Early drive: Subaru Forester e-Boxer 2019

  • All-new SUV arrives later this year
  • Bigger, easier to live with and greener than before
  • Hybrid powertrain only

 ‘The same dependable package, but roomier and more refined’

As the all-new Subaru Forester is readied for its UK launch later in 2019, memories of the original from 1997 seem all the more distant.

For one thing, the Forester has adopted far more conventional SUV looks – shedding its vertically stretched estate-like styling in response to the evolving crossover market and changing customer demands.

This new fifth-generation model does not alter the now-established trend as cars are replaced; it's longer and wider than before, with more metal on show and a little less glass for a bolder look. The nose might look familiar, but the conservative styling smacks of Nissan X-Trail down the sides, a point reinforced similar by silver highlights dotted around the exterior.

Subaru Forester 2019 side

Familiar Subaru traits remain under the surface, though; the engine is a four-cylinder ‘boxer’ - imagine a V-configuration engine with a 180-degree angle between the cylinders rather than a more usual 60 to 90 degrees. The addition here is that it's assisted by an electric motor, and power is sent to all four wheels via Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system.

This set-up, dubbed e-Boxer, is the only one that will be offered ­in the new Forester when it goes on sale in November 2019. Two trim levels will be available, however, and prices will start at £33,995.

As before, the Mk5 Forester will be competing in an increasingly hotly contested sector of the market, featuring a swathe of rivals such as the Ford KugaHonda CR-VHyundai TucsonKia SportageNissan QashqaiPeugeot 3008SEAT AtecaSkoda KaroqToyota RAV4Vauxhall Grandland X and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Read on to find out more about the new fifth-generation Subaru Forester, and for our initial driving impressions.

Symmetrical all-wheel drive: the Subaru difference

While the majority of SUVs the fifth-generation Forester will compete against send power exclusively to the front wheels, Subaru’s ethos is different, hence the standard AWD.

In layman’s terms, all four wheels automatically have power distributed among them, helping boost traction both across tricky terrain and on slippery roads; unsurprisingly, as a result, this is among the reasons you often see a higher number of Subarus in rural areas.

Subaru Forester 2019 e-Boxer off-road

To help this advantage appeal more to families less likely to venture off-road, Subaru has refocused its marketing endeavours in Britain to promote AWD as part of a suite of safety systems – making it more likely to resonate with families that the Forester could appeal to.

Safety has, after all, been one of Subaru’s key selling points. In the new Forester, the engine has been designed to be pushed underneath the passenger compartment upon a frontal impact to minimise intrusion, plus, the firm’s Eyesight of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping technology technology first seen in Europe since 2014 continues to be standard fitment. This version of autonomous emergency braking has helped 25% of owners avoid an accident in the first year of ownership.

Although the fifth-generation Forester has yet to be crash-tested under the auspices of Euro NCAP, the current Subaru Impreza hatchback and smaller XV crossover have been awarded very high safety scores, so the signs bode well.

Only one hybrid version available

Exact specifications have yet to be confirmed for the UK-market Forester e-Boxer. EU versions are stated to offer 150hp and 194Nm, that said, while the electric motor is so far quoted to add 17hp and 65Nm.

The adoption of hybrid technology is in part because the firm has been shifting away from its mix of petrol and diesel engines since 2018, as its existing technical relationship with Toyota means it has been able to tweak new vehicle platforms to suit electrification. The outgoing Forester diesel wasn’t exactly a popular choice, in any case.

No official performance figures have been announced for the new Subaru, but the Forester is expected to match the 11.8-second 0-62mph time of the current 150hp model. Top speed dips from 119mph to 117mph. The electrical assistance will also no doubt have an effect on in-gear acceleration, too, which will be far more noticeable in low-speed driving.

Subaru Forester 2019 e-Boxer hybrid display

Fuel economy and CO2 output figures are also to be finalised but Subaru claims a 10% improvement over the outgoing model’s figures of 32.2mpg and 168g/km under the WLTP system. Not quite on a par with many a turbocharged, hybrid or diesel rival – but some improvement’s better than none.

Only one transmission is offered – a Lineartronic CVT, which comes with a built-in 10kW electric motor to improve response and boost efficiency. This mild hybrid set-up is relatively straightforward to integrate into the Forester, as it doesn’t take up much space, but the spare wheel has been ditched to make way for the 118V lithium-ion battery.

There will be no full hybrid or plug-in version offered, as Subaru claims those configurations would sacrifice too much in the way of weight, complexity, towing capability and packaging.

How does it drive? 

The fitment of the hybrid hardware has added 110kg to the fifth-generation Forester’s kerb weight, but – with 50kg of it placed on the front of the car and 60kg at the rear – the Subaru is still neatly balanced.

Subaru Forester 2019 e-Boxer driving

It also rolls less, thanks to firmer suspension, and is more composed than the outgoing model. However, it does feel heavier and is less fun and involving. This is admittedly likely to prove irrelevant for the majority of buyers, especially when 44% of Subaru’s sales were to new buyers last year with off-roading and safety at the top of their agenda.

Fortunately, the ride quality has improved over the outgoing model ­– despite the stiffer set-up – with sharper bumps being better isolated from the cabin. There’s more grip on offer as well but, as the steering is so light, there’s little indication of what’s going on at the front; this, too, blunts any enjoyment the Forester may have offered.

On the rough-road front, the Forester’s 220mm of ground clearance allows it to deal with some light off-roading ­­– and the assistance provided by the electric motor certainly provides a more relaxed experience. The instantaneous, smooth torque delivery means you don’t have to work the engine and transmission so hard, leaving you to crawl through arduous terrain in relative silence.

Subaru Forester drive mode

The new off-road drive mode helps here. It’s named X-mode and helps provide instant torque delivery to the driven wheels from stationary, rather than the 2.5mph at which it would usually kick in on the road.

The automatic gearbox is admittedly slower to respond compared to its rivals when asked to work hard, but the instant torque availability from the electric motor does negate some of this ­– providing a slight boost to improve in-gear acceleration and low-speed off-roading.

Unlike some plug-in or full hybrid alternatives, there is no button to force the Forester to save its battery power or drive in pure electric mode. If you have enough stored electric power, however, the motor will propel the Subaru up to 37mph before the engine kicks in.

Easier to live with

The larger dimensions of the fifth-generation Forester translate to marginally increased cabin space. Not only is there more space in both the passenger compartment and boot, but the rear door openings have been made more vertical than in its predecessor ­­– specifically to improve access for parents with younger children and their associated child seats.

The opening is wider, too, allowing you to stand on the sill to reach the roof rack more easily.

Subaru Forester 2019 rear door sill

When it comes to the boot, the new Forester features a more quickly closing powered tailgate and four more litres of storage space. This brings the total to 509 but, more prominently, the bay has been redesigned so that golf bags will fit widthways and not just diagonally.

Little details elsewhere include a washer jet to keep the lens of the rear-view parking camera clean, while the powered tailgate also has a button to lock the vehicle after it’s been closed.

When does it go on sale?

The Forester e-Boxer is expected to arrive in the UK in November, and prices will start at £33,995.

Subaru Forester 2019 rear

Parkers will be among the first to drive this mid-sized crossover in the UK, so check back with us soon for the full fifth-generation Subaru Forester SUV review 

Read the best hybrid cars for 2019 in the UK here

Looking for something smaller? Read about the best small crossovers on sale here

Read how we got on with living the previous version of the Forester here