I’m strapped into the rear seat of a 2019 Subaru Forester Touring, an all-wheel-drive SUV, anxiously awaiting the start of the 2019 Oregon Trail Rally recce day.
Recce, otherwise known as reconnaissance, is a pre-rally driving activity that allows teams to run each stage’s course to scout the roads and write their own pace notes, an integral part of rallying; it’s created to help drivers understand changes in the road and surrounding areas, so when the three-day rally begins, they’re intimately familiar with the route. It’s also the perfect way to find out what the Forester is capable of off pavement.
I’m riding with Michelle Miller, a seasoned codriver, Oregon Trail Rally competitor, and one of DirtFish Rally School’s driving instructors, and her husband, Chris Miller, who’s behind the wheel. Michelle will manage the GoPros, Monit rally computer, and pace notes. While many Subarus are actually used for rally racing (namely WRXs and older Imprezas, for their speed and precise handling), Foresters, which are slower and taller, are great recce rigs. They’re nimble, responsive, and sure-footed at the lower speeds required to create sound pace notes. Our Forester is equipped with a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which shifts seamlessly through a continuous range of effective gear ratios.
After two passes through three stages, Michelle notes that the Forester is a very well-balanced and comfortable ride. Over the course of the day and a few dozen on- and off-road miles, she’s able to write neatly over rough terrain and not get carsick. Our speed varies from crawling over washed-out, rocky areas to spirited driving through long tarmac sweeps.
Michelle described the Forester as “very roomy and open,” with an engine that has “good and consistent power delivery, along with very good brakes.” She thought it rode well over rough gravel and rutted roads. “It was super comfortable,” she says. Chris added that the Forester felt solid and quiet, especially given the gravel and dirt-filled miles traversed. “The power delivery is also impressive—it felt torquey all the way up,” he says. “It’s linear and smooth, which made it easy to drive off pavement.”
The Forester’s active AWD system can vary power distribution to the wheels to suit whatever terrain you’re tackling. This system adjusts speed to each wheel individually to keep you on track. This helps prevent sliding around a corner when you’re headed up a snowy mountain pass or slipping on asphalt when it’s rainy, and it aids in recovery if you start to lose control. I spent over four hours piloting the Forester over dirt and gravel and on highways. It felt planted when attacking tight, hard-packed dirt corners, and it eased over bumps and washed-out areas—the vehicle’s capabilities really go far beyond rally prep.
The fifth-generation model was completely redesigned for 2019, with a stiffer platform, quieter and larger interior cabin, and improved safety. The new Subaru Global Platform uses hot-pressed, ultrahigh tensile steel in key areas of the structure. This design offers significant increases in safety, stability, rigidity, ride comfort, and noise reduction, all of which we experienced while running recce. Subaru’s choice to use this type of steel also means less metal framework and more space, resulting in greater visibility, wider openings for the rear doors and gate, as well as more passenger and cargo space.
In addition, the Forester Touring offers tons of active and passive safety technology. EyeSight driver-assist technology uses two cameras to spot and alert you to hazards, such as pedestrians, or when you stray from your lane. It also features the DriverFocus distraction-mitigation system, a monitoring process that uses infrared sensors and facial recognition to pinpoint driver distraction and warn you when you’re not paying attention. And along with the tech upgrades, it sports seven airbags (two frontal ones, two side-pelvis and torso airbags, two side-curtain airbags, and one at the driver’s knees).
The Forester is great for one person and their gear or small families with their stuff, so you’ll have no trouble driving your mountain bikes to the trailhead or kayaks to the sea. If you still need more space, check out the Subaru Outback or Subaru’s new Ascent—a three-row SUV with seating for up to eight people. These models have Subaru’s famous AWD, new steel platform, and many of the same safety features. Ultimately, for those looking to tackle dirt, sand, snow, and highways with one adventuremobile, the Forester is a solid pick for solo explorers and families alike.