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New Cars The Subaru Forester has evolved far from its ‘old granola box’ origins

Forester enthusiasts – and yes, such a group exists – like to refer to their machines as “Toasters.”

They also call them “Fozzies," and “Scoobys” and who knows what else. Despite a reputation for rattling interiors and occasional head gasket woes, the original Foresters still engender lasting affection and a bit of teasing. However, as a company, Subaru’s moved on.

The difference between the old granola box that was the original Forester and this new one is the difference between a half-chewed old Birkenstock and a high-tech approach hiking shoe.

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The skylight view from the 2019 Subaru Forester.

As a company that is currently bludgeoning sales records with a large bat (with a Coexist bumper sticker on it), Subaru is on something of a tear. The company has managed to successfully take the identity forged with their quirky past and combine it with a modern fleet of vehicles that are slickly executed.

The Toaster is now a clever, efficient appliance. The question is, will people still find this new Forester lovable enough to want to give it a nickname or two?

“Fishbowl” might be a good start. Despite boasting a strengthened shell and expected top safety ratings to go with the rest of their range, the Forester has a large and spacious greenhouse. Despite a seating position that's a little lower than the outgoing model, passengers have an excellent view of their surroundings.

The front seats are comfortable and have reasonable lateral support. The rear seats are a little short on leg support, but will be fine for hauling kids around. The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) attachment points are improved over the previous model and now don’t have large cavities to fill up with Cheerios and other debris.

Of further interest to families will be the Forester's large rear sills and 80-degree opening rear doors. It's easy to step up to load the roof bars – which now feature new tie-down loops – and younger kids will have no issues scrambling in and out. There are also dual map pockets on the back of both drive and passenger seats, the better to load up with books or devices to keep the kids entertained on road trips.

Enthusiasts of the 2017 Subaru Forester, seen above, and earlier models call them 'Toasters' or 'Fozzies' or 'Scoobys.'

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

The road is a place most Foresters don’t often leave these days. Happily, this new model is leagues better than the old one. There’s less lean in corners and less float over the bumps. Through a narrow, winding road that featured occasional cattle grates and wooden bridges, the Forester was positively quick. The steering was well-weighted, and the vehicle stayed planted in corners, refusing to be upset by mid-corner bumps.

It was a creditable enough performance to wonder if a WRX-ized version of a Forester wouldn’t be a surprising hit. Sadly, such is mere idle speculation as Subaru ditches both the basic manual transmission model and the turbocharged XT version. Only one engine and transmission are available: a naturally aspirated, 182 horsepower 2.5-litre flat-four and a CVT.

According to Subaru, Canadians loved their turbocharged Foresters, which accounted for around 15 per cent of the model mix. However, the U.S. market didn’t (just 5 per cent), so the new car gets simplified powertrain availability. The good news is that the new engine is perfectly sufficient for passing and climbing, with a slightly broader torque curve and the new programming for the CVT doesn’t drone.

On the road, the Forester is poised and polished. However, don’t Subarus look their best when muddy? We headed up Apex ski hill’s moderately rough service track in our Foresters, making good use of its 22 centimetres of ground clearance and new dual-mode terrain selection system.

Not a single machine put a foot wrong and the over all experience was about as difficult as driving to the local mall. If you are one of those few people that pit their Forester against the forest, know that this new one is just as surprisingly plucky as the best of them.

However, even if you aren’t, the Forester is a great choice. It’s more than a polished version of the boxy original, it’s a safe, efficient, and practical everyday choice. The fact that it can unlock the great outdoors for you and your family is just an added bonus.

If you own clothing from North Face, Patagonia and Arc’teryx, you’ll like this vehicle.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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Tech Specs

If you are one of those few people who pit their Forester against the forest, know that the 2019 version is surprisingly plucky.

Brendan McAleer

Base Price: $27,995

Engines: 2.5-litre four-cylinder

Transmission/Drive: CVT automatic/All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100km): 9.0 city/7.2 hwy

Alternatives: Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4

rating out of 10

9

Looks

More an evolution than a revolution, you’d be hard-pressed to spot this new model in a lineup of the previous ones. The exception, perhaps, is the Sport model, which features orange trim that’s slightly garish. Then again, outdoor clothing is often popular in ridiculously bright colours and what is a Forester if not a puffy down vest on wheels?

Interior

Both versions of the 2019 Forester feature rubbery interiors that seem designed to take a bit of a kicking.

Subaru

Sport models get a rugged-looking fabric that grips better in the corners than the Premier’s great-looking leatherwork. Both vehicles feature rubbery interiors that seem designed to take a bit of a kicking. The infotainment screen looks a bit aftermarket, but is far more intuitive that previous Subaru efforts.

Performance

The new direct-injection flat-four engine makes its peak 182 hp at 5,800 rpm and 176 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. When offroading, the CVT’s smooth application of power works very well with the all-wheel-drive system. Subaru’s X-mode terrain selection system now allows you to pick between rough roads and slippery conditions, the better to power through the mud.

Technology

Subaru’s camera-based Eyesight system includes automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. It’s available on everything except the most basic model and, combined with a strong crash structure, makes the Forester even more of a popular choice among safety-conscious families.

Cargo

The Forester’s rear hatch opening is even wider than the larger three-row Ascent and its 935 litres of room expands with nearly flat-folding seats to 2,008 litres.

The Verdict

Smooth and refined enough for everyday use, with a surprising amount of off-road capability in your back pocket. Not as quirky as it used to be, but just plain good.

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