PIONEER PUSHES ON

Subaru’s Forester launched a genre. The lat­est model raises the bar

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Movie se­quels are risky when the orig­i­nal is a tough act to fol­low and it’s the same with cars. The Subaru Forester pi­o­neered the “tread lightly” off-road wagon 21 years ago, cre­at­ing a genre that now has more than two dozen com­peti­tors.

The model’s fifth it­er­a­tion looks fa­mil­iar but is the big­gest Forester yet — as with the gen­er­a­tion of buy­ers it’s de­signed for, it has grown up and be­come more so­phis­ti­cated. Subaru is pitch­ing it to ad­ven­tur­ous types and par­ents ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to a new real­ity that “now cen­tres around peo­ple other than them­selves”.

“Their pri­or­i­ties have changed,” says Subaru Aus­tralia mar­ket­ing man­ager Amanda Leaney. “What was pre­vi­ously im­promptu — go­ing out for din­ner, catch­ing a movie or en­joy­ing drinks with col­leagues af­ter work — is now a care­fully planned out ex­er­cise.”

She says SUVs en­able buy­ers to em­bark on “a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery … in their new life. They want to be more fun to their part­ner, their kids, their pets and their ever-evolv­ing so­cial cir­cle.”

Loaded with class-lead­ing tech­nol­ogy, as re­flected in the in­creased prices, the Forester will likely in­crease the temp­ta­tion to travel be­yond mo­bile phone range.

The Forester pre­vi­ously started from $34,600 drive-away. The new four-ver­sion range starts from $37,990 and tops out at $45,990, both prices drive-away.

The head­line tech is con­cealed in the dash­board — it’s an in­frared LED cam­era that mon­i­tors eye move­ment and beeps when the driver isn’t watch­ing the road or is glanc­ing at the phone. It should be com­pul­sory in ev­ery new ve­hi­cle.

On dearer ver­sions, the same tiny cam­era uses fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech to check who is at the wheel, then ad­just the seats, side mir­rors and air­con­di­tion­ing to suit the pro­grammed pref­er­ences of up to five driv­ers.

All new Foresters come with for­ward-fac­ing cam­eras that can de­tect cars, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans — and slam on the brakes if the driver isn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion. It can avoid a col­li­sion at up to 50km/h and mit­i­gates crashes be­yond that speed. This Eye­Sight tech also senses when the car in front has moved ahead in traf­fic — and beeps at the driver to get a wriggle on, in case of day­dream­ing.

Stan­dard on all grades are ad­vanced safety aids that are op­tional on most ri­vals, such as blind zone warn­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert and tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing. Also stan­dard, in a

first for the Forester, are smart­phone mir­ror­ing and dig­i­tal ra­dio.

Three of the four grades gain rear au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, 360-de­gree cam­era and the driver at­ten­tion cam­era.

The two cheaper mod­els get only a 6.5-inch touch­screen, some­what shy of cur­rent stan­dards, and the dearer pair get an eight-inch touch­screen with built-in nav­i­ga­tion.

There are more power points than there are seats: USB and 12V sock­ets un­der the dash, 12V out­lets in the cen­tre con­sole and cargo hold plus two USB ports for sec­ond-row seats above the air vents, both Forester firsts.

On the dearer pair, there is an auto-dip­ping side mir­ror so you don’t scratch the al­loys when park­ing while the power tail­gate op­er­ates al­most twice as fast as in the out­go­ing model.

One no­table omis­sion: the tail­gate can’t be op­er­ated via a mo­tion sen­sor or a deft foot swipe be­cause Subaru en­gi­neers didn’t want cus­tomers to slip on ice when bal­anc­ing one­legged. True story.

For con­ve­nience, all grades come with sen­sor key door open­ing and push-but­ton start — you never need to take the key out of your pocket. The flag­ship gains a sun­roof, nine­s­peaker premium au­dio by Har­man Kar­don (ar­guably the best in a Subaru to date) and leather up­hol­stery.

As with the lat­est Im­preza and XV sta­ble­mates, ser­vice in­ter­vals are 12,500km or 12 months rather than six months. In­di­vid­ual ser­vices are as dear as be­fore but vis­its are half as of­ten.

Subaru says there are no im­me­di­ate plans to in­crease the war­ranty from three years even though most top 10 brands now have five-year cov­er­age or more.

ON THE ROAD

The first thing you no­tice in the new Forester is the large win­dows. In an era of sleek de­signs it’s a re­lief to eas­ily see out at all an­gles, whether re­vers­ing, chang­ing lanes or clam­ber­ing over an ob­sta­cle.

It’s also in­cred­i­bly spa­cious for a car with a rel­a­tively com­pact foot­print. Head­room and legroom in the front and back are enor­mous; the boot is so wide it can ac­com­mo­date a large golf bag cross­ways.

Along with the gen­er­ous pro­por­tions, there’s still a full-size spare un­der the boot floor.

The dash­board, as in the XV and Im­preza, mixes high qual­ity soft-touch ma­te­ri­als up top and hard plas­tics be­low the cabin’s waist­line. The small sun vi­sors have ex­ten­ders to block side glare.

Rear cross traf­fic and blind zone warn­ings and the driver at­ten­tion cam­era work well but lane keep­ing as­sis­tance is hit and miss. Some­times it de­tects the mark­ings and keeps the car in the lane, other times it’ll cross a line with­out warn­ing.

Even with the for­ward-fac­ing cam­eras, there’s no speed sign recog­ni­tion. The Forester re­lies in­stead on map data for speed zones.

It’s not the brisk­est in the class but the 2.5-litre four-cylin­der is a touch perkier than be­fore, largely thanks to a new seven-step con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion rather than the pre­vi­ous six-step CVT. With each new ver­sion, it gets more like a con­ven­tional auto.

Cor­ner­ing grip is good due to stick­ier Bridge­stone tyres and the trade­mark per­ma­nent all-wheel drive. The sus­pen­sion is a bit busy on back roads, whether on 17 or 18-inch wheels, but the sup­ple­ness of the tyres takes the edges off bumps.

The Forester can get a bit of “head toss” — sub­tle side-to-side move­ment on lumpy roads, more so than other sim­i­larly sized SUVs — per­haps be­cause the tall roof means there’s more weight up high.

Brake per­for­mance is OK, though it’s worth not­ing the two cheaper mod­els get smaller front discs to fit be­hind the 17-inch wheels. Mod­els with 18-inch­ers have more stop­ping power.

VER­DICT

In a class full of pretenders, the Forester is the real deal.

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