Subaru Forester right at home in Mar­itimes

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS -

AC­COUNT­ING for a quar­ter of its sales, the Forester is an im­por­tant ve­hi­cle for Subaru Canada. In the in­tensely com­pet­i­tive small-SUV seg­ment, the goal is pretty much like a tight base­ball game: pro­tect your lead but start steal­ing bases.

I once called a Subaru the guy your mom wanted you to marry. I meant it. And af­ter a re­cent romp through the glo­ri­ous potato fields of Char­lot­te­town, I mean it even more. A flat tire on a muddy road will test a ve­hi­cle the way drag­ging a date to a dry wed­ding will test a re­la­tion­ship.

Subarus have al­ways been more about what you can’t see than what you can, and the 2016 Forester is no ex­cep­tion. Re­designed last year, no­body opted to muck with what was work­ing.

The in­te­rior is com­pe­tent but un­der­whelm­ing, and you won’t get lost in myr­iad screen selections that on other brands re­sem­ble noth­ing so much as dis­ap­pear­ing down a rab­bit hole, when all you want to do is lower the tem­per­a­ture.

The Forester gives me knobs; the Forester lets me see where I’m go­ing on the mod­els equipped with a nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem and what I’m back­ing up into with the cam­era (un­til it gets cov­ered in mud; see those potato fields).

I want high-tech func­tion­al­ity that doesn’t send me scram­bling for the owner’s man­ual to hook up a phone. A car’s in­for­ma­tion and en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems should be like an ex­cel­lent waiter: in­tu­itive, seam­less and un­ob­tru­sive. The Forester’s up­dated Star- to be head­board-bust­ing sexy de­signs or Hol­ly­wood in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems that will re­tain those loyal Su­bie cus­tomers, while steal­ing new ones away from their top com­peti­tors, Honda and Toy­ota. It’s go­ing to be that AWD sys­tem and that safety record.

But it was a ran­dom act of rock that con­vinced me. Tak­ing a side “road” with ad­mit­tedly a lit­tle too much en­thu­si­asm, I met up with a ver­i­ta­ble mine­field of sharp rocks. For hours we’d been able to choose lines through ob­sta­cles, but this one got away from me. It only took a split sec­ond to carve out a gash in the side wall, but the two of us were on our own.

I can change a tire; I strug­gle loos­en­ing tight lug nuts, and I read­ily ad­mit it. My co-driver sup­plied most of the power, but we got that tire changed in six min­utes — be­cause Subaru gives you the proper tools to change a tire.

I’ve driven $100,000-plus SUVS that pro­vide lit­tle more than a couple of tooth­picks and a pa­per clip and call it a jack (sorry Land Rover, but really?).

I don’t dread chang­ing a tire; I dread chang­ing a tire with cheap tools that a man­u­fac­turer hopes a buyer will never see. The flat was my fault, the quick-fix prize goes to my co-driver, but Subaru gets all the points for not just telling you to take its ve­hi­cle into the boonies, but re­al­iz­ing you have to get it out again.

Subaru boasts a 75 per cent con­quest num­ber: that’s the num­ber of buy­ers who are new to the brand.

It’s surely a com­bi­na­tion of a longgame goal of es­tab­lish­ing loy­alty among ex­ist­ing cus­tomers, sur­pass­ing its own safety records year af­ter year, and build­ing in­cre­men­tally on what works. And maybe more peo­ple are just lis­ten­ing to their moms.

LOR­RAINE SOM­MER­FELD

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