Above its station
Before you splash out on a Volvo SUV, try a Forester
SEVERAL brands claim to have invented the soft-roader but Subaru probably has the best case. The offshoot of Fuji Heavy Industries has been making passenger-car-based 4WDs since the late 1970s, well before the RAV4 entered the fray in the mid-1990s. Yes, Suzuki was making little off-roaders in the early 1970s but not based on a passenger car.
So the Japanese brand that started off making aircraft components five decades ago has had plenty of time to get the formula it right and the new Forester XT is the culmination of that.
The turbocharged Foresters— in XT and XT Premium guise — come only with continuously variable automatics. Each variant is covered by a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
The XT, from $43,490, has six-speaker sound with USB and Bluetooth inputs, cloth trim, trip computer, dual-zone climate control, a slide-only sunroof, manual seat adjustments, cruise control, 18-inch alloys, split-fold reclining rear seats, full-size spare, the SI-drive sport mode system and reach and rake adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Stepping up to the Premium adds $7000 but buys auto headlights, satellite navigation, EyeSight safety system, leather trim, Harman Kardon eight-speaker audio, heated seats and external mirrors, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and power front seats and tailgate.
The pair shares a drivetrain. The capacity of the forced-induction models has dropped to 2.0 litres but Subaru fettles the flat-four with direct injection, producing 177kW and 350Nm, the latter spread usefully from 2400rpm to 3600rpm.
These outputs exceed those of the outgoing turbo 2.5 yet fuel use has been cut by almost 20 per cent for a claimed 8.5L/100km (on test, about 11.0L/100km).
Controlled by two buttons on the steering wheel rather than dial on the console, the SIDrive system changes the power delivery characteristics and puts the clever CVT into a mode that mimics a sportsoriented conventional auto.
The grunt goes to ground via a new-generation active torque split all-wheel drive system that defaults to a 60-40 front-drive bias.
Styling is less likely to cause offence than some of Subaru’s recent efforts.
The new Forester has a chunky, purposeful look from the front, minus the scoop that has long signalled forced-induction below.
The body is longer thanks mostly to extra wheelbase, from which the rear passengers gain the greater benefit. It easily accommodates four but the boot depth is compromised by the raised floor over the fullsize spare. But then we’d kick Soob if there was a space-saver.
Previously the roof-mounted child-seat tether anchor points compromised the rear compartment— now they’ve moved to the seat backs.
Subaru has long boasted of the five stars for its entire range and the Forester does plenty to keep that track record intact.
The ‘‘ EyeSight’’ driver assistance system reminds us such innovations are not the preserve of Swedes.
Subaru’s version adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision warning and auto-braking systems to a features list that already has all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, stability control, seven airbags, reversing cameras (but no sensors) and xenon headlights.
Carsguide doesn’t love CVTs but the testers who have driven this one agree the Subaru boffins have come up with a gearbox that’s well-calibrated with the turbo four.
It doesn’t flare, it revs towards the redline unless the right foot truly demands it, and it makes the most of the meaty midrange. In Sport# mode the transmission takes on a sporting bent, to good effect.
In commuting and cruising the Subaru is quiet and smooth, the suspension and seats passing the backside test. That said, the Forester shows evidence of a bias to more enthusiastic cornering— where it is composed and holds its line under duress.
A bugbear was the infotainment’s argument with the iPhone— despite displayed connections it didn’t feel the need to play any songs through the USB connection, muting the music as if there was an inbound call. Switching to Bluetooth input alleviated the problem.
Subaru’s bloodline is strong and the new Forester has done its predecessors proud. It’s the class leader.