What is it?
When Subaru launched the original Forester in 1997, it was a quirky crossover pioneer. More than two decades later, the North American market has come to the Japanese brand, and the fifth-generation Subaru Forester plunges head-first into the hard-fought and fast-growing 'compact' SUV segment.
The new car becomes the latest model to move to the Subaru Global Platform that broke cover with the 2017 Subaru Impreza. Subaru says that the stiffer architecture brings advantages in terms of steering precision, ride comfort, occupant safety and boot space.
The classic recipe of boxer engine and permanent four-wheel drive is retained. Also returning, in updated form, is Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance system, while an infrared distraction mitigation technology called Driver Focus is brand-new.
The new Forester will replace the current model in the UK around the end of this year. The US and Canada get a new direct-injection 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine mated to an upgraded CVT gearbox, but while the latter is expected to feature in UK cars, it’s not yet known what engine will be offered.
What's it like?
The new car’s chunky looks are distinctly Forester and major on practical considerations rather than wannabe-coupé style, and that translates to a spacious interior.
An extra 30mm of wheelbase improves rear leg room, while at 1003 litres with the seats up, the boot all but matches the larger Subaru Outback’s, and it has what's claimed to be the widest (1300mm) opening of any tailgate in the class.
There are no surprises in the major controls, but you’ll be glad that you only have to set up the switchable Driver Focus system once.
At a Canadian launch event, we drove the new Forester extensively on paved and unpaved winding roads, rocky forest tracks and smooth major routes. That a manufacturer is willing to submit a new model to demanding roads is usually a sign of confidence in the product, and overall, Subaru’s high hopes for the newcomer are well founded.
There is a little road noise from the 18in rims and 225/55 tyres, but the Forester is otherwise quiet at a cruise, with good isolation from both the powertrain and the outside world.
It rides well, too, with a nice comfort-and-handling trade-off to the damping that makes surprisingly smooth work of lumpy shoulders on winding country roads. The ride is less convincing over harder edges, but we’d have to try it in the UK on summer tyres, rather than the Canadian-spec all-season rubber, to make a proper judgement.