Shift in Forester’s focus
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.
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.
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.
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.