First Drive – 2020 Subaru Forester Limited

by Tony West and Sommer Thornton

With its longer nose, active grille shutters, lower body side cladding and big 76 cu.ft. tailgate, the new Subaru Forester is ready for all types of adventure. The 2020 Subaru Forester adds a few advanced intelligent features to their safety suite, but otherwise is a carryover from its robust 2019 model.

The 2020 Subaru Forester, built on the Subaru Global Platform now delivers significantly higher levels of agility, ride comfort and crash protection. This is in part thanks to advancements to its powertrain and drivetrain, coupled with outstanding all-wheel drive and Subaru Intelligent Drive capabilities.

The 2020 Subaru Forester is available in Standard, Premium, Limited, Touring and Sport Trims that start at just $25k. All 2020 Foresters are equipped with the same 2.5 liter 4 cylinder Subaru BOXER engine matched to a standard Lineartronic Continuously Variable transmission that yields a 33 mpg highway EPA.

We reviewed the 2019 Subaru Forester Limited as the winter began and the whip handled outstanding in the Chicago snow, especially with X-Mode with Hill Descent Control and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.

Peep the First Drive Highlights!

Though its athletic style may be subtle, the 2020 Forester could be ideal for young professionals taking the SUV to the beach, camping trips and cross country. Subaru is known for outstanding go-anywhere character and robust handling, and for the 2019/2020 Forester, Subaru adds a bit of rugged sophistication to the lineup.  

Tough New Look Built for Capability

The 2020 Subaru Forester long nosed and slim sits up high with an 8.7 inch ground clearance and wider rear door openings. Though a relatively short body, drivers have excellent visibility with a wider front windshield and big side mirrors. High-gloss black or silver trim accents new paint colors like Crimson Red Pearl, Horizon Blue Pearl and Jasper Green Metallic.  

2019 Subaru Forester
2019 Subaru Forester

The 2019 Forester was redesigned to look low and sit high.  It’s low stance, rear roof spoiler and chiseled fascia with sculpted lights helps the whip glide through the air. Active grille shutters help save fuel by shutting at low speeds and opening wide at high speeds. Shoulder lines that follow around the pillars emphasize strength and ruggedness. Front side and rear underguards are standard on all models and customized for each trim.

The 2020 Forester Touring and Sport have standard roof rails with integrated tie down hooks.

The 2020 Subaru Forester Limited has standard LED low and high beams, LED rear gate light (Touring), new LED license plate light, and LED fog lights with chrome accent trim on the Forester Limited.  The Forester Limited also features an automatic LED headlight height adjustment control, High Beam Assist and body color exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals. The top-of-the-line Forester Touring adds side mirrors with driver’s two-position memory synchronized to driver’s seat memory.  Front passengers have automatic tilt-down in reverse.

2020 Subaru Forester
2020 Subaru Forester

The 2019 Forester Limited we reviewed features standard 18 inch alloy wheels in black with machine finish with cool colored emblems and roof rails and underguards in black finish. Seventeen inch wheels are standard on the base model with 225/60 R17 all-season tires. And rear roof spoiler is body color with black panels.

Verses competitors like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and the Toyota Rav4 the Subaru Forester is better looking on the outside and offers the most capabilities for adventure. Especially the Forester Sport that adds unique elements like gloss black accents on the fog lights and front grill, 18 inch alloy wheels in black finish and a rear roof spoiler. Orange accents on the black underguards and roof rail mounts and an orange SPORT badge add a modern, youthful touch. And the cabin of the Forester Sport features a unique dark gray material with orange stitching and accents.

A panoramic sunroof is standard along with a power rear tailgate with auto close and height memory.

The 2019/2020 Subaru Forester’s design signals a new direction for Subaru in terms of a more youthful sporty cues that add style inside and out.

Stylish Interior with High-Tech Perks

The 2019/2020 Subaru Forester is one of the most stylishly high-tech cabins in its segment. Even the base Forester features cool welcome lighting inside and out, LED map lights, remote keyless entry and rear vision camera in the center 6.5 inch touchscreen.

The 2020 Forester Premium at just $28k features a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support optional power tailgate, chrome inner door handles and an in-vehicle WiFi hotspot.

The 2020 Subaru Forester Limited offers perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, leather wrapped shifter, leather steering wheel with controls for heating, cruise control, audio, the combination meter display, and SI Drive. A leather dash panel is tricked out with silver stitching.

The Forester Touring model adds more flair in the way of chrome door handles, chrome side mirrors and leather door trim with silver/ ivory stitching, and available perforated leather trimmed upholstery in black or saddle brown.

2019 Subaru Forester upholstery
2019 Subaru Forester upholstery

Drivers sit in maximum comfort with a full view of the road and many of their comfort and convenience features accessible via the steering wheel and center stack.

Editor Sommer loves the center stack that houses controls for dual-zone climate control and infotainment. There are two media screens, one at the top of the dash that displays important information like, the date, outside temperature, vehicle posture/ angle and current audio selection.

And an 8 inch hi-resolution touch screen sits below it that displays the standard Subaru Starlink system’s rear vision camera, detailed voice-activated navigation, Sirius XM Satellite radio, Travel link, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and controls for WiFi and the Harmon Kardon 9-speaker sound system. A 6.5 inch multimedia system is standard on the Base Forester, Premium and Sport models.

The home screen can be customized with shortcuts like a phonebook, Pandora, Aha, weather forecasts and travel link apps. And navigation is pristine and colorful showing the street name big at the bottom, a compass in the center and a camera icon with the speed limit when traveling in speed zones.

For safety, security and convenience, Starlink In-Vehicle Technology offers three connected services packages that are among the most affordable in the industry. The STARLINK Safety Plus package includes SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, maintenance notifications, monthly vehicle health report and diagnostic alerts.

