesigns a popular model, it can be challenging to make it look both new and recognizable at the same time. I would say Subaru succeeded with the Forester. It’s simultaneously fresh and familiar. You can see Forester DNA in its hexagonal grille, chiseled headlight casings, pronounced wheel arches, and greenhouse profile.

The Sport model is new to the Forester lineup and is both understated and eye-catching. A gloss black grille frame, black 18-inch wheels, and a black roof spoiler made my Crystal Black Silica test vehicle look even sleeker while orange accents on the front and rear fascias, roof rails, and lower body side cladding – designed to protect the Forester from rocks, mud, and other debris - added pops of color.

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester Sport Interior

One thing that’s always impressed me about the Subaru vehicles I’ve tested is just how well-equipped they are. My Sport press loaner was no exception. Keyless entry and start made getting in and going quick and hassle-free. I didn’t have to keep my foot on the brake pedal at stop lights because the Auto Vehicle Hold feature did it for me. Heated front seats kept me and my girlfriend warm when we ran errands on cold mornings. A panoramic power moonroof made the cabin feel larger and more upscale.

A pair of stacked screens told me everything I needed to know while on the move. The top display showed me things such as my fuel economy, which safety systems were engaged, and the local weather forecast. The lower eight-inch screen allowed me to change the AM, FM, HD Radio, SiriusXM or Pandora radio station and place calls, check messages, and use the maps function on my iPhone through the standard Apple CarPlay feature (Android Auto is also standard).

I particularly enjoyed the Forester Sport’s cool grey mesh seating fabric, contrast stitching, and orange accents around the HVAC vents and shifter. Kudos to Subaru for trying something sporty and different.

The Forester’s longer 105.1-inch wheelbase increases rear legroom by 1.4 inches. That may not sound like much, but believe me, it is. While spending time with my girlfriend Eli, her cousin Bethany, and her cousin’s boyfriend Logan, I was pleased to find out just how roomy the backseat was. I’m 5’10” and had no problem “sitting behind myself” in the rear driver’s-side seat. What really impressed me was that Logan, who’s 6’2”, was able to fit comfortably in the second row.

There was plenty of space behind the back seats, too. According to Subaru, “The 2019 Forester design increases cargo space to 76.1 cu. ft. with the 60:40 split rear seatbacks lowered, a gain of 1.9 cu. ft.” The maximum width of the rear liftgate is now 5.3 inches broader than before (for a total width of 51.3 inches), which means you can fit a full-size golf bag in the rear cargo hold of the Forester without having to tilt it.

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester Sport Performance

The 2019 Forester’s revised 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine has been tuned to deliver more power than before. Horsepower has increased by 12 to 182; torque has gone up from 174 to 176 lb-ft. That’s routed through a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. True to its name, my Sport tester had paddle shifters and a sport transmission mode that Subaru calibrated to simulate a seven-speed manual gearbox.

All Foresters come with the SI-DRIVE performance management system that allows you to choose one of two drive modes: Intelligent for smooth throttle response and better fuel economy, and Sport (called Sport Sharp in the Forester Sport) for maximum throttle response and performance.

The Forester is no stranger to off-road driving. Its X-Mode system with Hill Descent Control optimizes a variety of vehicle systems to help the Forester travel over slippery surfaces and steep inclines with ease. Subaru upgraded it for 2019 by giving X-Mode two different settings that help it conquer more types of conditions: Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud.

When it’s on its best behavior (and its driver is, too), the Forester is capable of getting 26 city, 33 highway, and 29 combined mpg.** I did a lot of suburban driving and let the Forester idle while I was taking pictures of it, so I averaged 27.1.

The Forester Sport launched from stoplights with a satisfying amount of urgency. What pleased me even more was just how tight the steering felt and how buttoned-down the suspension seemed. It was as if Subaru built an SUV out of a sport sedan.

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester Sport Safety

Without any of its options boxes ticked, the Forester Sport is equipped with a variety of safety technologies, such as an array of airbags (including one for the driver’s knees), Brake Assist for maximum stopping force in emergencies, automatic high beams, a tire pressure monitoring system, a rearview camera, and Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology. Subaru bundles a variety of safety features into that, such as Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist, and an alert that tells you when the vehicle in front of you at a stop has moved forward.

My Sport media special had the optional Blind-Spot Detection with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert combo and Reverse Automatic Braking to keep me from bumping into something when I reversed out of my driveway or a parking spot.

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester Sport Overall

It’s safe to say the fifth generation of the Subaru Forester is off to a fine start. The 2019 model was as enjoyable as I thought it would be and sportier and roomier than I expected. To find out for yourself just how good the all-new Forester is, visit an AutoNation Subaru dealership. Prices start at $24,295*; my Forester Sport review vehicle had an as-tested price of $31,815.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

Categories: Test Drive Reviews