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2020 Subaru Forester Review

LIKES
  • Remarkable capability
  • Remarkable value
  • Remarkable space
  • Remarkable efficiency
DISLIKES
  • Looks haven’t changed much
  • Not especially powerful
  • It’s not free...
  • ...and one’s not in our driveway now.
BUYING TIP
  • The Forester Premium is the sweet spot for many crossover buyers—plenty of features for less than $29,000. We highly recommend it.


The 2020 Subaru Forester is an incredible value among compact crossovers and a former Best Car To Buy winner.

We mean this in the nicest way possible: Take a hike with the 2020 Subaru Forester.

No, really. It’s a good idea. 

The 2020 Forester is a compact crossover that’s more than meets the eye: its boxy shape and cross-trainer looks are a boon to outward vision and off-road capability. The Forester has more ground clearance than most of its rivals, and its proven all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on every model can easily get the car lost in the foothills for a day. 

This year it adds a more advanced active lane control system that can keep the Fozzie centered in its lane better than last year, and a rear-seat reminder—useful safety stuff if you ask us. 

It’s a 6.8 on our overall scale with a big asterisk: It was our Best Car To Buy 2019. We have good feelings for it.

Base Foresters cost $25,505 and top-of-the-line Forester Touring models cost $35,605—a good deal across a range that includes Sport and Limited models. We particularly like the Forester Premium, which costs $28,405 and adds heated seats this year. 

Regardless of trim level, the Forester looks rugged and ready for the weekend. The exterior hasn’t changed much this century, but the interior is clean and straightforward. 

Under the hoods of all Foresters is a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-4 paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is standard on every model, and most Foresters will get an off-road mode (Subaru dubs it the ‘90s-tastic “X-Mode”) that help it climb just about everything we could throw at it. 

Credit the Subaru’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance, or the small frame with just-enough power—the Forester just goes anywhere. The EPA rates it at 29 mpg combined. 

Inside, five adults can fit comfortably with room for gear behind them. The cargo area measures more than 30 cubic feet, with a wide hatch opening for easy loading. 

The front seats are spacious, with a commanding view ahead, but the rear seat’s a coliseum of space for a compact crossover—nearly 40 inches of leg room back there. 

Once aboard, adults can rest comfortably knowing the IIHS and the NHTSA have given the Forester top marks for safety. Automatic emergency braking and other active safety features are standard on all Foresters, and active lane control is improved this year for comfortable longer hauls—not hands-free driving. 

Every Forester gets 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, and at least one USB port. Top trims can get leather upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, and a driver-recognition system.

Styling
The Forester hasn’t changed for 2020 at all. That’s not bad.

Not many people will confuse the 2020 Subaru Forester from the 2010 Subaru Forester—if it ain’t broke, and so on.

Its first mission is practicality, so form follows function in the upright offroader. Starting from an average score of 5, the Forester gets points above average for a clean interior. It’s a 6.

The Forester doesn’t hide its two-box shape, its big greenhouse is a boon to outward vision and safety more than fashion. The headlights are swept back high on the front fenders than prior generations and the new Forester has a sharper beak than before. 

The back tailgate drives a wedge between the C-shaped taillights, which are cut for a wider hatch opening. 

Forester Sports get racy looks from colored exterior accents and unique wheels. 

Inside, the hard-wearing cloth gets vinyl bolsters that are ready for the trail. Forester Sports trade those vinyl parts for orange and black trim that’s a little sportier. Touring models wear warm brown leather upholstery that looks just as hardy. 

The Forester shares much of its interior with the Crosstrek and Impreza (they’re all built on similar bones) that are all functional, but not stylistically harsh. In fact, the Forester walks closely the line between functional and fashionable and ends up on the right side for our hiking boots. 

Performance
The 2020 Forester can go off-road nearly anywhere, but it’s on-road manners are underrated.

Despite its rugged intentions, the 2020 Forester’s serene ride has us more impressed. 

All Foresters are powered by a 182-hp 2.5-liter flat-4 that drives all four wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The Forester is attentive and confident off-road, but its on-road manners make it livable when the road doesn’t turn dusty. 

We give it a 6 out of 10 for performance based on that comfortable ride.
The CVT is tuned for easy take-off from a stop and the Forester tips the scales at 3,500 pounds, which is relatively light considering its all-wheel-drive hardware. The noise coming from the busy flat-4 isn’t especially appealing, but the cabin quiets the frantic motor down as best it can and the CVT is eager to find lower revs for more comfortable cruising. 

All Foresters have 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which helps to traverse just about anything thrown at the small crossover. All Foresters beyond the base model get an off-road mode that includes hill-descent control for trickier situations, which the Subie can easily handle too. 

On the road, the Forester is calm and collected with easy drivability that suits its class. Brake-based torque vectoring helps collect the soft Forester in harder corners—where there’s noticeable body lean—but it’s better suited for a more relaxed pace. 

Despite the Forester Sport’s name, there’s no significantly upgraded hardware on that model beyond cosmetic changes on the exterior.

Comfort & Quality
Comfortable for five with room for plenty of gear, the 2020 Forester is ready for just about anything.

Function, thy name is Forester. 

The 2020 Subaru Forester is a tall crossover with room for five adults and plenty of gear. Its standard all-wheel-drive system makes it popular in snowy states, but its versatility makes it popular in any state. 

Starting from an average score of 5, the Forester gets points above average for a spacious cargo area, good front seats, and the ability to comfortably seat five. It’s an 8 for comfort.

