2020 Subaru Forester crossover: big changes ahead?

2020 Subaru Forester

2020 Subaru Forester

What changes will make the 2020 Subaru Forester different?

Very likely little of consequence following a ground-up redesign for model-year 2019. The 2020 edition of this compact crossover will profit from the larger dimensions, expanded safety features, and higher fuel economy brought by the redesign. It won’t regain the spunky turbocharged engine lost in the redo, although optimists envision an eventual return. Forester’s crystal ball could well include a pure-electric version, too.

The immediate future, however, looks much like model-year ’19: a conservatively styled wagon with roominess, on-road handling, and off-road abilities that can embarrass many truckier-looking rivals. Forester is far from the fastest in its competitive set, and its only engine is by no stretch the smoothest. But this refreshingly rational five-seater, with Subaru’s outstanding all-wheel-drive (AWD) system standard on every model, qualifies as all the compact crossover most people would ever need.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Not much reason to wait because the ’20 model will be a rerun of the ’19, except for a possible new color or two. We would, however, ask Subaru to extend availability of blind-spot and rear-cross-traffic detection to the two least expensive trim levels in Forester’s five-model lineup.

That lineup almost certainly will again begin with the Base grade and ascend through Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring models. All will continue to share a 182-horespower four-cylinder engine that uses this Japanese automaker’s customary horizontally opposed-cylinder design. The sole transmission will again be a continuously variable automatic. And the AWD system on all but the Base grade will come with Subaru’s traction-enhancing X-Mode technology. Standard again on every ’20 Forester will be the company’s lauded EyeSight safety suite that includes autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.

Competing in a crowded segment featuring such formidable nameplates as the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda CR-V, the ’20 Forester will continue to slot into Subaru’s crossover lineup between the subcompact Crosstrek and the midsize Outback.

If Subaru hews to Forester tradition, expect the next significant change to be a minor style freshening for model-year 2022. That’s also around the time the company plans to introduce its first all-electric vehicle. It’ll use the same Subaru Global Platform architecture that underpins the Forester and Crosstrek, as well as the company’s Impreza compact car, new-for-2019 Ascent eight-seat midsize crossover, and the redesigned 2020 Outback five-seat midsize crossover. However, whether the EV will be a version of the Forester, of some other Subaru, or a wholly new model is open to speculation.

Will the styling be different?

No. It’ll reprise the look that came on line with the 2019 redesign. Versus the 2014-2018 Forester, the styling changes were subtle, visible mostly in slightly more pronounced fender bulges and a bolder grille flanked on every model by LED lowbeam and highbeam headlamps.

This fifth-generation Forester is a little larger than its predecessor, gaining a vital 1.2 inches of wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) that helped increase already generous rear legroom 1.4 inches. Headroom and shoulder room also grew, contributing to more overall passenger space than in the RAV4, Rogue, and CR-V, as well as in other the segment stalwarts such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, and Jeep Cherokee.

Indeed, Forester may look like an inflated compact hatchback compared to those SUV-wannabes, but it also beats most for cargo volume. While overall height decreased marginally, the ’19 redesign stretched its body 1.2 inches. That helped boost luggage space 1.4 cubic feet, to a generous 33 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 71 with the standard 60/40 split rear seatbacks folded. (The Base model has 35 and 76 cubic feet, respectively, because it’s the only Forester that doesn’t come with a ceiling-intrusive panoramic moonroof.) Easing cargo handling, the redesign widened the hatch opening 5.3 inches, to a generous 51.2 inches. A power liftgate will remain optional on Premium and Sport and standard on Limited and Touring.

Visual differentiators among trim levels isn’t apt to change for 2020. The Base and Premium will come with 17-inch wheels – steel with plastic wheel covers on the former, alloys standard on the Premium and optional on the Base. Other ’20 Forester models will continue with 18-inch alloys, each trim level featuring its own look.

Forester’s 2020 Base model should retain black power mirrors. The Premium will again get body-colored and foldable power mirrors, dark-tint privacy glass, and a body-colored rear roof spoiler.

Debuting as a new Forester grade for model-year ’19, the ’20 Sport will again stand out with a dark-finished grille and wheels and orange lower-body and roof-rail accents. Sport models and above will retain fog lamps (LED on Sport and Touring), mirrors that integrate turn-signal lamps, and a stainless steel tailpipe tip. The Touring dresses up with chrome and metallic finishes on door handles, mirrors, and the fog-lamp surrounds.

