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Executive Wheels: Two Great Vehicles

The 2018 Subaru BRZ Ts and the 2019 Subaru Forester Touring


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I’m not sure why the car companies keep sending out new models that haven’t changed – in this case the Subaru BRZ – for review. It hasn’t changed at all since I last drove it in 2017—oh, except the price went up a few thousand to $33,495 plus $860 for destination and delivery. The car is still a jointly produced Toyota/Subaru product (a Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ), very fun to drive, a roadster with what I call a briefcase back seat, and not a car I would recommend as an only car. With rear-wheel-drive (the only Subaru equipped this way), no storage and sports-car visibility, this car would be a challenge in the winter or for road trips. But still, it’s fun. This time around my test-drive vehicle had very nice red/black two-tone upholstery (the black part was suede, my new favorite), and it was very attractive inside – and out, for that matter. But to save time, I am going to refer you to my last review (which references my review at the time of the Toyota 86) because it sums up nicely everything that needs to be said.

You can find all you need to know about the Subaru BRZ at this link. Enjoy.

The Subaru Forester is another matter entirely, and a wonderful matter at that.

When the Forester first came out in the late 1990s, it was a slightly lighter, taller and less expensive station wagon than the Outback (then a smaller wagon called the Legacy Wagon with an Outback trim level). But the Forester these days has graduated to full SUV status. They still call it a Crossover, but it looks and feels like a SUV, and stacks up against the smaller SUVs you see driving around – things like the Jeep Compass and the Toyota RAV4. Just to give you the perspective, the Forester in the first generation, in 1997-2002, had a wheelbase of 99.4 inches, a length of 175.6 inches, and it weighed 3,152 lbs. This latest version, the 5th generation, has a wheelbase of 105 inches, a length of 182 inches, and weighs 3,500 lbs. By comparison, the new Outback has a wheelbase of 108.1 inches, a length of 189.9 inches, and weighs 3,624. Both vehicles have gotten larger and beefier over the years, but the Forester has really changed its appearance more – the Outback still looks like a wagon, but the Forester is all SUV.  

To be honest, I didn’t really like the Forester for the first few years, as it seemed tinny to me, too light-weight, and a little thin. Yes, it was – and is – less expensive than the Outback, but it didn’t seem to be quite the value. This new Forester is a value – it is quite simply an admirable small SUV, with enough heft and comfort to garner attention from Subaru aficionados for something other than a lower price, and to gain attention from buyers of other makes as a worthy competitor.

Now I drove the Touring trim, which is top-of-the-line for Forester with a base price of $34,295, compared with the base Forester which carries a MSRP of $24,295, the Premium at $26,695, the Sport at $28,795, and the Limited at $30,795. It appears that the basic differences in all of those trims is what is standard or even available, but it should be noted that each trim has the same engine – a 2.5-liter Boxer 4 cylinder job with 182 horsepower – and each also has the Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. What the Touring trim doesn’t have are any extras -- the base price of the Touring trim is also the final price (plus Destination and Delivery of $975, of course), and it includes everything.

By everything, I mean everything. Beautiful tan leather seats, black and tan leather trim on the doors and dash, all the safety gear like blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, 10-way power drivers seats (8-way for the passenger seat), 18-inch alloy wheels, and a panoramic sunroof (quite large and quite nice). There’s also an upgraded Harman Kardon premium audio system that includes a 576-watt amp and 9 speakers. And, oh yes, a STARLINK 8-inch multimedia navigation system that includes a tons of apps, Bluetooth hands-free phone, text and audio streaming, AM/FM/Sirius XM radio, and voice commands all around. And an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot (requires a monthly service fee). There’s other stuff that Subaru mentions on the sticker, but suffice to say that you basically can’t get more stuff on any car and you will want for nothing.

The old Forester, as I said, seemed tinny, and perhaps a little tippy, and I also thought it was kind of a chug-chug, underpowered vehicle. Indeed, in its first few years the horsepower was, at max, 165 hp, and in subsequent generations it tan about the same, although my research indicates that a turbo was available with 210 hp. In any case, those vehicles felt cheap.

This new one, however, is not like that. This 2019 Forester is beefy, solid, and with a 2.5-liter engine putting out some 182 hp, it is also well powered -- not a speed demon, by any means, but it has some zip and seems like it has some guts. Of course, like almost all Subarus, this Forester has the wonderful Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, and when you marry all of this with a Lineatronic CVT – Continuously Variable Transmission – the performance is more than adequate. And, even with very good performance, the mileage is 33 mpg highway/26 mpg city, which is exceptional. What I liked most was that it handles very well, unlike previous generations. The bottom line is that I believe anyone who is in the market for a Subaru Outback should also test drive the Forester and I think a good number of potential Subaru buyers would opt for the Forester. I also think that small SUV buyers looking at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, GM, Ford, and any number of Korean and European models would find the Forester a worthy competitor that will garner its share of sales. I wouldn’t have said that a few years back.

Did I like everything? No. I did like everything about the look, the interior, and the performance, but there is one thing – something that Subaru is putting in many of its models – I could do without. Subaru calls it the “segment-exclusive DriverFocus distraction mitigation system (that) can identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction.” If you wander – or look to get a better view – and cross the lane line, there is a dashboard readout that says “Keep your eyes on the road.” This could be distraction, but it could also b strategic. Also, after a while it shows a coffee cup, suggesting, I guess, that the driver might need some stimulation. I get the motivation, but systems like this strike me as nanny state, and it bugs me.  

Other than monitoring behavior, I very much liked everything about the Forester. The manufacturer has apparently thought of everything – I can’t think of a thing that’s not here, like a true luxury vehicle – and all of the systems operate very intelligently and intuitive. Your great aunt could figure out the technology – and enjoy it.

This is a great vehicle.

RATING: THREE AND 7/8 STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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