2020 Subaru Forester Review: The Safety-First, Can’t-Go-Wrong-Buying-One Compact SUV

The 2020 Subaru Forester will likely not be the North American Car of the Year. (More probably the likes of the Audi e-Tron or Hyundai Palisade.) But for Subaru partisans who want safety, room for passengers and cargo, and rugged reliability, the Forester is the car of most every recent year. Even without 48-volt hybrid motors or active body control, the fifth-generation Forester brings a load of standard safety equipment that makes this the ideal small crossover/SUV for people who don’t a need a car to be their status symbol. It is fun to drive, feels safe in lousy weather (and is safe) thanks to the standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, and carries adults comfortably on long trips.

Even with a larger engine, acceleration is not the Forester’s strong point. Nor is trailer towing, and even with the $ 36K Forester Touring that is the top trim line, luxury is a relative term. On the flip side, most of the interior finishes on most of the trim lines are enhanced from earlier generations but don’t mind getting dirty. And they’re easy to clean up after that kayaking-and-camping weekend trip.

On the Road With the Forester

The newest Forester continues as a two-row, five-passenger compact SUV, roughly the same size as the top-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, and the best-in-class (our opinion) Mazda CX-5. It rides well and four adults are comfortable on long trips thanks to a relatively upright seating position. If you go off-road (not rock-climbing off-roading), you’ll appreciate the above-average ground clearance. Acceleration is easygoing, about 9 seconds 0-60 mph from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, non-turbo, 182 hp engine (it replaced the last generation’s 2.0-liter turbo), but it pays off in highway mileage in the middle 30s. The continuously variable transmission has a Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) knob on the console so you can choose between Intelligent for smoother acceleration and higher economy, and Sport (Sport Sharp on the Sport model).

Some other cars in its class are quieter on the highway. Even on the top trim line, the tires are reasonably tall, 60 or 55 series profile — more sidewall, less alloy-wheel than a, say, 50-series tire — and provide adequate pothole protection.

Forester multi-information display. Car icon lamps glow red when the car brakes.

The Forester has three displays: an 8.5- or 6.5-inch center stack display, a secondary display atop the center stack, and a multi-information display in the instrument panel that tries to cram a lot of information into a smallish space. Infotainment is easy to use if you skim that part of the manual. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. The audio systems have four, six, or with the Harman Kardon premium option, nine speakers.

Every Forester comes with a stereoscopic camera system called EyeSight that takes the place of radar-plus-single-camera systems on other cars. This EyeSight is significantly enhanced from the EyeSight system of the previous generation Forester that didn’t match radar-based systems for distance. EyeSight provides stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane centering assist (lane keep assist on 2019 Foresters), and forward collision warning/mitigation (emergency braking). Blind-spot detection is optional, not standard. The top-line Forester actively monitors driver distraction via the DriverFocus system that tracks what the driver is looking at, and if it’s not the road ahead, after a few seconds of inattention DriverFocus warns, then scolds. It may be that active monitoring — yes, what seems to be Big Brother technology — is what we need to reduce the number of accidents and fatal accidents that appear to have increased as texting and phone-gazing have gained popularity. There are currently no self-parking assists on the Forester.

Some of the switchgear and instrumentation takes getting used to, meaning it’s a bit different from what’s on other cars. I’ve been a fan, in the abstract, of putting more information on the multi-information display (MID), the one between the speedometer and tachometer. Why do you have to switch MID screens to see a digital speedometer, the odometer, the trip computer, and the outside temperature when it could be all on a single screen? The Forester MID packs in a lot of information and I found it almost too much information. It’s unclear if that was my initial reaction to the display, or whether a different presentation of the information or a larger MID would help. But it was nice to have the ability to place some information, such as EyeSight status, in the additional eyebrow display at the top of the center stack.

If you want massaging seats ventilated front seats, the latter of which are coming to mainstream SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5, they have not yet reached the Forester. Heated rears are on the Forester’s top trim line.

Front of the Subaru Forester Limited, one of two Foresters with leather trim, the only to offer Saddle Brown.

