It’s slick on any sur­face

Bet­ter to drive, the Forester is also kinder to trees

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - NEIL DOWL­ING neil.dowl­ing@cars­guide.com.au

CHEAPER to run and a su­pe­rior au­to­matic open the door to Subaru’s fight­back in the tough­est new-ve­hi­cle seg­ment. Prices for the Forester are kept low thanks to a new en­try-level model with a smaller en­gine, while the fea­ture list ex­pands. Subaru’s hi-tech Eye­Sight driver as­sis­tance package is stan­dard on the top model.

Pric­ing pen­cils need to be sharp. Honda punched out a new CR-V last month, Toy­ota is show­ing its new RAV4 at the Los An­ge­les show and it’s due here in Fe­bru­ary. There’s a new Mit­subishi Out­lander next week and a big­ger en­gine for Mazda’s petrol CX-5. But, as Subaru Aus­tralia boss Nick Se­nior says, the Forester is still the ‘‘ per­fect city car for dirty week­ends’’.

While most ri­vals are black­top bul­lies, Subaru ups the Forester’s off-road abil­ity. In place of the low-range fea­ture lost in the man­ual gear­box ver­sions, a new elec­tronic pro­gram— called X-Mode— keeps the wagon in shape on the loose stuff.

VALUE

Prices are an­nounced next month be­fore the Fe­bru­ary re­lease. They should stay about par with the out­go­ing model— about $31,000 for open­ers.

But the spec is dif­fer­ent. The new base model has the 2.0-litre petrol en­gine from the smaller XV and comes only as a sixspeed man­ual. Se­nior says a CVT auto is on the cards but just not yet. The 2.5-litre ver­sion will come in at about $35,000— slightly up. But though there’s been a bit of a price rise, the fea­ture list is far big­ger and the wagon is a much bet­ter ride.

DE­SIGN

The plat­form is ba­si­cally the same as the out­go­ing wagon, crimped here and there to flat­ten the cen­tral tun­nel bump and stretched to add 25mm to the wheel­base and 35mm to the length. It’s also 35mm taller, sits on a track that’s up to 20mm wider and, while body width re­mains the same, the doors are less bowed and the door trim is less ob­tru­sive.

Add in the wind­screen pil­lars that are punched 200mm for­ward and Subaru claims a much big­ger, more airy in­te­rior and more room for rear pas­sen­gers.

The cabin gets soft-touch plas­tics and im­proved ma­te­rial qual­ity and the look of the in­te­rior is now much more up­mar­ket, bet­ter re­flect­ing the Subaru qual­ity stan­dard. There’s an elec­tric tail­gate op­tion on some models.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Forester has a rep­u­ta­tion for a high fuel thirst with­out de­liv­er­ing much in the way of per­for­mance. The old four­speed auto is re­placed with the CVT from the Im­preza sedan, on which the Forester is based.

Fuel sav­ings are dra­matic— the 2.5-litre man­ual ver­sion’s 8.1L/100km is a big im­prove­ment on the cur­rent wagon’s 9.3L.

There are no changes in out­put— it’s still 126kW/ 235Nm in the 2.5-litre four­cylin­der petrol and 108kW/ 350Nm in the 2.0-litre turbo diesel. The en­try-level 2.0-litre petrol four gives 110kW/ 198Nm. But, like the turbo diesel model, it comes only with a man­ual gear­box for now.

The X-Mode off-road package works on the CVT models. It clev­erly jug­gles power in­di­vid­u­ally to any of the four wheels with trac­tion, in­cor­po­rates down­hill as­sist and ad­justs ESC and trac­tion con­trol. Stop-start is stan­dard on all petrol Foresters and is one of the rea­sons for the im­proved fuel econ­omy.

SAFETY

Subaru trum­pets a five-star crash rat­ing and brings in the big gun with its bril­liant Eye­Sight cam­era-based for­ward vi­sion aid. In­tro­duced last year on up­mar­ket Lib­er­tys, it’s stan­dard on the ul­ti­mate Forester 2.5i-S and op­tional on the penul­ti­mate 2.5i-L.

It uses stereo cam­eras with 3D imag­ing to scan, iden­tify and com­mu­ni­cate with the ve­hi­cle’s brake sys­tem to avoid frontal col­li­sions, lane

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