We drive Mid­land farm­ers’ favourite wheels to the hilt(on) and back.

BRIAN BAS­SETT goes from Hes­keth’s faster cor­ners to Hil­ton’s mud in the new Subaru Forester

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE -

SUBARU has be­come an iconic brand in South Africa over the years.

Firstly it was sup­ported by farm­ers, who were at­tracted to its rugged dura­bil­ity and the fact that it could be re­lied on to deal with the needs of the school lift club in all weathers and road con­di­tions.

Then the brand spread to the sta­tus-con­scious, ur­ban SUV crowd and fi­nally to any­one who liked bundu bash­ing and wanted a car that would last 20 years with­out much trou­ble.

To Subaru Pi­eter­mar­itzburg and its dealer prin­ci­pal Howard Christie our ap­pre­ci­a­tion for al­low­ing us a few days with the new Forester.

Styling

The re­cent Forester up­grade has con­cen­trated on de­sign and re­fine­ment.

The ex­te­rior shows a re­designed grille, bumper and head­lights, which ben­e­fit from the ad­di­tion of LED.

The fog lights get a new chromed de­tail­ing, while the hexag­o­nal grille has a new, chromed frame and mesh de­sign. The C-shaped, day­time run­ning lights ac­cen­tu­ate the sharp front end ex­pected from the Forester.

For such a rugged ve­hi­cle the de­sign moves qui­etly to­wards with the rear and the large, rear LED tail light mod­ules and au­to­matic, wide rear tail­gate with its in­te­rior height set­ting but­ton. There are roof rails for ex­tra bag­gage and the 2.0 litre XT also has 10-spoke al­loys with busi­nesslike 18-inch rub­ber.

All of th­ese el­e­ments make for an at­trac­tive and dis­tinc­tive pack­age.

In­te­rior

The re­designed and re-worked in­te­rior is a pleas­ant and space to be.

The finely fin­ished leather-cov­ered seat­ing is com­fort­able and the driver’s seat is elec­tri­cally ad­justable, with a mem­ory record­ing the needs of two in­di­vid­u­als.

The three-spoke, multi-func­tion steer­ing wheel, with its flappy pad­dles, has been re­designed and now con­trols a num­ber of func­tions like the fine Har­mon-Kar­don nine­s­peaker au­dio sys­tem, Blue­tooth, cruise and voice con­trol, as well as hav­ing a but­ton to ac­ti­vate the SIRI Eyes-Free sys­tem, which al­lows hands-free in­ter­ac­tion with the tele­phone and ra­dio sys­tems us­ing the voice-recog­ni­tion sys­tem con­nected to the SIRI de­vice.

The dou­ble-vol­ume tilt and slide sun­roof is a pleas­ant ad­di­tion and easy for the driver to op­er­ate.

The rear seats are com­fort­able for three adults and the boot of­fers 505– litres of space, backed by rear seats fold­ing flat in 60/40 fash­ion.

The in­su­la­tion around the doors and elec­tric win­dows has been im­proved, as has that on the floor, load­ing bay and apron and foot wells — mak­ing for a de­light­fully quiet ride.

The win­dow glaz­ing has also been up­graded by 0,5 mm, adding to the over­all rugged­ness of the ve­hi­cle.

The con­trols are cen­trally placed and pleas­antly back­lit in blue, with the cen­tral col­umn be­ing sur­mounted by a small screen car­ry­ing in­for­ma­tion about your jour­ney and the car and a large touch screen, eas­ily op­er­ated and deal­ing with au­dio, tele­phone, gen­eral in­for­ma­tion and car set­tings.

Safety and se­cu­rity

Be­ing a Subaru it is one of the safest cars on the road.

A five-star Euro NCAP rat­ing is backed by seven airbags, ISOFIX child seat an­chors, a re­in­forced safety cell and a Full Ve­hi­cle Dy­namic Con­trol Suite, which makes for sta­bil­ity on any road sur­face.

There are also steer­ing re­spon­sive head­lamps, which fol­low the curves, a rear view cam­era, sym­met­ri­cal AWD, park as­sist and a per­fectly damp­ened front and rear sus­pen­sion. Au­to­matic lock­ing and a builtin alarm sys­tem com­plete the safety suite.

Per­for­mance and han­dling

There are five model vari­ants in the Forester suite, of which the XT is the range top­per. Us­ing the two-litre, four-cylin­der, turbo-petrol Boxer mo­tor, the XT puts out 177 kW and 350 Nm via a six-speed CVT gear­box. Press the Sport + but­ton on the steer­ing and the gear­box be­comes eight-speed, with the gear ra­tios short­ened, de­liv­er­ing hugely im­proved ac­cel­er­a­tion and per­for­mance — just the sort of thing you need to take the kids to school on dirt roads. The 0-100 run comes up in around 8,5 sec­onds and top speed is claimed to be 210 km/h.

Fuel con­sump­tion is around nine litres per 100 km but, drive the Forester hard on a track, as we did, and con­sump­tion eas­ily tops 13,5 litres.

On tar and in town the Forester is a re­laxed drive and easy to park.

The high driv­ing po­si­tion pro­motes a sense of be­ing in com­mand and pot­holes are ter­ri­fied into sub­mis­sion by the firm, yet com­fort­able ride qual­ity and ab­so­lute sta­bil­ity.

We got per­mis­sion to use the Hes­keth Cir­cuit at Hay­fields for for an hour and we en­joyed our­selves driv­ing a fam­ily SUV like a sports car.

Even in fam­ily mode — i.e. with that Sport+ but­ton off — the Forester re­sponded with crisp and re­spon­sive steer­ing, strong, fast and sta­ble cor­ner­ing, as well as speeds of up to 140 km/h down the back straight.

Later that af­ter­noon I took the Subaru to Hil­ton via the rough, rut­ted and damp forestry roads and the car per­formed su­perbly.

It does so well on mud that I felt brave enough to take on a steep down­whill sec­tion pop­u­lar with our MTB rid­ers — from the bot­tom up, mind you.

The Sym­met­ri­cal AWD de­liv­ered power to all four wheels pro­vid­ing en­hanced trac­tion and con­trol and its 220 mm ground clear­ance dealt with hid­den roots. De­press the X-Mode but­ton and the car takes over the engine, brakes, AWD and all other com­po­nents nec­es­sary to en­sure sur­vival on bad roads.

Costs and the com­pe­ti­tion

The Forester 2.0XT Lin­eartronic CVT costs around R600 000. It comes with a three-year or 100 000 km war­ranty and a three­year or 75 000 km main­te­nance plan.

The Forester com­petes head on with the SA’s best sell­ing ute, the Toyota For­tuner, as well as the for­mi­da­ble Ford Ever­est and com­pet­i­tively priced Chevro­let Trail­blazer and plush Dis­cov­ery, but all the Mid­lands farm­ers (who helped to make Subaru in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg the big­gest dealer of the mar­que in SA), will set­tle only for a Scooby.

It does so well on mud that I felt brave enough to take on a steep down­whill sec­tion pop­u­lar with our MTB rid­ers — from the bot­tom up, mind you.

PHOTO: ALWYN VILJOEN

Subaru’s sym­met­ri­cal all-wheel drive sys­tem means grip is where you want it, whether over slip­pery mud or around Hes­keth’s faster cor­ners.

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