The front seats are comfortable for a wide range of body types. The door cutouts are large and despite the tall ride height, the Forester is easily accessible with sore hips and knees, bad backs, and hobbled ankles. Once aboard, most Foresters will be equipped with a power-adjustable driver’s seat that’s adjustable in at least eight directions. Leg room isn’t an issue up front and neither is head room—the Forester is tall and spacious. A wide center console eats into hip room in the front, but we have no other gripes beyond that. 

The rear seats are commendable for their space: nearly 40 inches. The rear bench is wide and accommodating, with enough shoulder room for three abreast and plenty of leg room. 

Behind the second row, there is 35.4 cubic feet of cargo room that grows to 76.1 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. The Forester is practical with a wide rear hatch cutout for bulky boxes or multiple bikes. The liftgate can be power operated in Premium trim levels and higher, and can open handsfree when arms are full of gear. 

The base cloth is wash-and-ready durable, and Limited and Touring trims get a leather upholstery that feels sturdy rather than luxo-soft. 

Inside, there are plenty of cubbies and storage bins, although interior space isn’t as plentiful as the Honda CR-V, which leads its class.

Safety
Good crash-test data and abundant active safety features make the 2020 Subaru Forester a very safe pick.

The 2020 Subaru Forester is exceptionally safe among new cars, and it comes with a comprehensive suite of active safety features that place it at the forefront of new-car safety. 

Federal testers gave the crossover a five-star overall rating, including five stars in front- and side-impact crash safety but a four-star rating for rollover safety, which is common among tall-riding vehicles. 

The IIHS called the 2019 Forester a Top Safety Pick+ with specific headlight configurations. The Forester aced its crash tests and earned top “Good” scores on every test, including driver- and passenger-side small overlap crash tests. Headlights on Limited and Touring models earned top “Good” scores and qualify for the Top Safety Pick+, while the rest of the lineup gets headlights that rate “Acceptable.” Automatic emergency braking, which is standard across the Forester lineup, was rated by the IIHS as “Superior” and avoided forward crashes at 12 and 25 mph in that agency’s test. Those scores and the Forester’s standard automatic emergency braking system earn it a 9 on our overall scale.
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Subaru’s suite of active safety features are bundled into a package called EyeSight that is standard on every model. The system uses forward-facing cameras behind the windshield that enable adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and automatic emergency braking. New for 2020, Subaru says it’s slightly changed the active lane control to better center the Forester within its lane, which we can confirm based on drives of the other models. It’s far from a hands-free system, and Subaru’s system relies highly on cameras, so low-visibility and poor weather can dramatically impact performance. 

Unlike some competitors, the Forester has great outward vision thanks to its tall stance and low window line. 

Features
The 2020 Forester is one of the best values among compact crossovers.

Regardless of trim, the 2020 Subaru Forester is well-equipped and an exceptional value among compact crossovers. 

Like last year, the 2020 Forester is available in base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring trim levels. It costs $25,505 to start, including destination, for a 2020 Forester base version with an automatic transmission. The top 2020 Forester Touring costs $35,605. 

Every Forester gets a suite of active safety features (that we cover above), automatic climate control, a split-folding rear seat, 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, and at least one USB port. 

We give the Forester one point above average for its good base equipment and another for its value across the range. It’s a 7 for features.

The 2020 Forester Premium is our recommended version thanks to a few comforts that make a big difference. The Forester Premium adds to the base version heated front seats, alloy wheels, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a panoramic moonroof, and an off-road drive mode. The Forester Premium costs $28,405, including destination. Two packages can add blind-spot monitors and keyless ignition ($795) or a power liftgate, blind-spot monitors, and keyless ignition ($1,395). The 2019 Forester Premium was our Best Car To Buy 2019. 

At the top, the Forester Touring costs $35,605 and includes leather upholstery, paddle shifters, power-adjustable front seats that are heated and cooled, a driver-attention monitor and recognition system, 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, Harmon Kardon premium audio, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and 18-inch alloy wheels. It adds another level of safety with rear cross-traffic braking.

Subaru infotainment

Subaru’s infotainment system in the Forester, called StarLink, blends together the automaker’s software and telematics systems together. 

The base screen is 6.5 inches, measured diagonally, and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone software. It’s a good-sized screen, but narrowly misses a point on our features scale because many other competitors have bumped up to larger screens—even on base-model cars. 

The standard touchscreen pinches and swipes relatively well, although we’ve noticed some lag in the software. The StarLink apps and icons are big and bright, and the screen resists washing out in direct sunlight. 

Touring versions add native navigation, but that’s not the reason to consider that trim level. In most cases, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are better for navigation and include more reliable maps (provided you have a reliable cellphone data signal). 

Other Subarus on dealer lots can be equipped with a large, tablet-style touchscreen (Legacy and Outback, for now) but bigger isn’t always better—those systems can be laggy and hard to use. 

Fuel Economy
Among all-wheel-drive compact crossovers, the 2020 Subaru Forester is fuel-efficient.

The 2020 Subaru Forester is fuel-efficient among many cars, not just with competitive compact crossovers such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V—with one important exception. 

The EPA rates the 2020 Forester at 26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined, which is a 5 on our scale.

All-wheel drive is standard on all Foresters, and its 29 mpg combined rating is competitive with the RAV4 and CR-V, which rate at 28 and 29 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. However, the RAV4 Hybrid is far more efficient at 40 mpg combined, according to the EPA, although it costs much more. And Honda says a CR-V Hybrid is in the works that will best all three. 

Stay tuned. 


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