Subaru is not at the top when we start talking about the best infotainment systems, and after months of using the Starlink system in our long-term 2019 Subaru Forester, we still think Subaru is a mid-range car.
The best thing about the 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system in our Forester is its simplicity. You can’t ask for a more basic layout and software experience on this screen, and while the top second screen doesn’t handle most of your major vehicle functions on the bottom one. We will note that both the Subaru Outback and the Legacy have newer, larger screens available which we will also discuss later in this review. The Impreza, Crosstrek and Ascent offer a similar experience to this Forester.
All your essential app tiles such as Radio, Map and Settings can be found in the customizable home screen. The lack of apps and extra gadgets means there isn’t much to customize. Subaru uses a bright variety of colors for its various app tiles. It doesn’t come across as particularly professional or stylish, but it gets the job done and makes it easy to take them apart. Features such as navigation, in-car Wi-Fi, standard voice commands, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all covered. Subaru still uses wired CarPlay and Android Auto, as most non-luxury brands do, so you’ll need to bring a plug to connect.
Our biggest complaint about the screen is the general sluggishness. You get where you want to go, but it takes a little longer than most. Swiping screens and scrolling through menus is always accompanied by a hint of delay. Even the smartphone connection experience is affected by the screen’s lack of response. In some cases, a light touch or swipe is enough. On others you really have to put some pressure behind your touch. It’s nowhere near smartphone standards, but then again, many infotainment systems haven’t hit those speeds yet.
The best part of the screen is the ability to make presses and smudges made with winter gloves. You can keep your hands warm and switch radio stations at the same time, which is always nice.
Now, back to the second screen we mentioned earlier. Subaru puts this second screen in a number of models (Impreza, WRX, Crosstrek, Forester and Ascent), but it depends on the trim you select. For example, only the top trim Crosstrek and Impreza get this color screen, while all but the bottom Forester and Ascent trims have this. If you get a Subaru without it, a more basic readout will be placed in the same spot showing a clock, climate info, and travel information.
Switching between modes with the color screen is done via the “INFO” button on the handlebar, which is not very intuitive given the screen’s location in the center of the windshield. You can get useful off-road information, media descriptions and the status of driver assistance systems on the screen. It doesn’t add much to the experience, but it doesn’t hurt either. The worst thing about the Forester is that you have to set up the Driver Monitoring System there. It takes forever, but Subaru solved this in the Legacy and Outback by letting you use the huge touchscreen to configure it.
The 11.6-inch vertical screen found in most versions of the Legacy and Outback is different in a few ways (basic finishes get a few 7.0-inch displays stacked on top of each other that don’t look nearly as elegant). It dominates the dashboard and the top screen is removed. You can run two apps at once, basically putting AppleCarPlay or Android Auto in the first place and a native Starlink app in the other. It’s not quite as useful (especially the audio controls when it’s delegated to the bottom screen) as Ram’s more content-heavy 12-inch screen, but Subaru does take advantage of the extra real estate. One thing that is lost with this screen is physical switches / controls for the heated / cooled seats. Subaru requires you to tap the screen a few times to turn it on, and the screen’s slow response is frustrating at times. That said, it’s smoother and more responsive than Subaru’s smaller screens.
If you want something simple to use with no frills, Subaru’s infotainment system will appeal to you. The inclusion of physical controls and buttons for climate temperature and audio output is fantastic, and that’s something even the 11.6-inch behemoths used in the Legacy and Outback do.