Forester on fire

The fam­ily wagon of choice for those want­ing to tackle a dirt road or two be­comes a lit­tle more de­sir­able


THINGS have changed con­sid­er­ably since the first Subaru Forester ar­rived on our shores in 1995. There are fewer forests for a start.

The au­to­mo­tive land­scape has changed, too. The Forester was a pi­o­neer: a smaller, more city-friendly al­ter­na­tive to the big barges peo­ple had to drive if they wanted to ven­ture down a dirt track.

Now it’s just one among a sea of SUVs vy­ing for buy­ers’ at­ten­tion. Com­pe­ti­tion is fierce and if you stand still you get left be­hind.

With that in mind, Subaru has given its fourth-gen­er­a­tion Forester a mild tweak. We’re driv­ing the mid­dle of the range 2.5i-S, which starts from $39,490 plus on-roads.


The Forester has al­ways been more about util­ity than style. The boxy pro­file may not be the most at­trac­tive on the block but it pays div­i­dends in the cabin.

The gen­er­ous head­room front and rear make it the SUV of choice for pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ballers, while leg room is also gen­er­ous in the back. Vi­sion is also above par from the driver’s seat with the up­right


side pil­lars al­low­ing for an un­im­peded view of the sur­round­ing traf­fic.

As with the past few Subarus, in­te­rior fit and fin­ish have im­proved from the dark days fol­low­ing the GFC, when the bean-coun­ters had the up­per hand and cheap plas­tic sur­faces abounded in the cabin. The lat­est Forester cabin is com­fort­able, func­tional and at­trac­tive.

The touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment menus are sim­ple to use, while the au­dio sound is above av­er­age and the Blue­tooth and voice prompts work well. The S model costs $6500 more than the base model but ex­tras in­clude a more pow­er­ful en­gine, leather seats, auto emer­gency break­ing and sat­nav.

Subaru is one of few brands with a full-size spare on the mid-sized SUV, which is ad­mirable but comes at the cost of lug­gage space. It has one of the shal­lower cargo ar­eas in the class.


There is a red-light run­ning cy­clist who owes a debt to Subaru en­gi­neers. The brand’s au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing tech­nol­ogy, which uses cam­eras to scan the road ahead, picked up the daredevil law-breaker be­fore I had a chance to re­act, giv­ing the brakes a slight jab to make sure we avoided him.

The tech­nol­ogy is stan­dard on the Forester we were driv­ing but op­tional on the base model. I’m of­fi­cially a fan.

Apart from that, the Forester is well matched to the ur­ban crawl. The lat­est tweaks have fo­cused on re­duc­ing noise and vi­bra­tion in the cabin, with thicker glass, more sound damp­en­ing ma­te­ri­als and thicker door seals.

Subaru claims a 5 per cent re­duc­tion in noise but that’s hard for oc­cu­pants to judge. What’s eas­ier to no­tice is the change in the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, or CVT.

CVTs tend to rev high and whine a lot when pushed hard but the Forester’s trans­mis­sion has ar­ti­fi­cial steps that make it feel more like a con­ven­tional job — and keep the en­gine noise and vi­bra­tion down. The S model also gets pad­dle-shifters for those who want to change gears them­selves.

Sus­pen­sion tweaks also mean the Forester copes well with pot­holes and cor­ru­ga­tions at low speeds.


At higher speeds, the Subaru feels safe and secure. De­spite sit­ting higher off the ground than most of its ri­vals, it sits rea­son­ably flat through cor­ners, while the ex­tra grip pro­vided by the con­stant all­wheel-drive adds a fur­ther safety net.

It’s not the most en­gag­ing of the city SUVs to drive but the steer­ing is ac­cu­rate and it feels ag­ile for an SUV that has more gen­uine off-road cre­den­tials and bet­ter ground clear­ance than the com­pe­ti­tion.

The en­gine isn’t at the pointy end of the field for re­spon­sive­ness or fuel con­sump­tion, but nei­ther is it off the pace.

It may lack the torque of some ri­vals’ tur­bos but it gets the job done, thanks to the CVT keep­ing the revs in the sweet spot.


The Forester is ham­strung in the sales race by Subaru’s in­sis­tence on all-wheel-drive and com­pe­tent off-road man­ners. There’s no cheaper 2WD op­tion at the bot­tom end and the ex­tra weight of the all­wheel-drive me­chan­ics mean it’s no fuel sip­per.

How­ever, it is a com­fort­able, ca­pa­ble and well-equipped fam­ily wagon — and the best op­tion for those who want to tackle a dirt road or two.

$39,490 3 years/un­lim­ited km $2203 over 3 years 6 months/12,500km 7 airbags, 5 stars 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 126kW/235NmCVT; AWD 7.2L/100km4610mm (L), 1795mm (W), 1735mm (H), 2640mm (WB)1567kg Full-size1500kg More ex­pen­sive but more grunt from diesel en­gine and great-look­ing cabin.

Leather trim, heated front seats, auto tail­gate, full-size spare, seat belt warn­ings for all five seats, sat­nav, sun­roof, au­to­mated brak­ing.

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