Jim Meachens’ Motorway America

2019 Subaru Forester — Safe and reliable

By Jim Meachen
Motorway America

We’ve liked the small Subaru Forester crossover SUV since its inception in 1998 — although two decades ago it was more a high-riding station wagon with all-wheel drive than an SUV — and nothing about the vehicle up to the current all-new fifth-generation model has altered our opinion.

Subaru has taken the Forester to a new level of sophistication with the complete remake for 2019. We found that it hasn’t lost any of its attributes, from its excellent driving dynamics to its all-weather capability, great sight lines, comfortable seats, quiet interior and the all-around good feeling it imparts.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade is in the safety department, including making its EyeSight safety system standard across the lineup. The EyeSight suite of driving aids features automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure and sway warning, lane keep assist, pre-collision throttle management, and lead vehicle start alert. Other available driver-assist technologies include reverse automatic braking that can apply the vehicle’s brakes if an obstacle is detected while reversing, and blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, available on all but the base trim level for $1,295. It’s standard on the top of the line Touring trim.

The Forester has been named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick and achieving the highest possible rating of “Superior” for front crash prevention when equipped with EyeSight.

Subaru has made some amenities standard that are optional on most of its compact crossover competition — such as Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) throttle control and brake-based torque-vectoring system, automatic LED headlights, electronic parking-brake, automatic climate control, push-button start, selectable drive modes, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

The Forester has gotten modest styling updates. It’s definitely evolutionary making it difficult to tell the new from the old without seeing both vehicles side-by-side. There’s more body and hood sculpting, front end and rear-taillight treatments have been restyled, and there are nip and tucks here and there.

The Forester still carries a more upright traditional SUV stance avoiding the modern car-like appearance of several of its competitors, but beyond styling, the appeal of the Forester over the years has been its bad-weather capability with standard all-wheel drive and an elevated ground clearance (8.7 inches) combined with its car-like driving attributes and its hatchback-style cargo-hauling capability.

The crossover has grown just a bit — about an inch longer and just under an inch wider with a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase that creates an extra 1.4-inches of rear-seat legroom. Cargo capacity is 35.4 cubic feet behind the seats (the sunroof cuts space to 33 cubic feet) and 70.9 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is its all-new architecture, which is shared with the Impreza, Crosstrek, and Ascent. The body structure is rock solid while suspension is on-par with more expensive brands. It’s able to glide over rough pavement, and without losing composure on twisty roads, while imparting a comfortable ride.

While the Forester is not going to win many races against other compact crossovers, its 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine — which is direct injected for 2019 — gains 12 horsepower to 182 and 2 pound-feet of torque at 176 routed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Gone is the manual transmission option and the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. Fuel economy ratings are class average for all-wheel drive vehicles, EPA-rated at 26 mpg city and 33 highway on regular gas. Zero-to-60 performance — for comparison purposes — has been clocked at 8.5 seconds.

The interior should please crossover owners with soft touch stitched coverings prevalent on the dash and doors — much of which has a pebbly texture for an added touch of class. Piano black finish on the center stack and faux aluminum on the dash further highlight the cabin. Also available is an eight-inch touchscreen with TomTom navigation and an ear-pleasing 576-watt, nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Heated front leather seats and a heated steering wheel are available on the higher trim levels as well as a dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air vents, power panoramic moonroof, and a power tailgate.

The Forester comes in five trim levels — base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring — starting at $25,273 including a $975 destination charge, $500 more than the 2018 model. Our top-line Touring test car — that came standard with DriverFocus safety technology that uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction and provides an audio and visual warning to alert the driver — carried a bottom line of $35,270 including destination charge.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta — A value proposition

By Jim Meachen
Motorway America

If you are seeking a small family sedan that can give you the most bang for the buck without sacrificing quality or driving enjoyment we recommend a stop at a Volkswagen dealership to test drive the all-new seventh-generation 2019 Jetta. You will find a conservatively styled, well-equipped, fuel-efficient, and thoroughly modern vehicle at a very affordable price.

The Jetta starts at $20,690 including destination charge for the base S trim. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, LED head- and taillights, air conditioning, a 6.5-inch touchscreen-based infotainment system, a rearview camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, a USB port, Bluetooth, a four-speaker sound system, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Additionally, Volkswagen has a new class-leading six-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, fully transferable warranty.

If you desire a bit more safety baked into your new car, VW has the answer. An additional $450 will purchase the Driver Assistance Package that includes front collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, a blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert and heated side mirrors.

The new Jetta is the sixth VW product for the U.S. market to be built on the company’s global MQB architecture, a flexible transverse-engine front-wheel-drive platform chassis that underpins vehicles from the smaller Golf to the larger Atlas SUV. The combination seems to work especially well, delivering a Jetta that feels solid, well-built, and lightweight, with drivability leaning on the comfortable side with adequate handling on twisty roads and when cornering.

The only engine available is the carryover 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making a modest 147 horsepower. Not an impressive number, but don’t count it out without a test drive. We found the engine exhibited excellent throttle response with virtually no turbo lag. Mated to the eight-speed automatic the Jetta felt punchy off the line with scads of around-town performance. For comparison purposes, the 4-cylinder has been measured at 7.7 seconds from 0-to-60, about average for the segment.

One of the outstanding features of the 1.4-liter engine is gas mileage measured at 30 mpg city, 40 highway and 34 combined on regular gas.

In addition to around-town quickness, it’s important how the engine feels merging into fast-moving traffic and passing a slower car on a two-lane highway. We can report no problems, and we didn’t find it necessary to

carefully time the passing of a slower-moving vehicle, which is necessary in some cars. For those people who wish for more performance, Volkswagen says a more powerful GLI edition will be available in 2020.

The Jetta is available in five trim levels — base S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium. We recommend the SE trim that we tested, which carries a bottom line of $23,005 including destination charge. It comes with the aforementioned safety features and adds a sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and keyless entry with push-button start.†

A handsome all-new interior displays excellent fit and finish with the build quality of a more expensive sedan. As noted lower trim levels come with a 6.5-inch infotainment screen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Higher priced trim levels get a larger 8-inch screen plus VW’s fully digital and customizable gauge cluster called the Digital Cockpit.

We found the front seats comfortable with more knee and shoulder room than found in the outgoing Jetta. Rear-seat legroom is adequate but taller passengers might need to reach a compromise with front-seaters to gain a comfortable position. Trunk space has shrunk a bit from the previous Jetta, but with a 14.1- cubic-foot capacity it’s still competitive in the segment. Interior cubby space has increased with larger door pockets and a larger console bin.

If you are looking for a bit more luxury than the bottom two trims provide, it is available for a price. For instance, the SEL trim starting at $25,265 brings such niceties as adaptive cruise control, an eight-speaker BeatsAudio sound system, the upgraded infotainment system, satellite, and HD radio, and additional safety features including auto high beam control, automatic wipers and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The SEL-Premium starting at $27,795 adds a cold weather package that includes heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel, 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery, power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings and a navigation system.

Because many buyers in the compact sedan market are fixated on and driven by bang-for-the-buck value, conventional good looks, a long warranty, and solid fuel economy, shoppers in this class will find the new 2019 Jetta to be a compelling means of transportation to include in their consideration set.

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