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2020 Subaru Forester review: Wholesome goodness

Neither exciting nor stylish, this crossover is nonetheless a supremely practical choice, a healthy part of any automotive diet.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
6 min read

Even though Subarus have a certain wholegrain appeal, plenty of average folks drive them, too. You don't have to go hiking every weekend, sell healing crystals at the local farmers market or manage a vintage resale shop to park one in your garage. In fact, last year more than 180,000 people took home a new , enough to make this small crossover the automaker's second best-selling model in America, just behind the Outback. There's nothing earth-shattering about this vehicle's overall package, but it works well and is mostly likable. 


2020 Subaru Forester


  • Nicely finished, spacious interior
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Capacious cargo hold

Don't like

  • More giddy-up would be nice
  • Juddering stop-start
  • Feels top-heavy

What's new?

The 2020 Subaru Forester has been mildly updated for 2020, ensuring it remains competitive with newer rivals like the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4. The tire-pressure monitoring system now recognizes individual wheels, and a rear-seat reminder function will alert you with both an audible chime and a message in the instrument cluster to check the back seats at the end of a journey.  

Subaru's EyeSight suite of driver aids is standard in the Forester. It includes features like lane-keeping assist, precollision braking and adaptive cruise control. That last item has been improved for the latest model year, gaining lane-centering capability. Lane-departure prevention also joins the roster and it works well, gently directing the vehicle toward the center of its lane if you happen to drift.

Model range and pricing 

There's probably a Forester that fits your budget. An entry-level version starts at a reasonable $25,505, and every Forester comes with all-wheel drive standard. The Subaru's competitors start around the same price, but four-corner traction is $1,500 extra in the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, and a $1,400 upcharge if you grab the Toyota RAV4. 

Stepping up from that base model, the Forester is offered in four other trim levels. There's Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring. My Limited tester features plenty of amenities and checks out for a not-unreasonable $33,800. That figure is inflated by just one option: A $1,695 package that includes an embedded navigation system, a Harman Kardon sound system and a few other minor items. Grab a range-topping Touring version of this vehicle and you won't be spending too much more than that at $35,605. 

The 2020 Subaru Forester is pragmatic if not passionate

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The Forester's major rivals may not come with standard all-wheel drive, but each of the competitors outlined above can be had with a fuel-sipping hybrid drivetrain. Unfortunately, you'll have to move to the smaller  if you want an electrified Subaru.   

Just one engine is available in this car. If you were hoping for a turbo or manual gearbox, you'll be sorely disappointed, though probably not surprised. All Foresters get motivation from a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter flat-four. This engine is good for a respectable, if unremarkable 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. Routing that twist to the all-wheel-drive system is a continuously variable transmission that can provide up to seven simulated gears when shifted manually.   

Interior and tech 

For all its virtues, Subaru isn't necessarily a leader in vehicle styling. Its cars and crossovers tend to be practical rather than passionate, kind of like elastic-waistband jeans -- comfortable and affordable, if a bit unflattering. In step with the rest of the automaker's lineup, the Forester is graced with somewhat frumpy proportions. Even though it is just about as tall as rivals, its body seems awkwardly top heavy with a super-tall greenhouse. This does the vehicle no favors in the looks department, but the tradeoff is an absolute load of headroom. Shaquille O'Neal could sit bolt upright and still have enough space to wear a chef's hat. 

As for the rest of the Forester's interior, my Limited tester has plenty of soft plastics and attractive contrast stitching. The seats are also quite comfortable. Overall, it's a lot nicer than you might expect for a Subaru, which has been dinged in the past for its interior quality. It's also better than what you get in the new Escape and it might even be a touch nicer than the RAV4's cabin. 

2020 Subaru Forester

There's nothing to get excited about here and that is not a bad thing.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

There's also plenty of storage space in the Forester's cabin. Behind the second-row seat is an impressive 35.4 cubic feet of room. Drop that backrest flat and you get 76.1 cubes, more than in many competing utility vehicles. 

While eminently useful, luggage hauling is hardly exciting. What's of far greater interest to many motorists these days is in-vehicle tech. Like the center stone on a fancy ring, the first thing you're likely to notice about the Forester's interior is the infotainment touchscreen, which in my tester measures 8 inches from corner to corner. Lesser models feature a 6.5-inch display. 

Subaru's Starlink infotainment system has the usual features baked in, like Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though embedded navigation is optional on Limited models. Surprisingly, I like the Forester's telematics more than the 11.6-inch portrait screen that Subaru offers in some of its other products. That fancier system doesn't seem as responsive or look as nice as what's available in the Forester. 

Taking the strain out of driving, my tester is also fitted with useful features like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive headlights and automatic high beams. Beyond that, there's dual-zone climate control and keyless entry with push-button start. 

Putting it all in motion 

There's no sense of junkiness to the Forester -- no rattles, judders or other uncouth behavior. Even though it's got a naturally aspirated engine, performance is perfectly adequate. The Forester accelerates with relative ease, if not tire-squealing vigor. Get-up-and-go should be more than adequate for 90% of customers, though a little extra gusto on the freeway would be appreciated. 

2020 Subaru Forester

This engine is capable if unexciting.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

This vehicle's four-cylinder is smooth and quiet, emitting none of the tractor sounds Subaru boxers used to be known for, but one area could be improved. The stop-start system, which bolsters around-town fuel economy, is far from the best available today. When combustion commences after a stop, it kicks like an angry mule, juddering the whole vehicle. Fortunately, this feature can easily be disabled by the push of a hardware button mounted within easy reach of the driver's left hand. 

The Forester's CVT is mostly agreeable. It will simulate gear changes under heavy loads to reduce annoying engine sounds, though it's not always as smooth as it should be. Sometimes a clunking sensation can be felt through the driveline; I'm not exactly sure what causes this, but it is a bit annoying. 

At least that transmission helps with fuel economy, though. Every version of the Forester stickers at 26 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway, not too bad for something with all-wheel drive. Combined, this Subaru should return 29 mpg. 

As I mentioned, the Forester has a tall, airy interior. This is great for passenger comfort, but it does make the vehicle feel a bit top heavy. There's a small amount of body roll while going through corners, though nothing alarming. Navigate curves at a normal person's pace and you'll have no issues. The Forester is built on the Subaru Global Platform, appropriately refined with a smooth ride and comfortable cabin, though there is just a tiny bit more wind noise at higher speeds than I'd like.   

2020 Subaru Forester
Craig Cole/Roadshow

A smart buy 

If I had my druthers, the Forester's chassis would be stiffened up just a skosh for better handling, and I'd offer it with the automaker's 2.4-liter turbocharged engine that's available in several other products. These two improvements would address my biggest gripes about it. 

Neither stylish nor emotional, the 2020 Subaru Forester is nonetheless a solid all-around choice, a wholesome utility vehicle that appeals to all sorts of motorists, from park rangers to podiatrists. It's safe and efficient, has a roomy cargo hold and its cabin is nicely finished. Thanks to these virtues, and others, it's easy to see why this utility vehicle is one of Subaru's best sellers.


2020 Subaru Forester

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 8.5Design 7.5Media 7