A rare example of form following function
THE GOOD
  • Roomy
  • Smooth ride
  • Full-time AWD
THE BAD
  • Could use more power
  • Engine sounds coarse when pressed
  • Nagging driver attention warning
2020 Subaru Forester Review

The Subaru Forester was redesigned for 2019, so there isn’t much new for 2020.

Nonetheless, a week in the loaded Premier model proved how this spacious and capable crossover benefits from extra features and a dash of luxury. With its standard full-time all-wheel drive, the Forester is so sensible it hurts (in a good way), and equipped with proper winter tires, it goes through winter conditions like Christmas tinsel through a dog.

Styling: 7/10

The Forester has never been what one would call stylish, but if boxy and purposeful float your boat then this upright Subie will appeal to your aesthetic sensibilities. It’s chunky and angular, and here in Premier trim, gets polished 18-inch alloys, extra chrome and silver painted garnish, vertical LED fog lights, LED accent lighting, a premium grille, and a stainless-steel rear bumper step pad. Factor in the Horizon Blue Pearl paint and you’ve the best-dressed packing crate around.

Safety: 9.5/10

The 2020 Subaru Forester fares very well with the two top independent automotive safety institutions, earning the top five-star safety rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick+ from Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). Credit the strength and energy-absorbing design of the Subaru Global Platform vehicle architecture, available steering-responsive headlights, and standard EyeSight safety suite that includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-centring assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and lead vehicle start alert.

To this, the Premier adds blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, those steering-responsive headlights, and Subaru’s driver monitoring system that flashes a warning on the screen if the driver-facing camera with facial recognition software senses distraction. It is perhaps a tad too diligent, however; it hasn’t learned that scratching your nose or adjusting your toque doesn’t count as distraction.

An inherent safety feature of the Forester is its excellent outward visibility due to the low beltline, slim pillars, and tall greenhouse.

Practicality: 9/10

This is another area where the Forester holds plenty of cards. The wide hatch opening reveals 1,002 L of usable cargo space behind the rear seats, and thanks to the Forester’s upright architecture, there’s no sloping rear roofline – good news for tall items and big dogs. Fold down the 60/40-split rear seat and cargo capacity expands to a capacious 2,155 L. I made good use of the Forester’s practicality, hauling musical equipment, tires and yes, a big dog.

Getting in and out of the Forester is a breeze thanks to its big door openings and high roofline. Headroom in the airy cabin is Marge Simpson blue-coif grade.

With clever full-time all-wheel drive and 220 mm of ground clearance, the Forester will handle just about anything you can throw at it. Selectable X-Mode (bundled with a hill descent control) manages parameters of throttle, brakes, and stability control to maximize traction on slippery surfaces.

User Friendliness: 8.5/10

Effortless ingress and good outward visibility combine with sensible ergonomics to make the Forester an easy crossover to live with on a day-to-day basis. The re-done dash (for 2019) shows pleasing design and good build quality, but most importantly it offers a logical array of buttons and knobs for accessing most functions. No menu-diving for such things as the heated seats and steering wheel, audio volume, or radio station tuning. The Premier gets an eight-inch touchscreen, which is clear and quick to respond.

The good old-fashioned analogue shift lever takes any guesswork out ofgear selection. The smaller dashtop screen that sits above the main eight-inch display shows HVAC settings, time, and outside temperature, along with a number of selectable displays (trip info, fuel economy, etc).

Overall, operating the Forester is easy, intuitive, and unlike with many new vehicle interfaces, minimally distracting.

Features: 9/10

This being the top-shelf Premier trim, Subaru throws in everything it’s got. As noted above, the comprehensive EyeSight safety suite bolstered by blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, steering headlights, and distraction mitigation make this the most protective ute in the segment.

The eight-inch infotainment system includes navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and satellite radio all running through a decent – although not outstanding – nine-speaker Harman Kardon stereo.

