Mountain Wheels: Updated 2019 Subaru Forester boosts space, versatility

As ground zero for Subaru saturation in the entire country, people of the High Country tend to be the very models upon which the Japanese carmaker patterns its model revisions. Do you have a dog, enjoy hiking and are you an educator? If so, you are practically predestined for Subaru ownership.

So it should come as no surprise that the 2019 version of the Forester, already available at dealerships, is filled with subtle upgrades and changes that don’t radically remake the popular SUV — principally improved ride quality, larger rear seat space and a very broad cargo opening in the rear, for loading all of your lifestyle gear.

You may also be freaked out by one of the early appearances of full-blown facial recognition technology in a regular-priced automobile (a base version starts at $24,295, just $500 more than the 2018 models, with the Touring edition starting at $34,295).

The DriverFocus system ostensibly keeps its eyes on you to make sure you have your eyes on the road, and not your phone, but it amps things up by recognizing up to five different regular drivers in your household and greeting you by name when you get behind the wheel, as well as resetting your customized seat, mirror and temperature control settings. Creepy? Sure, but look for that kind of thing as a norm in cars of the future.

The DriverFocus system ostensibly keeps its eyes on you to make sure you have your eyes on the road, and not your phone, but it amps things up by recognizing up to five different regular drivers in your household and greeting you by name when you get behind the wheel.

The rest of the new Forester is not creepy, but instead attractively styled and pleasantly updated in subtle but important ways. Some 1.8 million Foresters have been sold in the U.S. since the car’s introduction, and this fifth-generation vehicle aims to please those looking for a more upright, glass-heavy SUV that’s built for what the company calls a “stir of adventure” — not full-blown rock-crawling or rally racing, and not just suburban shopping duty, but somewhere in between. Maybe that’s you.

Overall, it is a more engaging automobile, with more responsive steering and braking and the addition of automatic, brake-activated torque vectoring to allow you more precise cornering. It’s also quieter inside. They’ve also made the Subaru Intelligent Drive system standard, allowing you to emphasize performance-oriented response.

Power generated by the 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder has been marginally increased to 182 horsepower, with pleasant acceleration and highway mileage as high as 33 MPG.

The Forester, built on Subaru’s new and adaptable global vehicle platform, is available in five trim levels but no longer has either a turbocharged or manual-transmission option; all vehicles get the same engine and a relatively smooth continuously-variable transmission, with seven paddle-shiftable gears as a more engaging option on the Sport and Touring models. Like most new cars, Forester also comes with a reliably jarring engine auto-stop/start, though that can be switched off if it drives you crazy.

Safety is the big play here and all Forester models now come equipped with the EyeSight driver assist system, providing involved lane-keeping and emergency braking support. Moderately rigorous off-roading is also made easy by 8.7 inches of clearance and the X-Mode system, which provides hill-descent control or better severe-weather handling.

Physical changes see a small stretch in the wheelbase that turns into 39.4 inches of rear legroom, with wider and more comfortable seating and a sharper angle to the rear pillar, which makes it easier to get aboard (or to load and deal with child seats).

Cargo space is also slightly improved, with 76.1 cubic feet of storage with the second-row seats dropped, and a considerably widened (51.2 inches, a five-inch increase) rear gate opening, allowing you more simple Ikea or flat-screen TV box loading options.

That move to a slightly more rear-passenger-focused experience shows up in different ways. The heating and air conditioning system can be linked to better warm or cool your passengers (or focused entirely on the front seats if you are without human cargo); Subaru also offers a back-seat entertainment package in the form of a set of battle-hardened iPads and high-end headphones, using the car’s built-in Wifi hotspot to keep your riders occupied.

Should you really be one of those outdoor adventure types, Forester’s roof rack system is approved for 176 pounds of cargo but is also officially green-lighted for roof tenting, capable of handling up to 700 pounds of you and your closest friends.

The new Sport model also looks the part, with black and orange highlights throughout, 18-inch wheels and the aforementioned replication of gears on its CVT.

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