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FRESH BUT FAMILIAR: Redesigned for 2019, Subaru Forester rides on all-new, improved platform with upgraded cabin trimmings, added space

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Unless the all-new, fifth-generation 2019 Subaru Forester is parked right next to a 2018 model, it’s hard to see the changes. But there are changes galore, virtually from the ground up.

With a vehicle as popular as the Forester, Subaru perhaps wisely didn’t stray too far from its previous model’s styling, although every panel of the new generation’s sheetmetal is different.

That familiar exterior design rests atop all-new underpinnings, adopting Subaru’s Global Platform. The Forester is the automaker’s latest vehicle to adopt it, leaving only the Legacy/Outback models yet to receive it, but they’re next in line, likely to break cover for the 2020 model year.

The new car is a bit larger than its predecessor granting more legroom, especially in the rear seat, and a bit more shoulder room for all aboard. Cargo space has increased by 1 cubic foot behind the rear seats, and helping when loading it up is a 5.3-inch wider rear gate opening. Headroom remains generous, particularly up front, but the high-mounted, upright bench trims it a bit in the rear seat.

A much-welcomed feature of all Subaru models is the exceptional outward visibility, thanks to the slim roof pillars and plentiful glass area. This safety-conscious manufacturer recognizes the importance of being able to see as much as possible of what’s going on around the driver.

And speaking of safety, all Foresters now come standard with Subaru’s much-praised EyeSight driver assistance and warning features. Our top-of-the-range Touring test vehicle included automatic emergency braking;, adaptive cruise control; lane departure and sway warning; lane keep assist; and lead vehicle take-off alert. An additional feature was a pre-collision throttle management system to help avoid accelerating into something ahead by significantly reducing throttle response and alerting the driver. Additional features included reverse automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring with lane change assist and rear-cross traffic alert.

The cabin in the 2019 displays improved materials (dressy Saddle Brown perforated leather trim in our Touring) and a simple-but-ergonomic dash with easy-to-read gauges. A fast-responding infotainment touchscreen is centered high in the center of the dash. A secondary digital screen between the speedometer and tachometer shows useful information, but it can get overly busy displaying various functions that are activated.

Like all Subarus, the Forester is powered by a “boxer” engine that’s a bit shy on power. The 2019 Forester’s 2.5-liter engine has received a modest bump in output to 182 horsepower, but it feels fairly sluggish when tackling long interstate inclines, accelerating up freeway ramps or passing slower traffic. In general driving, though, it’s adequate. As a consolation, the wagon is frugal with fuel: 26 mpg in town and 33 on the highway make it one of the most economical all-wheel-drive compact CUVs.

The new chassis delivers an excellent highway ride, firm yet compliant. Handling isn’t sporty, but it grips well through corners while maintaining a fairly flat and confident composure. Brakes are quite strong and easy to modulate. The steering is fairly weighty but responsive, although delivering little road feel.

The new Forester is quite a bit quieter than the previous version, and the car exudes an overall sense of solidity that belies its moderate price. And its 8.7-inch ground clearance gives it some surprisingly generous off-road capabilities.

While not exhibiting transformative advancements, the Forester for 2019 packs in improvements in nearly every element of the vehicle. But perhaps the greatest gain is in its longest-running virtue: value. That’s what Forester buyers expect, and that’s what it continues to deliver.