Forester hones act

Subaru pushes for sales with a new model that’s larger, fresher and cheaper, writes KARLA PIN­COTT

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive Subaru Forester -

THE mo­ment the all-new Subaru Im­preza landed in show­rooms across the coun­try, a queue formed for the next Forester.

They are twins be­neath the skin, but the Forester wagon has taken a more ex­treme di­rec­tion than the city­fo­cused Im­preza.

The Forester goes up against the hottest new com­pact four-wheel drives, from the Nis­san X-Trail, Honda CR-V and Toy­ota RAV4 to the funky Nis­san Dualis.

Sales of th­ese cars are boom­ing, with Aus­tralian de­liv­er­ies up 19.4 per cent last year, thanks to the rush of new mod­els and the gen­eral down­siz­ing in show­rooms.

The car-based Forester helped lead the revo­lu­tion 10 years ago, and has been a huge suc­cess for Subaru Aus­tralia, which has sold more than 100,000 in that time.

Now Subaru is push­ing for sales lead­er­ship with a new Forester that is larger, fresher and cheaper than be­fore.

The bot­tom line — as Subaru has cashed in ev­ery­thing from ex­chang­er­ate wins to parts shar­ing with the Im­preza and lo­cal buy­ing power with Subaru in Ja­pan — means cuts of $1000 to $2500 on out­go­ing mod­els.

So the ba­sic Forester X has shed $1500 and the five-speed man­ual now costs $30,490, though the four­speed au­tos are $2000 ex­tra across the range. The big­gest cut is $2990 on the top-level XT Pre­mium auto, though it still comes in at $46,990.

The Forester is tougher than be­fore, and looks more like a se­ri­ous four-wheel drive than just a high­rid­ing wagon. It has a strength­ened body that an­swers cus­tomer calls for more space.

It is 110mm taller, 60mm wider and 75mm longer on a 90mm larger wheel­base, most of which as been given to the rear pas­sen­ger and cargo area, though larger open­ings make for eas­ier ac­cess.

Over­hangs have been short­ened slightly for bet­ter ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity and ground clear­ance has been raised 20mm to take the X and XS to 220mm and the XT to 225mm, which gives a smidge more lee­way but still keeps the Forester in the light off-road cat­e­gory.

The 2.5-litre ‘‘boxer’’ four in the X and XS mod­els brings a 4.1 per cent power boost with 126kW and a slight rise in torque with 229Nm.

Out­puts for the WRX-sourced 2.5-litre tur­bocharged four in the XT mod­els — which Subaru is po­si­tion­ing as a ‘‘stealth Rex for lad dads’’ — re­main un­changed at 169kW, but its 320Nm of torque kicks in 800 revs ear­lier at 2800.

There is no sign of a diesel in the new gen­er­a­tion and, though one will ar­rive in the new Out­back next year, there are no plans for it to move into the Aus­tralian Forester line-up yet.

The Forester is a Suby, so drive goes to all four cor­ners and is in­fin­itely vari­able: chang­ing from 95-front/5-rear bias to 50/50 de­pend­ing on throt­tle, load and speed in­puts.

Trans­mis­sion choices are a four­speed se­quen­tial auto or a five-speed man­ual with low-range gear­ing.

A five-speed auto is not avail­able here yet and there is no firm word on its fu­ture, for Forester or Im­preza but Subaru says the four-speed is ‘‘sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent’’, with im­proved shift re­sponse and tim­ing.

The ba­sic level of equip­ment runs to four-speaker au­dio with con­trols on the steer­ing wheel, 16-inch steel wheels with a full-size spare and the usual elec­tric bits. Stan­dard safety equip­ment in­cludes ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics con­trol, anti-skid brakes with as­sist for ex­treme brak­ing, hill-start as­sist and a six-airbag cabin.

Subaru says the ANCAP re­sult for the Forester is five stars for oc­cu­pant safety and three for pedes­trian pro­tec­tion.

On the crea­ture com­fort lists, the XS gets front fogs, 16-inch al­loys, au­to­matic air­con­di­tion­ing, CD stacker and two more speak­ers with the MP3 au­dio sys­tem and a re­tractable rear tray with cuphold­ers.

The XT gets a bon­net scoop, in­te­grated rear spoiler, 17-inch al­loys and auto-lev­el­ling xenon head­lights with pop-up wash­ers. The Pre­mium pack on XS adds leather up­hol­stery with power driver’s seat and sun­roof and on the XT you also get touch­screen nav sys­tem with DVD/CD player and Blue­tooth com­pata­bil­ity.

THE new Forester is 80kg heav­ier as an X and XS, and the XT has gained 30 to 35kgm, de­pend­ing on fit-out.

This has prob­a­bly un­der­mined fuel econ­omy im­prove­ments, but the man­ual turbo still man­ages a sig­nif­i­cant 7.8 per cent ben­e­fit (and the auto 5.4 per cent) at 10.5 litres/ 100km each. The base en­gine with man­ual trims 3.1 per cent at 9.3 litres and the auto comes down 1 per cent at 9.6 litres.

Tow­ing ca­pac­ity re­mains at 1400kg, which is still use­ful for boats and horse floats.

The larger cargo ca­pac­ity will be at­trac­tive for fam­i­lies who want more space.

The Forester’s best sales month was 1688 in June 2005, about the time a deal was done with rental agency Europ­car, but it gen­er­ally av­er­ages about 1000 a month.

With the new­comer, Subaru hopes to lift sales to 1100 a month.

Step­ping out fur­ther: the Subaru Forester is tougher than be­fore, and looks more like a se­ri­ous four-wheel drive than just a high-rid­ing wagon.

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