The Starlink Safety Plus & Security Plus package adds remote engine start with climate control and heated seats, stolen vehicle recovery service, vehicle security alarm notification, remote lock/unlock, remote horn and lights; remote vehicle locator and parenting features including boundary, speed and curfew alerts. The STARLINK Concierge package adds the convenience of in-vehicle assistance with restaurant and hotel reservations, purchasing tickets for sporting/theater events and scheduling service appointments.

The digital suite continues with the diver’s combination meter multi-information display on the dash that, beside the tachometer and speedometer displays important stats and controls for safety features like the Driver Monitoring System, Eco gauge and Eyesight. The Eco gauge shows the difference between the current rate of fuel consumption and the average rate of fuel consumption since the trip meter was reset.

Rear seats are 60/40 split fold. Storage is abundant in the new Subaru Forester with up to 76 cu.ft. of cargo space with the rear seats down. The trunks liftover height tops 28 inches. And side door pockets and center console storage is huge. There is also space for storage under the seats and big seatback pockets.

2019/2020 Subaru Forester rear cargo area
2019/2020 Subaru Forester rear cargo area

One drawback to the Subaru Forester’s cabin is insulation. Designers taught a reduction in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) as well as upgrades in materials for the cabin floor, sides and rear gate to resist dirt. However driving along snow and icy surfaces, drivers will hear the Forester’s trudging through the floor. Doors also don’t close tightly unless slammed.

Also, the multi information display in the dash shows a wealth of information. In conjunction with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, new Lead Vehicle Start Alert shows unnecessary warnings that are supposed to keep the driver on point. For instance it shows a warning that the vehicle in front has moved, even when the driver is looking at the road. The driver would need to look down to see the warning – taking their eyes off the road.

Unabashed Performance with Compact BOXER

The new Subaru Forester performance is rugged for a rather small SUV with a small 4-cylinder engine. Its versatility is its blessing and curse. With a 2.5 liter horizontally opposed engine and dual mode X-MODE, infamous Symmetrical All-wheel Drive, Active Torque Vectoring, and SI-Drive engine performance management the 2020 Forester is ready for anything.

2020 Subaru Forester
2020 Subaru Forester

The new Forester can handle itself in snow, mud and ice and can be taken camping or to the beach with equipment thanks to roof tails and a wider opening for the tailgate.

With the 4-cylinder matched to standard Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) the 2020 Forester’s launch can sometimes be aggressive, and other times can be felt straining to get rpms above 3,000 – even when heavy on the gas. Once the Subaru gets up and at-em the whip can hold its own and pickup is great when cruising. The direct injection engine produces 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque.

Seven-speed manual mode is featured on Sport and Touring models that simulates a 7-speed manual transmission. Paddle shifters are also featured.

Standard driver selectable Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) offers Intelligent and Sport modes one the Limited and Sport Sharp on the Forester Sport that can customize throttle characteristics and increase efficiency. Intelligent mode is for daily driving balancing performance, fuel efficiency and drivability. Sport mode increases aggression and reduces efficiency. Sport Sharp on the Forester Sport provides exhilarating engine performance and control and more responsive torque for max enjoyment.

The 2020 Forester also features electric power steering, ABS, EBD, Vehicle Dynamics Control System and the tire pressure monitoring system.

Active Torque Vectoring helps the Forester manage in varying road and weather conditions. New for 2019-2020 is dual X-Mode on the Subaru Forester Sport, Limited and Touring models that includes Hill Descent Control, Snow/ Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes. With dual X-Mode, the Subaru had excellent resilience on snow and ice in Chicago. Especially since the departure angle is shown for added confidence.

2019/ 2020 Subaru Forester
2019/ 2020 Subaru Forester

With standard X-Mode with and Hill Descent Control, hill climbing ability and drivability is enhanced and torque application is smoother for easier control of the steering wheel.

Symmetrical All-wheel drive is one of Editor Sommer’s favorite features on all Subaru SUVs. Handling is next to none with Symmetrical AWD and makes the whip competitive with rugged pickups and bigger SUVs. The innovative all-wheel drive system constantly monitors acceleration, deceleration, cornering and traction to transfer power to the wheels with the best grip.

With all the amazing technology that enhances the 2020 Forester’s versatile performance, it’s a surprise that it’s still so efficient. Auto Start-Stop increases efficiency by shutting down the engine when idle. The feature is great until drivers flip the whip in to sport mode and the launch is stifled. The Forester Limited we reviewed boasts a 29 mpg combined EPA (26 mpg city / 33 mpg highway) allowing for nearly one week of driving to work in Chicago on one tank.

Abundant Advance Safety Technology

The 2020 Forester beefs up its Eyesight Driver Assist Technology adding Lane Departure Prevention to Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre Collision Braking, Pre Collision Throttle Management, Lane Departure and Sway Warning and Lead Vehicle Start Alert.

Also new for 2020 is the Rear Seat Reminder designed to prevent drivers from leaving anything or anyone in the back seat unnoticed when they leave the vehicle. If a sensor detects a large object on the back a alarm will sound and message in the driver’s digital dash.

2019 Subaru Forester
2019 Subaru Forester

Standard is Trailer Stability Assist that monitors trailer sway and can brake individual wheels to stabilize the Forester. The Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, Reverse Automatic Braking and the rear vision camera are all available on the Forester Premium.

Traction Control features skid suspension friction that helps to maintain directional stability by suppressing the wheels tendency to slide sideways.

The 2020 Subaru Forester has more skin in the rugged CUV game that its counterparts, and retails for under $30k for the base model. What was once seen as a car built for the ‘macho’, is now sophisticated and refined with its resilience retained.