Subaru Forester 2.5i-S First Drive
With new, more efficient engines, more all-road capability, and a bigger, more premium-feeling interior, the Subaru Forester is clearly gunning for its old spot as Australia’s favourite SUV, says Isaac Bober.
Mention the name Subaru and we all think of the giant-slaying WRX, but here in Australia Subaru has made its fortune off the back of the Forester. Having sold nearly 170,000 units since its 1997 debut Down Under, the Forester is the best-selling model in Subaru’s 40-year history in Australia.
Taking its lead from the recently released Impreza and XV, the all-new fourth-generation Forester offers more room in the front and back seats, and better vision right around than ever before. It’s also better equipped, better finished, has more fuel-efficient engines, and is quieter too. Available with four different engines, three petrols and one diesel, it can be had in model grades that mirror the Impreza and XV. I’m driving the Subaru Forester 2.5i-S here.
Powered by a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine, the range-topping (for this engine) Forester 2.5i-S with CVT produces 126kW at 5800rpm and 235Nm of torque at 4100rpm. Claimed combined fuel consumption is just 8.1L/100km, which represents a 12.9% advantage over its predecessor, while CO2 emissions are down to 187g/km (a 15% reduction).
While peak power and torque is produced quite high in the rev range, the addition of an intake and exhaust Active Valve Control System, ensures there’s plenty of off-idle grunt. And, thanks to a wide ratio spread the Forester’s CVT is both quick and smooth with none of the ‘shift-shock’ you get in a torque-converter automatic transmission. And it works beautifully with the engine, ensuring you’re never left wanting grunt for overtaking.
Climb inside and even the briefest of glances around the new cabin is enough to show how hard Subaru’s designers and trimmers worked to make it feel more premium. There are soft touch high-quality plastics all around. The dash too, besides feeling better, now looks much less cluttered than the outgoing Forester. Dominated by the three dials controlling heating, ventilation and air conditioning (ah la Impreza and XV) and the big touch-screen multi-media display just above it, the Forester 2.5i-S is a much more premium offering than its predecessor.
The new Forester offers entry level pricing from $30,990 (+ORC) for the 2.0i (manual) up to $50,490 (+ORC) for the XT Premium (read our review). The 2.5i-S lists from $43,990 (+ORC) and is the top of the tree in terms of the non-turbo (petrol) Foresters. And it’s incredibly well equipped with heated front leather seats, a huge electric sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity with audio streaming, EyeSight (Subaru’s anti-collision system), and sat-nav.
But, as nice as the new cabin looks and feels, it’s the amount of room for front and back seat passengers that really impresses. The A-pillar has been pushed forward by 200mm, improving vision and creating a lighter and airier feeling cabin. The Forester’s longer wheelbase (by 25mm) means rear seat room rivals that of a limousine, and thanks to minimal intrusion by the transmission tunnel the centre backseat is much more than just a perch.
Tweaks to the suspension (the addition of rebound springs and a thicker stabiliser bar, and plenty more besides) have firmed up the ride, without reducing its ability to smother bumps, and all but eliminated body roll in corners. In a sea of sloppy handling SUVs the new Forester is a real standout, coupled with a dirt road ride that’s grippy, comfortable and unaffected by those all-of-a-sudden mid-corner pot holes.
The big news with the Forester is the debut of X Mode and the addition of EyeSight, which is standard on the 2.5i-S that I test here. Designed to ensure maximum traction and control on steep hills (up and down), or muddy roads and the like, X Mode is activated (it’s only available on auto-equipped models) via a button ahead of the gear selector. Once engaged, at up to 40km/h or less, key systems, like the Engine Control Unit (ECU), Traction Control Unit (TCU), Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), and Hill Descent Control (HDC) are tweaked to provide drivability in low-grip situations.
Hill Descent Control works at up to 20km/h or less, and can be adjusted up or down in 5km/h increments via a press of either the throttle pedal or the brakes. Designed so that the driver only has to worry about steering, it’s one of thequietest and cleverest systems on the market.
Subaru’s EyeSight system (pictured above) first appeared in Australia on the Outback, and now it’s available on selected models of Forester (standard fitment on the 2.5i-S, and a cost-option on the 2.5i-L). Via two cameras mounted either side of the centre-mounted rear-vision mirror, EyeSight is able to, thanks to 3D image processing, recognise cars (obviously) pedestrians, motorcycles, and cyclists. Think of it as another set of eyes and an invisible foot hovering over the brakes.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
Overall this new Forester sees Subaru deliver a more premium looking, feeling and driving product that puts it right back at the sharp-end of the pack. It’s likely to appeal strongly to faithful Subaru Forester owners wanting something a bit more comfortable, but it’s definitely classy and competent enough to win new buyers too.