THE 2019 SUBARU FORESTER debuts the company’s DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System; by means of advanced eye-tracking technology the car can detect driver fatigue, distraction or, more likely, boredom. I assume it can also detect the moment when the driver slips into a trance due to the ensorcelling drone of the engine… Ommmmmm.
While many parts of this car are stimulating—the price/feature matrix for the Forester Touring ($35,270, as tested) is flat-out awesome—the performance from the 2.5-liter, 182-hp flat-four and continuously variable transmission (CVT) feels pretty somnambulant. A system that detects drowsiness seems like a self-inflicted wound.
Obviously, I’m in favor of anything that keeps distracted Mother Earthers from plowing into the traffic ahead. But I must say a safety system based on eye movement is surprisingly intimate, even intrusive. I noticed when I was driving with my wife that the system would register my eyerolls during conversation and throw a warning indicator on the dash: “Keep Eyes on Road.” Tina was like, Uh-huh, see? Car, don’t you start with me.
This is the fifth design generation of the Forester since model-year 1998, long enough for children conceived in a first-gen Forester—that magical night in Yosemite, remember?—to grow up and buy their own (driving mom and dad’s old one would be weird). It’s tempting to call that Forester the template of the ka-jillions of crossover SUVs to come, but of course nobody else went on to build cars with this particular Venn diagram of attributes: full-time, mechanical all-wheel drive; ample snow-busting ground clearance; a front-mounted horizontally opposed engine providing a lower center of gravity; and better road-holding character.
Subaru owns this whole vehicle conception, which has carried the company through a record 83 consecutive months of month-over sales increases, with the second-highest owner brand loyalty in the industry after Toyota, according to Edmunds.com. These are the stones of Subaru’s fortress.
But the quirky IP sort of owns Subaru too. Because of the brand’s mechanical distinctiveness, the cars are harder to evolve and so risk technical irrelevancy in a market pursuing low and no emissions.
Example: Like almost all Subies, the Forester has a robust all-wheel drive system, comprising an electro-hydraulically actuated center differential splitting torque and sending it to the front and rear axles at all times. Fabulous, unbeatable, best in the business. The problem is that such a system incurs higher frictional losses than a typical part-time, on-demand AWD system, and that reduces mileage. The new Forester’s average fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg combined, and it only gets that by way of the thoroughly throttled engine.
Another example: styling. The all-new, globally redesigned Forester, the car they will build for the next six years, looks almost exactly like the car they’ve been building for the last six. The self-imposed antiquation really jumps out at you when you see it across a parking lot. Its designers have even codified a weirdness in the Forester’s proportions, with the swollen, SUV-like passenger and cargo space wearing a sedan’s nose like a prosthetic.
So it isn’t enough to say the Forester is dorky looking and a little bit lethargic. It embraces these qualities as brand values.
Constrained in other areas, Subaru’s marketers have enhanced the Forester’s value proposition to nigh-on irresistible. Please consider the Touring trim level, which includes DriverFocus as well as Subie’s suite of sensor-based driver assists; an 8-inch, app-based infotainment touch screen with navi; Harman Kardon sound system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; leather upholstery; heated outboard rear seats; in-vehicle Wi-Fi hot spot; and panoramic sunroof. The Touring also gets X-Mode system, designed to improve the car’s hill climbing and hill-descent performance.
The foie gras of features adds up to a curb weight of 3,588 pounds for the Touring model, which holds it to a 0-60 mph acceleration of 9.6 seconds, straining every fiber.
So the new Forester isn’t particularly quick, or fast, and if you rev it hard, it’ll bleat like a spring sheep-shearing. And don’t wait for the turbocharged version—it isn’t coming. But the Forester Touring is plenty quick and quiet enough. It will go almost anywhere an SUV will go, it has 1,500 pounds of towing capacity, and it’s loaded to the gills. What more do you want in a car?
Stop looking at me like that.
2019 Subaru Forester Touring
Price, as Tested: $35,270
Powertrain: Direct-injected 2.5-liter horizontally opposed engine with variable valve timing; continuously variable transmission; full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring
Power/Torque: 182 hp at 5,800 rpm/176 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm
Overall Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 182.1/81.3/68.1/105.1 inches
Ground Clearance: 8.7 inches
Curb Weight: 3,588 pounds
Towing Capacity: 1,500 pounds
0-60 mph: 9.6 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy: 26/33/29 mpg, city/highway/combined
Cargo Capacity: 33.0/70.9 cu. feet, rear seat backs up/folded
Write to Dan Neil at Dan.Neil@wsj.com