With 81 consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth, Subaru is a car brand on fire. The company just finished its best August ever, and is launching the 5th Generation Forester, a car that represents more than a quarter of all U.S. sales.

So, it’s clear that the 2019 Forester is a pretty important car if Subaru wants those lofty sales figures to continue. With a watchful eye on Hurricane Florence bearing down on the east coast, the company invited automotive journalists from around the country to get a first look at the new Forester in the hills outside of Asheville, North Carolina. The storm went north, and the sun came out on the Forester, literally and figuratively.

Starting at $24,295 (plus freight) and running up to $34,295 for the top Touring trim, the new Forester is essentially the same size on the outside, but some nifty engineering has made the cabin roomier than before. There’s a foot more cargo space, and nearly an inch and a half more rear seat legroom. And both of those numbers are significant.

The big news for 2019 is that Subaru installs its terrific – and previously optional – Eyesight Safety system in all Foresters. Trim levels this year include Base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring.

The Eyesight system of safety technologies includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure and sway warning, lane keep assist, and a handy lead vehicle start alarm that lets the driver know in stop-and-go traffic that the vehicle ahead has started moving. No more horns coming from the irritated driver behind you.

Besides Eyesight, the 2019 Forester gets Subaru’s DriverFocus system, which is designed to identify signs of driver fatigue and distraction by focusing on the driver’s head and eyes. Also new for 2019, the Forester has an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.

Subaru is confident the Forester will earn a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety and a 5-star safety rating from the government. With it’s array of sophisticated safety technologies, I’d be surprised if the Forester got anything less when testing is complete.

Like all Subaru vehicles save one, the 2019 Forester has standard symmetrical AWD, which is another great safety feature.

The Forester is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder boxer engine that generates 182 horsepower and 176 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is hooked to a continuously variable transmission, which isn’t my favorite but boosts fuel economy by about 10 percent.

The Forester promises to take you 26 miles along city streets or 33 miles down the highway with a single gallon of gasoline. With its 16.6-gallon fuel tank, the 2019 Forester can take you a bladder-busting 548 miles.

I was able to test a Limited trim and a Sport trim during the daylong Forester test drives in the hills outside of Asheville and I found exactly what I’d expected: the Forester is a comfortable, engaging and capable ride that could stand a few more horsepower. With its AWD system and an 8.7-inch ground clearance, the Forester also has some off-road chops. Subaru found about a 30-degree hill for the journalists to try out the Hill Descent Control feature, and the Forester eased down the muddy hill without any driver input. Remove your foot from the brake and throttle, then gravity and the car take over from there to ease you down the hill.

Some of the biggest improvements in the Forester come inside the cabin, which sees big improvements in quietness and conveniences. Without a moonroof, front seat headroom is 41.2inches, while in the rear it’s 40.2 inches. Rear seat legroom is 39.4 inches.

And for the first time in a Forester, the front passenger seat gets power adjustments.

The 76.1-cubic-foot cargo deck has a much wider tailgate opening than ever before. The company says a set of golf clubs can be loaded onto the rear deck sideways.

The new Forester has an impressive list of standard features including automatic LED headlights and automatic climate control among others. Connectivity is via either a 6.5-inch or 8-inch screen, with StarLink apps.

Finally, Subaru has always had a reputation as a car for active lifestyles, and the Forester continues that legacy with roof tent capability. A roof tent is an aftermarket accessory, but Subaru says installing one will no longer violate the company’s warranty.

Stay tuned for more on the 2019 Forester in your Advocate Wheels section in coming weeks.

2019 Subaru Forester Touring Edition

Engine:

2.5-liter 4-cylinder boxer

Horsepower/Torque:

182/176 lb.-ft.

Transmission:

Continuously Variable

MSRP:

$34,295 plus freight

Fuel economy:

26 mpg city/33 mpg highway/29 mpg combined

Estimated highway range:

548 miles