Inside, adult-roomy upright seating, an airy greenhouse, great visibility, and less challenging entry and exit than in many rivals make any Forester pleasantly easy to live with. Instruments and controls are straightforward. There’s an upscale feel to switchgear movement and to the plastics and skins covering the cabin’s panels. Base, Premium, and Sport grades have 6.5-inch central-dashboard infotainment screens. A more readable 8-inch display is optional for the Sport and is part of the navigation system available for the Limited and standard on the Touring. All but the Base also get a small but useful LCD screen atop the center stack that furnishes supplemental vehicle and trip info.

Every 2020 Forester will again come with welcome lighting. All but the Base model should again have dual illuminated vanity mirrors, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and rear-seat heating and cooling vents. For 2020, the Premium-model cabin will again feature some brightwork while the Sport carries orange accents to vents and center console and to the stitching on its exclusive dark-gray cloth upholstery. Expect Limited and Touring to continue with perforated leather upholstery standard, the Touring complimenting that with simulated leather door and dash trim.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for model-year 2020, although some fans seem to believe Forester’s future may include the 2.4-liter turbocharged engine Subaru introduced with the Ascent. That horizontally opposed four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force that gets you moving, horsepower as the energy that keeps you moving).

We believe it more likely the Ascent engine is destined for the redesigned 2020 Outback — although it certainly would restore performance lost when Subaru ditched the turbocharged four available in the previous generation Forester. With 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, that 2.0-liter boxer made Forester 2.0XT models among the quickest vehicles in this competitive set. But fewer than 10 percent of buyers were willing to pay the $3,000 extra for it, and we suspect Subaru envisions a similarly low take rate for a fifth-gen Forester with the turbo 2.4.

Neither do we think the Forester will follow the Crosstrek and offer a plug-in hybrid model. The Crosstrek plug-in hybrid combines a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine with two electric motors for a combined 148 horsepower. Using an initial charge from the grid, it can travel 17 miles on electricity alone and then it operates as a conventional hybrid. It has AWD, a base price of $35,970, and is available only in California and select other states with similar zero-emissions requirements.

That leaves the Forester for 2020 — and likely for the next few years – with a 2.5-liter four as its sole engine. The previous-generation Forester employed a 2.5-liter boxer as its base engine, but the ’19 redesign brought a more technically advanced replacement that beats it by horsepower, 182 versus 172, and by torque, 176 pound-feet versus 174. The previous 2.5 could be had with either a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A CVT plays the role of a conventional automatic transmission but without stepped gear ratios and is the only transmission offered on this fifth-generation Forester.

Unfortunately, this powertrain is likely to remain a 2020-Forester deficit. There’s just not enough torque to overcome the CVT’s reluctance to transfer power with any verve. Acceleration is lackluster and the transmission’s propensity to let the engine rev ahead vehicle speed as you press the accelerator only emphasizes the unpleasantly coarseness of Subaru’s newest 2.5. On Sport and Touring models, the CVT gets steering-wheel paddle shifters and seven simulated discreet gear ratios, but the effect on acceleration is minimal.

Standard again on every 2020 Forester will be the automaker’s Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive). Its console button lets the driver select “Intelligent” mode designed to save fuel or “Sport” mode designed sharpen powertrain reflexes. The former is no help to acceleration. “Sport” improves throttle response, but only in the Sport model — in which “Sport” mode is amped-up to “Sport Sharp” — does it invigorate performance to a level acceptable to anyone with a hint of enthusiast DNA.

Too bad, because this newest Forester is otherwise dynamically impressive. Designed to be off-road capable, the taut suspension delivers a firm but rewardingly controlled ride. Helped by the pancaked powertrain’s low center of gravity, cornering composure and resistance to body lean is far better than in many taller-built compact crossovers. The steering’s only demerit is some indecisive lightness on-center.

A bedrock Subaru virtue is its well-engineered Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. On dry roads, it taps Active Torque Vectoring to apply light braking to the inside wheel and help pivot the crossover through corners. In slippery conditions, the AWD system minimizes tire spin by continuously distributing power to the wheels with the most grip, front to rear and side to side. Snow traction is particularly impressive. And while no Subaru is designed for severe off-road duty, Forester is surprisingly adept on unpaved trails. Credit its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, an advantage matched in the competitive set only by the Jeep Cherokee and Compass Trailhawk.

