SUV shows its prowess from track to trail
Refresh of Subaru Forester is more evolution than revolution
“You’re crazy.” This was the answer Subaru Canada’s PR and Marketing team apparently received upon inquiring whether a brace of new-for-2019 Subaru Foresters, driven by journalists no less, could make the offroad climb from the Apex Mountain Resort in Hedley, B.C., to the peak of its neighbouring mountain some 2,200 metres further up.
Admittedly, challenges such as this on media drives are taken with an herculean pinch of salt. What manufacturer in its right mind would set up its own product to fail, particularly one as instrumental to Subaru as the Forester has become? Subaru Canada is chasing its seventh straight year of record sales growth, an accolade that owes just as much to increased interest in compact SUVs as it does to Forester’s hardcore fan base.
I will admit to some concerns, however. For one thing, our route includes a dozen or so “difficult” rock formations, and despite boasting 22 centimetres of ground clear- ance and 20-plus degree approach and departure angles, the prospect of ripping the front bumper off Subaru’s $39,000-plus top trim Premier level isn’t sitting particularly well. That, plus the fact that on the fabulously sinuous climb up Apex Mountain Road to the resort of the same name, the Forester’s newly direct-injected 2.5-litre Boxer flatfour seems completely outclassed.
Yes, you read that correctly. To simplify the product lineup, Subaru is only offering the new Forester with a flat-four engine with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to an upgraded CVT, a unit designed to offer more usable torque across the power band and further hike fuel efficiency. Our genial hosts say it’s now down to 8.2 L/100 km on the combined cycle.
Problem is, on these steep ascents and even with the loud pedal mashed, there just isn’t the required oomph available until we’re whistling past 4,000 rpm. At this point there’s only a moderate surge of forward momentum and a high- pitched whine as the drivetrain registers its disapproval. It’s an uninspiring performance that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
What makes this all the more galling is that, across an equally spectacular, though less undulating, stretch of twisting tarmac earlier in the day, the 2.5-L and CVT combo had proven perfectly capable. In our opening leg in the Sport model (starting at $34,995), the wider torque curve and solid, linear acceleration allowed us to keep the Forester on a bubble it had no right to be in. And it’s sure-footed through the corners, courtesy of the active torque vectoring automatically braking the front wheels under load to reduce understeer, plus precise and well weighted steering, the heft of which builds progressively from lock to lock. Granted, there’s very little feel for the front end, and enough roll to remind you that you’re hustling a near-two-ton SUV, but you’ll be surprised just how much confidence the front end provides.
Much like the blink-and-you’llmiss-it exterior facelift, most of the Forester’s cabin design will be familiar to established customers. There’s liberal use of “exclusive brown leather” and chrome detailing, the latter of which can be swapped out for the funkier and slightly over-thetop orange detailing of the Sport package.
There’s also a dual-screen setup on the centre console linked with the multi-function steering wheel, a layout that’s simple and unobtrusive but one that already feels out of date. Only one of them is a touch screen, and the 6.5-inch Multi-function Display can, at times, be a faff to navigate via one set of several toggles on the steering wheel.
The drivetrain has once again started punching above its briefly consigned welterweight as we reach the mid-point of the climb. Even though we hit accent angles approaching 20 degrees during our climb, the 2.5-L Boxer engine is now back in its sweet spot, delivering solid banks of torque through the standard all-wheel-drive system.
Loose sediment soon turns into dust, mud and the occasional water jump, and yet the Forester, still in normal driving mode despite the mud-and-dirt X-Mode being just the twist of a rotary dial away, continues plugging on. Only a perilously close shave between some low-hanging bracken and our test model’s Jasper Green Metallic paint finish constitute “trouble” as we make one final sprint up a 20-degree incline to reach the end of our crazy climb.
The Subaru Forester starts at $27,995 for the 2.5i base version and goes up to $39,495 for the Premier.
2019 Subaru Forester Premier.
2019 Subaru Forester Sport.