SHEVILLE, N.C. — The redesigned 2019 Subaru Forester looks similar to the generation it replaces. The new version kept its predecessor’s large windows and high ground clearance, as well as its easy-to-maneuver steering.
But that’s no disappointment. The previous generation was nothing to mess with.
The Forester, a crossover pioneer, went on sale in 1997. Since then, Subaru of America estimates that nearly a fifth of its U.S. sales since 1968 have been Foresters — or more than 1.8 million vehicles.
With the Outback, the Forester has been a catalyst for Subaru’s continuing U.S. growth.
“The fourth-generation Forester was a huge home run for us,” said Todd Hill, car line planning manager, during the Forester’s media introduction last month here.
But while playing it safe, Subaru has included several changes in the redesign. Some are more subtle than others, such as the word “Forester” appearing in the headlight unit.
Five trim levels
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The automaker has added automatic door locks, a first for Forester, and a standard automatic stop-start system. It is the only Subaru to have that feature, other than the discontinued first-generation Crosstrek Hybrid.
In the rear, the cargo door opens 5.3 inches wider than the 2018 version’s door.
Now built on the Subaru Global Platform, the fifth-generation Forester is wrapped in a new body and is powered by a 2.5-liter engine, which has 90 percent new components, and a freshened continuously variable transmission.
The crossover is available in five trims for 2019: base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring. Premium is expected to be the volume trim, Hill said. But he added that sales orders are coming in higher than the expected 10 percent mix for the range-topping Touring.
Through August of this year, Subaru has sold 108,471 Foresters in the U.S., down 8.7 percent from a year earlier. In 2017, Subaru sold 177,563 Foresters, second behind the Outback.
The redesign is now on sale. Subaru executives in the U.S. and Japan have said Forester’s U.S. sales should reach 200,000 a year.
Hill noted that 57 percent of Forester buyers are new to the brand, making it a conquest driver. But he also said that nearly 20 percent of Forester buyers are on at least their third Subaru vehicle.
Subaru envisions the target Forester customer as an “assured navigator,” with a median age around 37. That is younger than buyers of the outgoing version, Hill noted. He said 52 percent of its buyers are women and the same percentage are married. And Forester buyers also enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking.
Subaru has acknowledged a new outdoor phenomenon among its buyers: roof tents. As the name implies, with the support of roof rails and crossbars, campers position their tent atop their vehicles rather than on the ground.
All Foresters, except for the base model, come with standard roof rails. Sport and Touring trims have additional tie-down spots.
Owners manuals generally advise against roof tents because of roof load limits, Hill said. “Officially, everyone has to say, ‘No, please don’t do that.’
“But we knew our roof crush [resistance] was very strong because of our very safe body, and we knew the racks are very strong. So we went back to the engineers and said, ‘Hey, can we do this?’
The planning managers first had to explain the concept.
“After a while, they said OK,” Hill said. “So we’re officially able to tell our owners you can do this — if you follow the guidelines of the owner’s manual.”