Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 2, 2020
It can be tricky to review and evaluate a new Subaru Forester. That’s because year after year, Subaru is methodical and careful about revising its popular products, to the point where it ends up being more of the same ol’ thing. Sure it gets modern updates, added tech, and creature comforts but according to Subaru, their owners hate change. They just want the same dependable, reliable, and effective automotive tools that Subaru has been providing for years.
The same holds true with the new 2020 Forester. It’s much of the same, for better or worse. The interior has been carried over from 2019, which already received a large overhaul, and remains a sparse but well-appointed place to spend time in. The brown leather as part of the Premier trim did make it more visually appealing. Subaru has also added a few standard features for this year, including the entire EyeSight suite of safety and driver assistance systems, as well as a rear-seat reminder much like in GM vehicles, that will alert you to check the back if it senses weight on the seats. Subaru has also added Starlink Connected that includes 4G LTE connectivity, emergency services, and smartphone features to enable remote start and locking. They do not change anything fundamental about the Forester, but are welcome additions nevertheless even with the slight hike in the starting price.
Outward visibility is, almost signature now of Subarus, excellent from all directions. The huge windshield, thin A-pillars, tall windows, and a high-up driving position assist in that airy cabin feeling. For previous owners, the true appreciation of this is only apparent when you step out of the Forester and into something else. Only then do you begin to realize just how important outward visibility has become for commuting safety, and why Forester owners don’t like change.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is larger, higher definition, and more responsive than the unit in 2018 models, now coming with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, along with Bluetooth audio and USB inputs. The X-Mode button (that controls driving modes for various terrains), which was previously very small, has now morphed into a large dial and relocated straight to the middle of the center console. My guess is that less than 10% of Forester owners will ever touch that dial, so I have no idea why it takes up such real estate when it could have been dedicated to more cup holders and storage bins instead. Perhaps Subaru is trying hard to maintain the Forester’s public image of a go-anywhere kind of SUV. That said, there’s still a hefty amount of road noise that seeps into the cabin (also a criticism of previous Foresters), and you can’t help but feel like you’re surrounded by very thin walls. The audio system is the same cheap iteration that lacks bass and fails to deliver crisp notes. And with cabin insulation already below par, podcasts or news stations can become a monotonous fuzz of sounds, more notably at highway speeds.
The Forester has consistently aced the safety department. Subaru’s suite of safety features, aptly named EyeSight, now comes standard on all trims, whereas the base and Convenience models were previously left out in 2019. It includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist. There’s even a feature called Lead Vehicle Start Alert, which will ping and notify you on the instrument cluster that the vehicle ahead has started accelerating, and for you to get a move on. Another neat and standard feature is the rear camera washer, which will spray fluid on the rear camera so you can have a clear and unobstructed view, handy for those slushy winter days.
The powertrain remains a sore spot in the Forester lineup, but I don’t think many Subaru owners share the same sentiment. All Foresters receive the same 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder that produces 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque through a CVT and a standard full-time all-wheel drive system. Propulsive force is weak, giving you little overtaking confidence on highways, and last-minute sprints become premeditated events. We really miss the turbocharged engine, and the buzzing and bland CVT doesn’t help the cause either. Further, the start/stop system is incredibly intrusive, and shudders the vehicle every time the engine wakes from its slumber. I’d recommend turning and keeping it off even if it does waste marginally more fuel.
Despite being much of the same year after year, the Subaru Forester remains an honest and effective family-hauling SUV. Subaru played it safe by building on the Forester’s core strengths, but it ultimately fails to address some of its dynamic shortcomings such as the top-heavy ride that becomes unnerving at higher speeds, bland CVT transmission, and subpar engine output. It remains less of an emotional purchase and more of a logical one, lacking forward-thinking innovation and resting on its laurels with a proven design, reliable all-wheel drive system, and attractive price tag. For loyal Subaru owners, that should be enough. For everyone else, it wouldn’t hurt to cross shop with the more refined Toyota RAV4, or the perennially popular Honda CR-V.
Model: 2020 Subaru Forester Premier
Paint Type: Horizon Blue Pearl
Base Price: $39,995
Price as Tested: $39,995
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,625 / 1,815 / 1,730
Curb weight (kg): 1,610
Engine: 2.5-litre boxer-four
Horsepower: 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.0 / 7.2 / 8.2
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.2