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August 14, 2018

No Turbo, No Problem: Can the 2019 Subaru Forester Out Drive the 2018 Forester XT?

When someone says turbo, power comes to mind. The power of speed, the power to push the limits, the power to break boundaries. In a way, this is what makes the Subaru Forester, particularly the turbocharged XT trim, special. But with the arrival of the all-new 2019 Forester, the turbo has bitten the dust not because Subaru is going mainstream, but because they figure: you don’t need it to be sporty.

Now, the question beckons: is the 2019 Forester worth the upgrade? Has Subaru lost their mind? Only a back-to-back drive gives a complete picture.

Visually, if you’re expecting a dramatic change, it’s best to lower your standards. Despite riding on a new platform and sporting new body panels, none of which are shared with the current model, it still looks every inch a Forester. According to Subaru, this is intentional: it had to remain unmistakably a Forester with the same familiar shape, albeit tweaked to be a bit more rugged and sporty. They probably figured: if it works for Porsche and the 911, why not for them? Sorry Subaru, we love you and all, but even this is a bit of a stretch.

While the Forester won’t be turning heads any time soon, it scores big where it matters: the interior. For one, the dimensions were increased, especially in the backseat with greater legroom for passengers. Next, the front seats have far more wiggle room, with supportive, comfier seats, and much more cubby holes than ever before. And of course, there’s also far more cargo space, giving it the ability to slide in a golf bag horizontally.

The cushy interior aside, the biggest change to the 2019 model occurs in the driver’s seat, and in a very good way. Whereas the current Forester, even in its XT guise delivers a powerful drive with steady, stable handling, it simply can’t hold a candle to the Subaru Global Platform-equipped Forester.

On the road, the 2019 Forester is instinctive to drive. At times when the current model would flop or understeer, the new one takes the same corners with extreme confidence. The steering, at least during this handling course, feels more or less the same as before, but the body is neutral, obedient, and balanced. At a particular long right-handed bend that gets progressively tighter, the current SJ-model Forester’s tires would start squealing in protest; while in the SK-model, it allowed for far more grip, allowing for a bit more speed.

The all-new Forester’s new-found handling is most appreciated during extreme maneuvers. Through a series of tight right-hand 90-degree turns wetted with water, the current Forester would slip for a split-second before gaining composure (the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 did worse); in the 2019 model? It’s drama-free. Even when the throttle is intentionally punched mid-corner, the rear-end won’t break out. It’s certainly not going to satisfy would-be drifters, but it gives an unmatched feeling of control and security, important during everyday driving.

Great as the Forester is on-road, it’s even more capable off-road. The platform—100 percent more lateral and 40 percent more torsional stiffness means it can do high-speed off-road slalom rally style. It may throw occupants around the cabin, but the ride remains surprisingly good. Admittedly, the current model feels choppy and iffy when going through uneven terrain, but the new one eats these sorts of roads for breakfast. It softens impacts very well to the point that even as the suspension bottoms out, the occupants won’t feel uncomfortable.

The rest of the off-road course meant climbing up a 19-degree dirt hill (the Forester has an approach angle of 20.2 degrees). Positioning it is easy thanks to its large greenhouse and thin pillars. Engaging “mountain goat-mode” is a cinch as well: it’s a one-button affair dubbed X-MODE. It manages several parameters including the engine, transmission, throttle, and even the torque split between front and rear wheels. It even automatically engages Automatic Vehicle Hold (AVH) going uphill and hill descent control going downhill. The course also required going through 2 feet of water (600 millimeters), something that will delight would-be owners who’ll have the increased confidence to traverse flood waters from now on.

Turbocharging has always been the cornerstone of Subaru’s performance mantra and it’s one that’s sorely missed in the new model. The current XT simply delivers an unmatched adrenaline rush, especially when given a wide enough berth; it’s something fans of the brand certainly crave.

That said, all that power and torque is simply underutilized most of the time. Simply put: all that power isn’t necessary when faced with the daily dose of traffic drama. Subaru says they’ve sharpened the throttle response by 20 percent to counter the pedestrian horsepower figures and honestly, it’s helped. Without the benefit of a stopwatch, the Forester feels punchier and livelier off the gun compared to something like the Honda CR-V 1.5 Turbo. Also, the Lineartronic CVT’s virtual gears make it feel less “wound up.” Compared to the current XT though, the Forester still doesn’t deliver the same brutal experience.

And that pretty much sums up the 2019 Subaru Forester. Long-time fans may be disappointed with the loss of the turbo, but brushing aside its once brutal, brash personality, the all-new Forester comes across as a refined, more thought-of crossover contender. For sure, the 2019 Forester will always live in the shadow of its turbocharged predecessors, but it must also be remembered that life isn’t just about the quarter-mile. It may not have the same fire under the hood, but it overcomes that with performance above and beyond what’s expected. Subaru reckons they’ll be able to sell 200-250 of these a month in the Philippines, and that’s not hard to imagine. The all-new Forester opens up a new world of everyday performance and confidence, even if that world doesn’t come with a turbocharged engine.

With collaboration with Gen Tiu.


  1. Hi Uly does it handle better than the CX5..Big thanks!

    1. Based on the handling course we did in Taiwan...yes it handles better than the CX-5. However, we feel the course was specially made to highlight the strengths of Subaru while also downplaying its weaknesses. A full on Philippine drive is the only way to answer this question.

  2. The extra ventilation and power socket at the back seat is the main selling point for me (cough my kids) although I already got the XT which I agree can get a lot more refinement in handling especially the body roll. The new model must be more fun to drive especially during rainy season in MM roads even with less power. Subaru ATV now comes standard across all trims?

    1. Active Torque Vectoring is standard across all trims.

  3. The performance will be pathetic. I’m 100% sure.


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