Subaru Forester Models

There are five trim lines or model variants. Every one includes Subaru EyeSight and LED headlamps. The fifth-generation Forester began with the 2019 model and the mostly modest changes for 2020 comprise an EyeSight upgrade (this one actually not so modest) that makes the lane-keep system self-centering, thus giving the car a measure of autonomous driving. Also for 2020, the tire pressure monitoring system tracks individual tire pressures, all trim lines get an LED license plate light, and there’s a rear-seat reminder so you don’t forget to take your kids out of the car at trip’s end. In acceleration, fuel economy, and driving/riding comfort, the 2019 and 2020 are the same: an excellent 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, 29 mpg combined on regular gas. 

Forester Base ($ 25,505 including $ 1,010 freight). You’ll find the base model a little too modestly equipped and probably hard to find at the local dealer. The driver’s seat adjusts manually and neither front seat is heated, onboard telematics isn’t offered, the audio has just four speakers, and wheels are 17-inch steel. And you can’t get blind spot detection, even as an option. The only option is aluminum alloy wheels and roof rails. Bypass this model.

Forester Premium ($ 28,405). It gets alloy wheels standard along with many small touches such as a power not manual adjustable driver’s seat, power moonroof, heated front seats, a somewhat-reclining back seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless access, six audio speakers, telematics and a Wi-Fi hotspot, optional blind-spot detection, optional color screen for the MID, and the option of rear-seat USB jacks.

Forester Sport ($ 30,005). This is the sportiest trim line, Subaru says, and the seats have orange stitching accents. You get 18-inch wheels instead of 17s, fog lights using LED illumination, and a color MID. Sport and above have dual-function X-Mode that adds settings for snow, dirt, and mud.

Forester Limited ($ 32,105). Adaptive headlamps come standard, and this affords the trim line the highest IIHS safety rating. Leather upholstery is also available. While the price is more than the Sport, the fog lamps have been downgraded from LED to halogen. Go figure.

Forester Touring ($ 36,605). The $ 3,500 bump over the Limited, $ 10,100 over Forester Base, gets you Saddle Brown leather seating, 10-way driver / 8-way passenger power seats, and an all-weather package with heated rear as well as front seats. Most of all, it gets you (standard) the DriverFocus distraction mitigation system. And the fog lamps are back to LED illumination.

What you save on the car, you can put into a nicer house.

Should You Buy?

Subaru owners will happily talk your ear off about their cars. Word-of-mouth is part of Subaru’s success: JD Power’s first-ever US Automotive Brand Loyalty Study pegs Subaru No. 1 at 61.5 percent brand loyalty (buying the same brand again), ahead of Toyota (59.5 percent) and Honda (57.7 percent). (Interestingly, luxury buyers are more fickle. Top-ranked Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW are all in the mid- to high 40s.) Subaru loyalty has paid off in 93 months, almost eight years, of consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains. No other automaker has done that.

FWIW: The Forester rates near the very top of Consumer Reports’ rankings, receiving an overall score of 89 points, exceeded only by the Toyota Avalon (98, Avalon probably missing a perfect 10 on the Excitement segment), Subaru Ascent SUV (96) and Kia Telluride (90), and matched only by the BMW 2 Series and Lincoln Continental. It is the cheapest of the top half-dozen by $ 6,500 (Ascent)-$ 22,000 (Continental). One CR fave, the now-aged Tesla Model S, has slipped to 78.

The Forester’s strong points are ruggedness on the road and over the years (97 percent of Subarus sold in the last 10 years are still on the road, the company says), good interior space, good infotainment, an improved interior, standard all-wheel-drive, Eyesight being on every Forester sold, and high safety scores. Downsides are blind spot detection not being standard, so-so acceleration, the 1,500-pound towing capacity when some (a minority) of mainstream compacts tow up 3,500-4,000 pounds, and the sense that even with the top Touring trim, there ought to be one trim line beyond that really dazzles you with high-level cockpit furnishings. The only advantage to the 2020 Forester over the 2019 Forester is the higher-level lane-keeping feature.

