The last time I drove a Subaru Forester, it was in right hand drive, had a hybrid motor, and heaps of equipment. This time around, it's quite the opposite. What I tried out was at the opposite end of the spectrum: the base Forester 2.0i-L. It didn't even come with Subaru's neat EyeSight tech.
But here's the thing, Subaru has always made pretty good entry-level models. Even in their most basic form, you can't help but be impressed by them, thanks to their inherently solid feel. If you own one or have driven one, you'll know what I mean. If not, I suggest you try it out for yourself.
Anyway, back to the car. As mentioned, the Forester 2.0i-L is the most affordable entry to, well, Forester ownership. Having driven the last three generations of base Foresters, I set my expectations high for this all-new model. Why? Well, why lower it in the first place?
What's nice about this 2019 Forester 2.0i-L is the fact that it doesn't look that much different from the variant just above it, the 2.0i-L EyeSight. The wheels are the same, and so too are the exterior trimmings. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the base from the mid-spec model, and that's a good thing.
If it wasn't for this rather ordinary shade of silver, I'd say the Forester is one of the nicer-looking cars in its segment. It's clearly an evolution from the previous generation, which is no bad thing since Foresters, in my eyes at least, always looked good. Sure, it's on the upright and square side but it gives it a more purposeful look. Certainly refreshing too, given that a fair number of crossovers today have small slits for windows. Of course, there will be those who'll say it's on the overly conservative side (to put it nicely), but check it out in, say, blue or red. It looks so much better with a different color.
Something I always liked about Subarus is their outward visibility. Step inside this new one and you'll appreciate the fact that you're looking down at the hood...and actually see the end of it. It also gives the cabin a feeling of airiness with a lot of light coming through. I do wish it came with a sunroof to have even more light come in but perhaps that's asking too much from an entry-level model.
As for design, it's as straightforward as the exterior. If you're looking for flair inside, you won't find it in the Forester. But if you're the kind of person who appreciates the materials used in a car's interior, you'll like it. Hard, shiny plastics are kept to a minimum, and just about everything you touch feels soft, adding a bit of a premium feel. It's an exercise of function over form with buttons, with knobs and dials exactly where you expect them to be. I also like the fact that there's loads of room inside, and a pair of USB ports for the back seat passengers.
However, if there's one thing I didn't like about the interior, it's the infotainment system. I'll be blunt in saying that the one fitted to this tester was slow, laggy, and the interface looked rather dated. Fiddling around the menus felt cumbersome, and linking up Bluetooth takes ages. For me, if you can't connect your Bluetooth to the infotainment in less 45 seconds, it's no good. Also, the screen itself looked like there was a film of acetate (remember those?) on top of it. Do not peel that off as it's part of the whole unit. At least sound quality from the audio system was good. I hope Subaru will soon fit the upgraded screens on the next batch of Foresters that will eventually land in the country. Those have much faster loading screens, better graphics, are easier to use, plus they have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Now for the oily bits and, in case you haven't gotten the hint from the variant's name, this Forester is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine. It's the same one in the top of the line engine so you don't have to feel that bad for not shelling out more for the range-topper. Power is rated at 156 PS and 196 Nm of torque, which are really conservative figures in today's crossover arena. Mated to a continuously variable transmission, the Forester of today is a far cry from the fire-breathing days of the XT. No matter what trim line you get, this is the only engine you'll see under the hood.
Now that we've established that the Forester is no hot rod, performance is actually adequate. Sure, it won't set any speed records but it's enough. You just have to be patient with it. Jab the throttle and it feels slow, but if you're gentle with the accelerator, it builds up speed pretty decently. This crossover just doesn't want to be rushed. If you're sensible behind the wheel, you'll be perfectly fine with its acceleration but if it's speed you're after, I'd suggest looking for an old stock of the previous-generation Forester XT...if it's still available, that is.
Foresters have a bit of a reputation of being heavy on fuel use but this particular tester was pretty frugal; for a Forester, that is. At an average speed of 18 km/h, the on-board computer claimed it used up just 8.2 kilometers per liter of fuel. Sure, it's not exactly stellar but it's good for something that weighs 1.5 tones and has to lug around the extra weight of its all-wheel drive system. In near standstill traffic, that figure does drop to 7.3 kilometers per liter but that was recorded with an average speed of a mere 13 km/h. Not the best, but try doing that in an older Forester. You'd be lucky to see 6 kilometers per liter with that in similar conditions.
Handling is what one expects from a Subaru: secure and surefooted. Despite clearly showing no sporting intentions, there is a degree of feel and involvement when you take it out on winding roads. That's thanks to the well weighted steering, which is lacking in a lot of cars these days. However, the softer ride does dial out some of the fun we used to experience in past Foresters, although the trade off of that is a much more pliant ride. Some may find it too soft, but after a long day in the office, you might appreciate the new Forester's orientation towards comfort rather than sport.
While you don't exactly feel the benefits of all-wheel drive in the dry, you do feel it when the weather decides to turn for the worse. That's not to say all-wheel drive is useless when for, say, the first half of the year. Having extra traction is always a plus. That said, it always seems to rain every time I drive a Subaru, and this time was no exception. I felt more confident driving in foul weather, but do note that just because you have all-wheel drive doesn't mean you could, or should, drive like Ayrton Senna in the wet.
At Php 1,598,000, the base Forester has a couple of good things going for it. Among its peers, it has the aforementioned all-wheel drive as standard, and it's loaded with safety kits (sans the EyeSight). Sure, you lose out on the power seats with memory and the sunroof, but it has everything you need. I can say, with confidence, that the base Subaru Forester has impressed once again, but is it the pick of the range?
Personally, I'd go for the 2.0i-L EyeSight. Yes, it's Php 100,000 more but having additional safety equipment is always worth the extra investment. But if the extra cash outlay is a little too much for you, you won't feel shortchanged with the entry-level model.