Dressing up the cabin is contrasting silver stitching on the dash, console, and doors; and the seats are trimmed with Premier-exclusive saddle brown leather. While there’s no ventilation for the front seats, they are both powered, while the driver gets memory functionality, and the rear seats are heated. There is also a pair of rear-seat USB ports.

Power: 6/10

Urge from the 182-hp, 176 lb-ft 2.5L flat-four – mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) – is adequate, even sprightly around town, but this naturally aspirated engine runs out of steam once speeds increase. Passing and highway merging take some advanced planning, and when working hard, the engine sounds strained and coarse. Certainly not a deal-breaker, as the redesigned Toyota RAV4 (segment best-seller) is no better in this regard. Conversely, the Honda CR-V with its turbocharged 1.5L four is smooth, punchy, and relaxed.

The previously available turbocharged 2.0L flat-four that turned the Forester into a bit of a hot-rod was struck from the menu for its 2019 makeover.

Comfort: 8.5/10

The Forester’s front seats are nicely contoured and have well-calibrated heat settings that won’t be frying your Levis on their lowest setting (a too-common fault, we find). Second-row seating is spacious, and while the cushions are a bit firm, there is a recline function in the Premier.

Ride quality is impressively plush in the Forester; it effortlessly absorbs most road imperfections without transmitting unwanted noise into the cabin. And when not asking for brisk acceleration, the engine/CVT combo settles into low-rpm calmness, making highway cruising a relaxing affair.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The trade-off for the Forester’s aforementioned compliant ride quality is slightly tippy handling, yet it’s a trade-off we’re happy to make. Sure, the ute’s steering could use more feel, but overall, the Forester is composed and predictable as it negotiates the day-to-day grind. The adaptive cruise control feels natural and well calibrated, avoiding excessive throttle or brake applications.

One last gasp of winter in Southern Ontario allowed the Forester to show off its prowess in snow. Subaru’s full-time all-wheel drive is one of the better systems around, and the fact that it doesn’t draw attention to itself while imbuing this crossover with a sense of confidence and poise drives that point home (and drives me home in a snowstorm).

Fuel Economy: 8.5/10

A benefit of the Forester’s less-than-stellar power reserves (and CVT transmission) is the resulting impressive fuel economy. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the 2020 Forester at 9.0 L/100 km city, 7.2 L/100 km highway, and 8.2 L/100 km combined, which lines up (give or take a few points) with all-wheel drive versions of top sellers like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. My week of admittedly relaxed driving netted a heart-warming 8.6 L/100 km.

Value: 8.5/10

Priced just under the top-trim levels of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Forester Premier offers very good value when considering it doubles down on safety tech and all-weather capability. Its handling might not be as sharp as those Ontario-built stalwarts, but the Forester trumps them in comfort and ride quality, which for many could be a more meaningful parameter.

The Verdict

Subarus have long been famous for being quirky, and while this Japanese automaker’s products have been steadily marching towards the mainstream in recent years, there’s still a charming uniqueness, and yes, slight quirkiness that carries forward.

The Forester shuns contemporary style with its crate-like dimensions, and we are the better for it, enjoying capacious haulage capacity and unparalleled outward visibility. Subaru is not trying to make this ute handle like a sports car, and we are better for it, taking pleasure in a plush ride. The flat-four is no powerhouse, but hooked to the CVT, it returns impressive fuel economy, especially when considering the Forester’s full-time all-wheel-drive. And we can’t help but feel Subaru really wants to take care of us as we peruse the laundry list of safety features and see the top marks from IIHS and NHTSA. For those in the market for a compact SUV with all the trimmings, the 2020 Subaru Forester is worth a long look.

A rare example of form following function 6/12/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2020 Subaru Forester Premier
Engine Cylinders H4   Base Price $39,995
Peak Horsepower 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm   Destination Fee $1,725
Fuel Economy 9.0/7.2/8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $41,820
Cargo Space 1,002/2,155 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None