The ’20 Forester Premium will again come with Subaru’s X-Mode, which automatically optimizes the powertrain and brakes for off-road conditions and includes speed-limiting hill-descent control. Sport, Limited, and Touring will return with Dual X-Mode, which allows more wheel slip to improve performance in mud and deep snow.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not likely. Expect 2020 Forester EPA ratings to mirror those for the 2019 model: 26/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined. That would again be a little better than average for AWD crossovers of this size and power.

Will there be new features?

Unlikely, although Subaru could rethink some feature distribution. On that score, we’d urge the automaker to make blind-spot and rear-cross-traffic detection standard on all trim levels. For 2019, it was unavailable on Base and Premium models, optional for the Sport, and standard on Limited and Touring.

To Subaru’s credit, every ’20 Forester will again include the brand’s EyeSight driver-assist technology. This system incorporates autonomous emergency braking that can automatically stop the Forester to mitigate a frontal collision, as well as lane-departure warning with lane-maintaining steering correction. Also returning as standard will be driver-selectable Auto Vehicle Hold, a traffic-jam-fatigue reducer that keeps the crossover stationary without requiring constant application of the brake pedal.

Optional again for Limited and Touring should be reverse automatic braking to automatically stop the Forester if an obstacle is detected. Expect the 2020 Touring model to return with a feature Subaru calls DriverFocus. This uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver distraction or fatigue and trigger visual and audio alerts.

Returning driver assists standard on Sport models and above should include automatic high-beam headlamps that automatically turn off for oncoming vehicles. Limited and Touring should also return with steering-linked headlamps.

In addition to the aforementioned features, expect the 2020 Forester Base model to again come standard with steering-wheel audio and Bluetooth controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and satellite radio among its standard features. To that, the ’20 Premium should again add such features as a power driver’s seat with power lumbar, a reclining rear seatback, and a cargo cover. Expect the ’20 Sport to return with all that, plus keyless access with pushbutton ignition.

Look for the ’20 Forester Limited to be back with heated front seats and mirrors and a windshield-wiper de-icer among its standard equipment. The ’20 Touring’s standard-features list should again include all that plus a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a power front-passenger seat, and memory for the power driver’s seat.

A nice range of connectivity through the standard Subaru Starlink interface ought to remain a selling point for some shoppers. For a fee after an initial trial period, it includes services such as remote engine start, a live concierge, stolen-vehicle tracking, and parental monitoring with geofencing and speed notification. WiFi-hotspot coverage is available with the dealer-supplied Starlink Entertainment Anywhere Kit. Priced at $970 for 2019, it should again include two 9.7-inch 32GB WiFi iPads with OtterBox cases and Harman Kardon Bluetooth headphones. The separate EVEConnect app allows Forester owners to control their smarthome devices via Forester’s dashboard screen. will provide

Will 2020 prices be different?

Look for them to increase, but the 2020 Forester should remain a good buy for the money. It’ll again be priced competitively against AWD rivals of similar power and features, with standard EyeSight safety, laudable handling, and interior packaging counting as value-added elements. Base-price estimates here include Subaru’s destination fee, which was $975 on the 2019 Forester.

Estimated base price for the 2020 Forester Base model is $25,900. Expect the Premium model to start around $28,300, the Limited around $32,300, and the Touring around $36,000.

Among key options, look for alloy wheels to add $600 to the Base model. Expect the Premium model to again be available with a package that included heated front seats and mirrors, a de-icer, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and keyless access and pushbutton ignition. The package cost $1,295 for 2019, or $1,845 with the power liftgate.

Expect a popular Sport-model package to again include blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection with rear-autonomous braking, the power liftgate, and the 8-inch dashboard display with a nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrade; it was priced at $2,045 for 2019. The audio upgrade, rear autonomous braking, and imbedded navigation should again be included in a Limited option package priced around $1,695. Expect the ’20 Forester Touring model to return fully equipped and without any options available.

When does it come out?

Look for a 2020 Forester release date in the third quarter of 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee and Compass, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]