Shift in Forester’s fo­cus

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Carsguide Confidential -

SUV pi­o­neer Subaru has plugged a gap in the line-up of its popular Forester with an au­to­matic diesel vari­ant.

The Ja­panese brand has also taken the knife to its best­selling model, slash­ing prices by up to $3500 as it aims to con­sol­i­date the Forester’s po­si­tion in an in­creas­ingly crowded mar­ket.

It has had a man­ual diesel vari­ant for some time but Subaru be­lieves an auto diesel could add up to 200 sales a month,inch­ing it closer to the sec­ond-placed Toy­ota RAV4 in the sales race.

The auto is a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion (CVT), which dif­fers from con­ven­tional au­tos in that it doesn’t ac­tu­ally shift gears.

Un­like other CVTs, which can sound thrashy and feel sloppy, the Subaru ver­sion is one of the best avail­able. It feels more like a con­ven­tional auto be­cause it has seven “steps” that feel like gearshifts.

If you’re light on the throt­tle it feels like a nor­mal CVT, but if you ap­ply more than 65 per cent throt­tle it will “shift” to an­other step.

En­gi­neers have also re­vised the 2.0-litre diesel, bring­ing it in line with strict Euro6 emis­sions reg­u­la­tions.

VALUE

All mod­els add fea­tures and drop in price by up to $3500. That’s bad news if you’ve just bought a Forester, but en­tic­ing for prospec­tive buy­ers.

The base petrol man­ual 2.0i Forester is now $29,990 (down $2500) and the range-top­ping turbo XT Pre­mium is $47,990 (down $1500).

Pay $33,490 for the diesel man­ual, the 2.0D L, with the CVT adding $2000. Opt for the 2.0D S model with leather and plenty of other good­ies and the prices are $39,490 (down $3500) and $41,490 re­spec­tively.

But — and this is a big is­sue — nei­ther diesel is avail­able with Subaru’s po­ten­tially life­sav­ing Eye­Sight setup, which uses cam­eras at the front of the car to de­tect ob­sta­cles and ap­ply the brakes if it senses an im­mi­nent col­li­sion.

The diesels also don’t get fuel-sav­ing stop-start tech­nol­ogy, which shuts off the en­gine when the car is sta­tion­ary at traf­fic lights, for ex­am­ple.

A sore point with Forester in the past — its cheap in­te­rior — is ad­dressed with a pre­mium look, more soft-feel sur­faces, smoother op­er­at­ing and bet­ter look­ing switches and pret­tier fas­cia ma­te­ri­als and in­stru­ments.

Cap­ping it all is an ex­cel­lent seven-inch in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen with con­nec­tions to apps such as Pan­dora ra­dio.

All Foresters now have one­touch blinkers, day­time run­ning lights and al­loy wheels, in­clud­ing a full-size spare.

DRIV­ING

We had a good crack at both grades of the CVT diesel on Tas­ma­nian C-roads in­clud­ing dirt and gravel — an en­vi­ron­ment per­fectly suited to the en­gine and trans­mis­sion.

Pad­dle shifters en­able sportier shift­ing but are su­per­flu­ous be­cause the en­gine has so much grunt low down — 350Nm at just 1600rpm.

Un­like most diesels, the en­gine spins freely. Subaru has also done a good job of min­imis­ing noise or vi­bra­tion in the cabin.

We didn’t worry about the trans­mis­sion at all — be­cause of its un­ob­tru­sive op­er­a­tion.

This ve­hi­cle is a “push-andgo” propo­si­tion. Come to a hill, push the throt­tle a bit more, come to some cor­ners, back off, then plant it on the run-out.

Bet­ter yet is the ride qual­ity. Foresters have al­ways been strong in this area, and sub­tle tweaks mean the car is even bet­ter at iso­lat­ing oc­cu­pants from rough roads while keep­ing planted through cor­ners.

The Forester can be driven in pretty much any mode you choose from cruis­ing on the free­way to tack­ling wind­ing bi­tu­men and scoot­ing over cor­ru­gated gravel roads.

The brakes and steer­ing also in­spire con­fi­dence, as do the five-star safety pack­age and the full-time all-wheel drive.

But we don’t like the look of it much. When is Subaru go­ing to bite the bul­let and hire a tal­ented designer — as Kia did a few years ago?

The lug­gage area is a de­cent size, the seats are com­fort­able and the driv­ing po­si­tion has am­ple ad­just­ment.

VER­DICT

This is a car you could con­fi­dently buy now and still be driv­ing in a decade af­ter us­ing it ev­ery day — it has that rock­solid re­li­able feel.

The ride abets long days of tour­ing and the eco­nom­i­cal en­gine should top 1000km on one tank. The diesel is a cracker — and all the bet­ter with CVT.

We’d have one in a blink as a prac­ti­cal, knock­about, re­li­able, Ja­panese-built car.

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