Big in space, tough in build – 2019 Subaru Forester Review

Big in space, solid in build - 2019 Subaru Forester Review

With improved build quality and refinement, the up-sized Subaru Forester takes on Malaysian roads like a champ.

The 2019 Subaru Forester’s Malaysian debut has been a long-awaited one. Six months after its global debut at the 2018 New York International Auto Show, media representatives from all over the ASEAN region were invited to have a closer look and a short drive of the fifth-generation Forester. Now available locally, this writer is able to compare her experience with the CBU Thai-assembled right-hand-drive version in this review.

What is it?

It is pretty obvious to point out that the fifth-generation Subaru Forester has grown-up literally and figuratively. Comparing with the outgoing model, the current model measures 20mm wider (1,815mm), 5mm lower (1,730mm) and 15mm longer (4,625mm).

That said, the wheelbase has been increased up to 33mm (2,670mm), and 20mm wider between the driver and passenger seat which contributes to the additional room inside. In addition, the front and rear overhangs have been reduced by 10mm and 5mm respectively.

With the increase in overall width, Subaru engineers are able to further increase the rear tailgate opening, which can accommodate large items within its 1,300mm width. For instance, it is now possible to fit a full-size golf bag horizontally into the boot compartment. That said, the boot measures at 509-litres with the rear seats up, while folding them down unleashes 2,155-litres. The rear auto tailgate now opens and closes much quicker than the previous generation.

The new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) provides the Forester much-improved chassis rigidity. These improvements include lateral rigidity of up t0 100% and torsional rigidity of up to 40%. This means that the Subaru Forester’s chassis is able to better utilise the suspension, providing an improved anti-roll contribution and reduced NVH.

Besides the structural and mechanical changes, the Forester shares the same dashboard as the XV, albeit with new door panels, increased visibility thanks to the taller greenhouse, as well as build quality, better plastics and materials, as well as enjoy a large interior space. Another notable feature is a wider and flatter step at both sides of the rear door opening which allows a stable footing when accessing the roof rails above. 

The eight-way power-adjustable seats up front are comfortable and offer good lateral support. The rear seats can accommodate three adults with generous legroom and headspace. There’s also rear-facing vents at the lower centre console and two 2.1 amp USB sockets for charging smart devices.

The Malaysian spec Forester comes with:

  • Dual-zone automatic air-conditioning,
  • Audio system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with navigation,
  • 2-inch multifunction display,
  • 3-inch full-colour LCD multifunction display,
  • Electronic parking brake,
  • Smart entry and push start button,
  • Multi-function steering wheel with cruise control,
  • Tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel, and
  • USB and auxiliary input jack.

Much like the one featured on the current Outback and XV models, the Forester 2.0i-S EyeSight comes with three functions:

  1. Adaptive Cruise Control & Lead Vehicle Start Alert
    Adjusts speed automatically to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, and Lead Vehicle Start Alert notifies the driver when the traffic starts moving again. This works on a wide speed range from highway cruising speeds down to stop-start traffic.
  1. Lane Sway & Departure Warning
    Helps the driver to stay alert with a buzzer and flashing indicator when the car drifts away from the lane and warns the driver before leaving the lane.
  1. Pre-Collision & Throttle Management
    Likewise, this feature warns the driver with a buzzer and flashing indicator, with braking assistance to reduce the impending impact or avoiding possible collisions, while Throttle Management helps avoid accidental frontal collisions.

The signature Subaru ‘Boxer’ is found under the hood; the latest generation Forester is powered by a 16-Valve DOHC 2.0-litre naturally aspirated direct fuel injection horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, which makes 151 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. Mated to the 2.0-litre mill is a heavily revised Lineartronic CVT with seven-speed manual presets gear ratios, which sends power to all four wheels permanently.

In some ways, the Subaru Forester’s X-Mode can be described as user-friendly; simply switch between both modes and the car pretty much gets the job done quietly in the background. In X-Mode, the Hill Start Assist is engaged permanently until the driver puts their foot on the throttle.

Hill Descent Control manages the car’s decent seamlessly which lets the driver focus on navigating down rock or muddy slopes. The Active Torque Split AWD at default runs at a 60% power at the front wheels and 40% at the rear, but when the need for maximum traction arises, the ATS system splits that to 50% at both ends.

The changes are evident when driven on the roads; with much-reduced body roll, better acceleration and drivability, the Forester drives much like the current XV. On our bumpy roads, the Forester feels like it is in its elements; it’s stable through slippery surface even when driven close to its limit, and the steering is predictive enough to tell where the front is heading to.

Like in many contemporary Subaru models, the Forester’s SI-Drive allows the drive to select two different drive modes: Intelligent (I) and Sport (S). The former allows a progressive engine mapping for fuel economy, while the latter allows better engine response much like a toned-down turbocharged engine.

Driving the all-new Forester over rough surface shows that it’s solidly put together this time, where the NVH has been improved significantly over the old SUV and feels plenty more comfortable. The MacPherson strut upfront and the Double Wishbone suspension at the rear does offer a good level of compliance on rough and undulating road surfaces.

Should I Buy?

Engineered around the new SGP platform, the Subaru Forester provides additional room inside with improved refinement as emphasised during the development of the new SUV. And the much-improved build quality and refinement did effortlessly well on our ageing and blemished roads.


Tester’s Note: Pros on the much-improved NVH, roomy interior and boot space, and enjoyable driving experience. Cons on the clunky infotainment system which sorely needs an upgrade. We give the Subaru Forester 2.0i-S EyeSight 4 out of 5 stars.

Subaru Forester 2.0i-S EyeSight (CBU)

Price: RM159,788
Engine Horizontally Opposed 4-cylinder, 1,995 cc, naturally-aspirated, direct fuel injection
Power 151 bhp at 6,000 rpm
Torque 196 Nm at 4,000 rpm
Gearbox Lineartronic CVT
Kerb weight 1,544kg
0-100km/h NA
Top speed NA
Fuel Consumption 15.1 km/l (6.6 L/100km) Combined, tested.
Rivals Honda CRV, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Proton X70, Volkswagen Tiguan