2019 – Present Subaru Forester (SK 5th Generation)
Subaru introduced the fifth-generation Forester at the New York International Auto Show in March 2018. While the exterior of the 2019 model (which we review here) was only marginally different from that of previous models, the focus of Subaru shifted instead to quieter and smoother performance.
The compact five-passenger, four-door SUV sports a more prominent grille and sharper sides but maintains the low beltline and tall windows of its predecessors. The wheelbase is longer, giving the Forester 1.4 inches more rear legroom, and the doors open to nearly 90 degrees to give passengers improved rear access.
Subaru continues to offer the Forester Limited, Base, Premium, and Touring trim levels. The Touring and Limited versions come with a voice-controlled 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the Touring adds new heated rear seats.
A first-ever Forester Sport trim joins the middle of the lineup and features 18-inch wheels, standard X-Mode control, and Hill Descent Control, which maintains a steady speed when coasting steep declines. All but the base trim levels now sport a panoramic moonroof, which stretches from above the front seats to the rear seats.
The Forester continues to use the 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine of the previous generation. However, the new engine packs more horsepower (182 instead of 179) and comes with direct injection for better fuel economy with up to 26 mpg city and 33 highway.
For this generation, Subaru discontinued the 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbo engines and no longer offers a manual transmission. All models now come with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
As part of its campaign to increase safety, Subaru also made EyeSight Driver Assist technology (adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and pre-collision braking) standard on all models.
For the 2022 model year, Subaru gave the Forester a complete facelift (read our full review of the updated model here). This includes a completely redesigned front end and different rear bumper from previous model years in this generation.
It also introduced the Forester Wilderness trim level. This off-road-focused trim has 9.2 inches of ground clearance as well as all-terrain tires. The interior features Subaru's StarTex seats, which are water repellent for the best possible protection, and copper accents.
2014 – 2018 Subaru Forester (SJ 4th Generation)
The Subaru Forester was fully redesigned for the 2014 model year.
This fourth-generation Forester grew in length over its predecessor by 1.4 inches; it's also 0.6 inches wider. Interior volume is also up; maximum cargo area increased to 74.7 cubic feet when seats were folded down. This model has more front-seat travel and more rear-seat legroom than previous generations.
Updates to the interior design were subtle, highlighted by a simple, modern dashboard design with large buttons and knobs for stereo and climate controls.
We tested a 2017 model; read the full review here.
The most common model has a 170-hp, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. It comes in base, Premium, Limited and Touring versions. The new 2.0XT trim offers a 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and is offered in Premium and Touring versions. Most Forester models came with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
On those that had the manual transmission, the number of gear was bumped to six from five. The X-Mode AWD control system, which Subaru designed for use on uneven or slippery roads, was available for some of the high-end models.
New safety features introduced for this generation included optional EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which was designed to monitor traffic movement and warn drivers if they veered off their lanes. Other safety features in later model years included optional forward-collision prevention and forward and reverse automatic braking.
2009 – 2013 Subaru Forester (SH 3rd Generation)
The third generation featured a major redesign that featured a less boxy exterior, characterized by a sloping roofline and softly rounded curves. With this transformation, the Forester became more of a small modern SUV than a rugged traditional wagon. The new design increased the wheelbase by 3.5 inches, and overall length, width, and height by 3 inches, 1.8 inches, and 4.3 inches respectively. Second-generation models had a roomier interior and more cargo space. With the rear seats folded, the cargo capacity was 69 cubic feet.
The trim levels offered in this generation were 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, 2.5X Limited, 2.5XT, and 2.5XT Limited. A more powerful 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine became standard for the X trims. The XT version engines, which were turbocharged, delivered 224 hp. Turbo versions can be identified by their prominent hood scoop that's designed to direct air through the intercooler.
The all-wheel-drive remained standard, and buyers could still choose between a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic transmission.
A 2013 mini-refresh made USB and Bluetooth audio input standard features in all models. Standard safety features that were standard for this generation included stability control, brake assist, and full side-curtain airbags.
2003 – 2008 Subaru Forester (SG 2nd Generation)
The second-generation Subaru Forester went on sale for the 2003 automotive model year. It featured an updated design with a larger, boxy body, an enlarged chromed grille, new contoured bumpers above, and redesigned halogen headlamps. The Forester also had flared fenders and an aluminum hood to shed weight.
This generation remained 175 inches long, but cargo space increased to as much as 64 cubic feet when the rear seats were folded.
The base trim of the previous generation was renamed X and the luxury S model was renamed XS. Both models featured 165-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines. Subaru released the XT trim with a turbocharged 210-hp, 2.5-liter engine in 2004. It launched variants of these models in later years, including the XS Premium model and the XS L.L. Bean edition, which featured leather seats and a sunroof. Air conditioning and remote keyless entry became standard on all models.
Subaru updated the Forester slightly for the 2006 model year, boosting the specs of the base engine to 173 hp and that of the turbo engine to 224 hp. Buyers could still choose between a manual or automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive became standard.
These later models also had updated headlights, taillights, grille, front bumper, and hood.
1998 – 2002 Subaru Forester (SF 1st Generation)
Subaru unveiled the Forester at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. The first-generation models, which went on sale in the US in 1997, were crossover SUVs with a front-engine, four-wheel-drive layout. They used the Impreza platform but carried a larger 165-hp, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engines of the Subaru Outback.
Although the first Foresters used a car-based body, they had the rugged, boxy, compact SUV look that was slightly smaller than the Subaru Legacy and would be the distinguishing characteristic of the next few generations. They were not designed as conventional SUVs, so they were close enough to the ground for easy access.
Early buyers of the Forester could choose between a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. Trim levels started with the base L, which came with air conditioning, cruise control, and other standard features.
The fully-equipped S version added keyless entry, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 6.5-inch alloy wheels. The front bucket seats for both trims were upholstered in light cloth.
The rear seats folded forward to create a flat load floor and cargo capacity in the rear was 14.4 cubic feet.