The 2020 Subaru Outback: More of a raised wagon than an SUV, slightly larger with a V6, and $ 2K more expensive.

No matter what compact SUV you’re leaning toward, you should test-drive the Forester. Its main competition often is the sibling Subaru Outback. The two seem alike and have the same ground clearance. The Forester is a small SUV, while the Outback is a small station wagon wearing flood pants; that is, it’s raised more than the usual wagon. The Outback is slightly larger inside and out, has a V6 engine instead of the Forester’s four-cylinder, and costs about $ 2,000 more. Compared with the Subaru Crosstrek, the Crosstrek is cheaper, much shorter, has less passenger and cargo space, and is more hatchback than SUV.

Forester back seat (there is no third row) is quite comfortable for adults.

Outside the Subaru brand, the Honda CR-V most closely matches up to the Forester, including class-leading fuel economy. (Hybrid SUVs will be better.) Both have a lot of cargo space. Drivers will find the CR-V sportier and the infotainment system less pleasing because of the limited number of physical buttons and knobs (one total). The Honda Sensing safety system, equivalent to EyeSight, is not on the cheapest model. Like Forester, blind spot detection is optional. All-wheel-drive is optional. The Toyota RAV4, new as of the 2019 model, offers an affordable hybrid version that is barely $ 800 more than the equivalent gasoline model,  drives smoothly on road, and AWD is optional (standard on the hybrid). Toyota added an off-road-focused Adventure model; like Forester Sport, it has bold upholstery stitching. The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite is standard; blind-spot monitoring is optional on two entry trim lines, standard above that.

The current Nissan Rogue dates to the 2014 model year (with a 2017 refresh), has a great surround camera system (optional), so-so engine performance, and an aging infotainment system. But the interior is reasonably spacious, and driver assists comparable to Subaru’s come standard. The next-gen Rogue is a year away. Note the Rogue Sport is a subcompact. The Chevrolet Equinox is often aggressively priced, and when every SUV today is not bad, that’s a big factor. The next-generation, 2020 Ford Escape ships shortly and appears to be serious competition for other compact SUVs. Escape drivetrains include three- and four-cylinder turbos and a hybrid. Some models have a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and if you change modes, the IP erupts to a vibrant or annoying (take your pick) animation.

The best compact SUV for most buyers is the Mazda CX-5, which represents half of Mazda’s US sales. The CX-5 is the sportiest on-road compact available and Mazda’s optional i-Activ intelligent all-wheel drive is at least a match for Subaru’s. Ground clearance, at 7.5 inches, is 1.2 inches less than the Forester’s and fuel economy isn’t as good. The rear cargo bay is less roomy than the Forester’s. The top trim lines, Touring and the turbocharged Signature ($ 38,000), are a class above the other mainstream SUVs, and reliability is rock solid based on recent Power and Consumer Reports ratings. If you’re doing a lot of driving on dirt roads, the Subaru is preferable but the Mazda will do okay. If you stick to paved roads and enjoy twisty back roads, or you want cabin treatments that compete against Audi for ten grand less, then go with Mazda.

A number of reviewers say the Forester Premium trim, one up from the entry model, has about all tech and safety gear you need. Maybe. It does integrate telematics when you get into an accident. But if you want max safety, especially if you have teens who text when they’re not supposed to, or you’re helping an aging parent buy, you want the top-line Forester Touring. DriverFocus is a powerful safety tool to reduce distracted driving, and the combination of brighter adaptive headlamps and LED fog lamps are only at the top. So if there’s a Forester flaw, it’s the lack of a midgrade trim like Sport, but instead of orange stitching and trim, it rolls every Subaru safety feature — DriverFocus, steerable headlamps, dual-function X-Mode — into a car that doesn’t also charge for leather upholstery, which you may not want, or navigation that you may need when you can connect your phone.

The bottom line on Subaru’s Forester is that if you buy it, you’ll probably love it.

Now read:

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech