New Car Previews

Preview: 2019 Subaru Forester

The all-new 2019 Subaru Forester making its debut at the New York International Auto Show will take a decidedly familial turn, with an increased focus on safety, emotional connection, and spaciousness. New for 2019 is the Sport trim level, which forgoes the 2.0L turbo engine of the current XT models.

Enthusiasts may be disappointed to see the powerful and fun 2.0-litre turbo disappear, but Canadian officials say the pricier turbo was always a much slower seller.

Instead, all 2019 Foresters will have an all-new 2.5-litre flat-four engine with direct injection and auto stop-start to help save fuel, while producing a more powerful 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. It will come attached to a new CVT transmission for increased fuel efficiency (no official figures available yet), but will also be available with a seven-step manual mode. And of course, it will still offer symmetrical all-wheel drive as standard.

The Forester is one of Subaru’s most popular models in Canada, and it is aiming to offer more technology for less money in the hyper-competitive compact SUV class. It will introduce a new feature called DriverFocus, which uses a camera and facial recognition software to study the driver’s face, and warn the driver if it detects fatigue or distraction behind the wheel. The system can also be set up to recognize up to five drivers, and can adjust the steering wheel, mirrors, climate controls, and other driver preferences as soon as they enter the vehicle – though it won’t go as far as individualizing radio station presets for each driving family member, said company officials.

The camera for DriverFocus is tucked away at the top of the centre instrument panel to help maintain the expansive view out of the Forester that owners have come to appreciate, said general product manager and “father” of the Forester, Tomoyuki Nunome.

“There were two inspirations we had with this new Forester,” he said. “One, the more emotional one, was the importance of family; second, was the spirit of adventure.” The vehicle was lengthened by 19 mm to provide more space for the occupants, with a 28 mm wheelbase stretch to provide more rear seat and cargo room, he said.

Unlike in the US, the Forester in Canada is not planned to come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system, unfortunately. Canadian officials say they wanted to provide a compact SUV that came standard with all-wheel drive that competed closely price-wise with front-wheel-drive versions of this segment’s top sellers – vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. So while no official pricing will be announced until closer to launch this fall, that’s a fairly substantial clue of how it will land in market.

Enthusiasts may be disappointed to see the powerful and fun 2.0-litre turbo disappear, but Canadian officials say the pricier turbo was always a much slower seller. So it will now fall to the new Sport line to help attract younger buyers, primarily with its more aggressive styling, with Nunome saying there were extensive efforts to upgrade the engine and suspension for handling upgrades on all models, Sport and otherwise.

What the Sport does offer is a unique Sport# setting on the console, which allows non-Sport drivers to choose from Sport (S) and Intelligent (I) modes. There’s also a new X-Mode that offers a Dirt/Snow and a Deep Snow/Mud mode, for when the going gets rough and very rough, respectively.

Styling-wise, the Forester sports a more aggressive face, w/large LEDs in a C-shape and in the larger lower air intakes on higher trim models. The look is angrier, though not quite as much as the 2019 Toyota RAV4, also announced today. But even exterior styling was planned with a family-friendly, “cocooning” focus in mind, said its chief designer at the show, Toru Ozeki.

“We wanted to show the spaciousness of the interior with the exterior design,” he said. “We went with a modern cubic design ethos, with bulging fenders out at the rear for a more SUV-like stance.”

Inside, there’s more of a wraparound feel to the dash, with more padding on all outboard positions, front and back, he said. There are also new features back there to make rear passengers more comfortable, such as USB ports, cupholders, and places to store cell phones and tablets. And Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be standard on all versions.

The advanced EyeSight system will continue to be a key selling feature for the Forester, with features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warning, lane-keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, blind spot detection with lane-change assist, and rear traffic alert. It’s an extensive safety list designed to uphold and further its many IIHS and NHTSA safety recognitions, as well as separate it from the compact SUV pack. Subaru of America president and CEO Tom Doll saying that there’s no SUV to offer such an advanced safety system “for under $70,000 US.”