Subaru Forester 2.5i
Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $32,990
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): N/A
Crash rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 8.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 187
Also consider: Kia Sportage (from $26,990); Mitsubishi Outlander (from $28,990); Nissan X-TRAIL (from $28,490); Nissan X-TRAIL (from $28,490)
The Subaru Forester is a vehicle that seems to resonate with folks from all walks of life. The outdoorsy types; the wannabe outdoorsy types; the urban dwellers wanting the safety of all-wheel drive, and the rural buyers who spend a lot of time off the beaten track. No matter who you are, the Forester ostensibly strikes a chord.
It’s been more than 15 years since the compact soft-roader first arrived on the scene, and with the latest fourth-generation model deviating little from the original formula, we’re sure dirt-road devotees will return to showrooms once more.
There’s a reason for the Forester’s ongoing success, and it has little to do with modernity. The formula underpinning the Japanese SUV is really quite simple, especially in the case of the normally-aspirated 2.5i variant tested here.
The four-cylinder (2498cc) Boxer engine -- set low in the nose to keep the centre of gravity down -- makes 126kW/235Nm, which is enough to take Forester from standstill to 100km/h in under 10 seconds. There’s no trickery or turbocharging here, and despite its 1528kg kerb weight and symmetrical all-wheel drive system, the petrol model still manages respectable fuel economy. On test, we averaged 8.6L/100km.
The Boxer four was married in this instance to a smooth-shifting Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which drew few complaints. The transmission and throttle communicated fluently and, no matter offroad or on, the ratios felt appropriately spaced.
Subaru have issued the Forester with (essentially) three modes for its Lineartronic transmission: Intelligent, Sport and X-Mode. We spent most time in Intelligent, as it kept the revs down when cruising, while still reacting quickly enough when summoned.
Sport mode sharpened progress slightly, and readied the transmission for overtaking, but the catch was that revs were held high at freeway speeds (100km/h at 2500rpm vs. 1800rpm in Intelligent mode) which inflated fuel consumption. You have to manually switch back to Intelligent mode once you’re done with Sport mode too, as the car will not do it for you.
X-Mode essentially works to complement the vehicle’s Hill Descent Control, all-wheel drive and braking systems when travelling offroad, allowing you to focus on clearing obstacles. Subaru have also fitted paddle-style shifters to allow manual shifting through six pre-set ‘ratios’, though we found the transmission reacted a little slowly to these. Instead, they served better to aid engine braking downhill than perform miracles of acceleration.
While it never professes to be a true offroader, the Forester with its 220mm ground clearance (at kerb weight) and suitable geometry (25 degrees approach, 23 degrees break-over and 26 degrees departure) give it a modest level of capability.
The symmetrical all-wheel drive system has lost the low-range ability it once had, but still provides enough traction to keep you out of trouble in mud, slush and snow. It also provides confidence on loose gravel – provided you keep at least some pressure on the throttle. Unlike many so-called softroaders the Subaru’s AWD system operates full-time, meaning you don’t have to wait precious moments while the driveline decides where to deliver torque.
The only real downside to this equation is that the Forester doesn’t feel as car-like as many of its rivals on sealed roads. It’s a little softer in its suspension set-up so handling isn’t razor sharp. Still, the car stops and steers well, even if we would have appreciated slightly more weight and feel from the front-end.
The Forester is also a little noisier inside than some rivals. The boxy shape generates decent wind noise while the driveline is quite boisterous under heavy acceleration. There also seems to be little to insulate road and tyre noise from entering the cabin, especially on gravel roads where you hear every last pebble strike the undercarriage. We were also unimpressed that we could see the steering shaft through the opening between the column shroud and the instrument panel.
Otherwise, the cabin is pragmatic, comfortable and straight-forward in terms of operation, except perhaps for the audio system’s finer settings. We gave up trying to remove an existing connected phone from the list, meaning we couldn’t add our own to test the Bluetooth functionality. Without an owner’s manual we made do with the radio, and enjoyed the serviceable climate control.
With ample cargo space and a decent back seat set at a good height for adults and kids alike, the Forester has a level of merit many higher-riding SUVs in this class do not. It might not be as polished as some, but as a family lugger with modest offroad abilities the Forester should continue to resonate with a variety of buyers for many years to come.
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