Categories: Wheels Picks

Forester: Capable, capacious all-rounder

The 2019 Subaru Forester needs little introduction. Taking it through an extensive drive in the city, it’s more capable, comfortable, and refined than any of its predecessors. It’s not going to win titles like “Best Dressed” or “Most Athletic” of the compact crossover lot, but after a lengthy conversation with it (this time with a drive up and down La Union), it comes across as an impressive all-rounder. It’s the crossover that woos you, not after the first date, but perhaps after a series of dates behind the wheel.

Much of what sets the Forester apart from others in its segment is in the way it remains geared towards the outdoorsy type.

Getting over the fact that the fifth-generation Forester has given up the turbo doesn’t make it less capable. Time this around, Subaru emphasizes a quality experience over the quantity of power, and it’s shown by how performance is accessible by just about anyone.

As a group with a diverse mix of age and experience (from the young millennial to the certified tito), the Forester needs to make each driver feel comfortable. Here, Subaru does the job by creating a cabin that’s ergonomically sound and immediately approachable. Each control knob or button is where it needs to be, and can be operated by intuition. Then, there’s the ergonomics. Getting the right driving position is easy thanks to the sheer number of adjustments available.

Each control knob or button is where it needs to be, and can be operated by intuition.

The aforementioned qualities may be obvious by sitting in one at the showroom, but it’s on the road where the Forester truly shines. Driving one is like having coffee with a friend who you haven’t seen in a long while: there’s absolutely no awkwardness, only instant connection. With the large greenhouse all around, it doesn’t just lend an airy feel to the cabin, but it also minimizes blind spots. Together with the high-set hood, there’s heightened confidence when tackling traffic.

The SUV boasts 500mm water wading depth and 220mm ground clearance.

It also feels extremely solid, like a true lifelong companion. Not only is it fuss-free, but it rarely speaks up with its impressive NVH. Coupled with the softer suspension, it can glide through life’s problems, like ruts and potholes with little problem soaking them effectively. Despite its newfound strength, it feels obedient through corners. The chassis it’s connected to is also neutral and obedient making it a pleasant choice to take through a winding road. There’s also far more grip now, especially when pushed the extra bit offering a great feeling of control and security.

If there’s one area for improvement though, it’s still the Forester’s drivetrain. While the 2.0-liter engine may be alright for the Impreza and Subaru XV, here it feels strained. It may be great for the daily drive or even the occasional highway cruising, but push it and it won’t feel as enthusiastic. Dipping the throttle or engaging the SI-DRIVE may wring out more performance, but the engine always responds with a less-than-enthusiastic shove.

While drivers get an accessible drive, the rest of the passengers can enjoy the capacious and well-featured interior. The airiness is supplemented by a cabin that’s grown in every dimension. Not only are the front seats wider and more supportive, but the rear delivers the segment’s head- and legroom too. The climate control (along with the Forester’s first-ever rear A/C vents) cool the cabin despite the relentless summer heat while the ultra-wide loading bay can swallow cargo and gear for four people without a fuss.

Much of what sets the Forester apart from others in its segment is in the way it remains geared towards the outdoorsy type. It simply refuses to be built for the urban confines, allowing instead a generous heaping of off-road capability. For the most part, it can take on tougher body-on-frame SUVs, evidenced by some older-generation models tackling the trails going up Mt. Pinatubo. However, it’s not just about sheer numbers (though it delivers well in that front—500mm water wading depth, 220mm ground clearance), but it’s how this performance remains accessible to even the most novice driver.

Shunning complex locking differentials, the Forester relies on one magic button: X-MODE. Here, the various electronics from the throttle, the transmission, and even the all-wheel drive torque split and traction control management are adjusted to maximize grip and traction. True enough, even drivers with little off-road experience have successfully traversed a river and even some challenging trails during this drive. Getting endeared with the Forester’s qualities fits in with a good Hollywood movie trope—you know, the plot where best friends fall in love when they least expect to. The feelings aren’t immediate (or mutual), and even if they are, it’s not always going to be hot and sticky. All in all, the Forester gives off a sense of familiarity and security. It’s the crossover that’ll always have your back, will never lead you on, and will always give you an ending that’s happily ever after.

Manny De Los Reyes

Manny de los Reyes, motoring editor of wheels.ph as well as its print edition, has been writing about cars since 1995. His life has been deeply intertwined with cars, having cleaned and maintained the family cars as a teenager, operating a paint shop and entering national car shows in college, before joining Nissan after graduation. He handled car brands as a copywriter afterwards. Today, when he's not testing or writing about cars or attending motoring events, he is home reading novels or playing with his shih tzu.

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