When we hear the words "off-road vehicle", you're likely to think of something a little bit on the truckish side. A crossover isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when a trail gets tough. Some folks would even call them 'soft-roaders', because they think these things will probably call it quits the moment it sees a bit of mud.
But Subaru wants to challenge that perception with the all-new Forester. While the brochure says it has all-wheel drive, it's easier to imagine these cars cruising down boulevards than climbing over challenging terrain. In fact, if you look around, some people here treat the Forester more like a WRX on stilts, especially the previous XT models.
Now imagine when we were told that we were using the Forester for river crossing and some light (or heavy, depending on your definition) off-roading. I sure had fears of getting my trousers wet.
But before we find out the fate of my pants, some first impressions are in order. Thankfully we had a long stretch of expressway and highway roads between us and our destination, allowing us to get properly acquainted with the 2019 Forester 2.0i-L Eyesight.
As we’ve mentioned in our past articles, the fourth-generation Forester rides on the new Subaru Global Platform, shared with the Impreza and XV. It's probably one of the reasons why this crossover now feels a lot more comfortable to sit in because the other two we mentioned were nice cars to travel in. Be it as a passenger or the driver, the Forester is a lot easier on occupants. Even after a five-hour journey from Metro Manila to La Union, you won't feel tired at all.
Inside, you get this feeling of airiness with loads of light coming into the cabin. It doesn't just feel spacious either; there's actually a lot more legroom, especially in the second row, when compared to the previous-generation model. We could actually cross our legs and it wouldn't hit the back of the front seats. This also made it easier to move around if we wanted to switch seats and pass food around. Along with space, the seats themselves played a big factor in the comfortable journey. It feels as if Subaru used more supportive cushions which didn’t leave our backs numb or aching.
On the way to La Union, one of the best companions we had in the Forester was Eyesight. The feature was very useful on the expressway and even on the provincial highways. We felt more relaxed and just needed to keep the wheel pointed in the right direction, letting Eyesight do most of the driving for us. In fact, you could even just take your foot off the pedals and just ride on along. Just don’t take your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel, of course.
While driving the new Forester, you do feel the lack of power, especially when compared to the old turbocharged model. As most would know, Subaru will no longer be selling the Forester with a turbocharged engine. Instead, the new model is powered only by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter FB20 engine which produces 156 PS with 196 Nm of torque and is matched to the latest version of their Lineartronic CVT.
Without its turbo, pulling power to overtake vehicles on the highways was adequate at best. Then again, what did you expect? Thankfully, there's a way to eke out a bit more performance from it. The transmission is normally on eco-friendly I-Drive mode. But if you put it on S-Drive mode, and the engine seems to rev more freely and power delivery immediately improves. That said, you do sacrifice fuel economy in exchange for more performance. Still, it was good enough for the twisty mountain roads we encountered that day.
After a lengthy stint on pavement, it was now time for the fun part. Turning off the newly paved roads, the path towards the river was literally just made out of dirt and rocks. I expected it to be a tough challenge for the Forester, but it handled it similar to how a typical truck-based SUV would, even with the smaller tires. Putting the Forester in X-Mode made it even easier to get across the very uneven and not to mention muddy surface.
X-Mode was especially helpful when we encountered slopes. Going downhill, X-Mode automatically applies the brakes of the car when the angle becomes too steep, preventing the car from unintentionally sliding down the hill. You can also feel Subaru's all-wheel-drive system working on overdrive when going up a slope.
After a 10 to 15 min drive on dirt roads, we arrived at the first river crossing. From a glance, it looked deep for the Forester. It was full of big rocks which could get most SUVs and pickup trucks stuck. Surprisingly, the Forester crossed the river without any problem, going up against the smaller rocks. We were advised to avoid the bigger rocks however, as they could pose as a problem.
The second river we encountered was a lot longer than the first one. Unlike the first one, it wasn't as rocky. But, it was filled with loose gravel, which could get most vehicles stuck. In fact, the convoy was constantly kept moving so none of us would get stuck mid-way or drive through a much deeper part of the river. Thankfully, none of us needed to get winched out. And yes, my pants stayed dry all day.
We didn’t get to properly test the new Forester in the city, but driving it on the expressway, on provincial roads, and across a river shows how the crossover has grown up over the years. From a performance SUV, the Forester has evolved into a more comfortable daily with better off-road capabilities.
While the new Forester may not be as fast as its predecessors, it has added new tricks up its sleeves. It’s now a lot more comfortable to ride in and comes with the intelligent Eyesight, which is quite handy especially for those who just want to kick it back after a long day. As for power, think of all the traffic we have now. There’s not really a place in Metro Manila where you will need a powerful turbocharged engine nowadays with all the congestion. The new engine is more than enough for getting passengers from point A to B, cross a river or even go off-road while at it.
Yes, we will all miss the potent Forester XT. But, at the end of the day, most people would rather choose something that is comfortable over something powerful for daily use. That’s probably just the harsh truth of it.