SWEET SPOT FOR SAFETY

A pi­o­neer among SUVs, the Forester sticks with the fam­ily friendly for­mula

Geelong Advertiser - - MOTORING - BILL McK­IN­NON

The mid-size, five-seater SUV, led by Mazda’s CX5, is well on the way to be­com­ing the class of choice in sub­ur­ban Aus­tralia. It’s clos­ing in fast on the cur­rent front run­ner, the small hatch­back, and if present sales trends con­tinue will over­take it next year. The car is dead. Long live the SUV. Has it re­ally come to this? Al­most.

Subaru’s Forester — one of the orig­i­nal SUVs, along with Toy­ota’s RAV4 and the Honda CR-V — ar­rived in 1997, and more than 250,000 have since been sold here.

As is the Subaru way, the new fifth­gen­er­a­tion Forester doesn’t stray from a win­ning for­mula. Subaru has one of the most loyal cus­tomer bases in the busi­ness, so Rule No.1 with any new model is keeping the faith­ful in the church.

VALUE

It’s a much leaner Forester line-up for 2018, though, with the pre­vi­ous 2.0-litre petrol, 2.0litre turbo diesel and 2.5-litre turbo vari­ants all gone. Subaru sees no fu­ture in diesel. A hy­brid will hap­pen within a cou­ple of years, then a pure elec­tric vari­ant.

For now, power for the four grades of Forester comes solely from a new 2.5-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated four-cylin­der in Subaru’s sig­na­ture “boxer” lay­out. The con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion has seven ra­tios in man­ual mode — there is no man­ual gear­box.

Still the only vol­ume-sell­ing mid-size SUV with full-time all-wheel drive as stan­dard, the 2018 Forester has more so­phis­ti­cated X-Mode soft­ware for max­i­mum trac­tion in dif­fi­cult of­froad con­di­tions. Add 220mm of clear­ance, plus a full size-spare, and it eas­ily re­tains classlead­ing off-road cre­den­tials.

Prices start at $33,490 for the base 2.5i. We’re test­ing the top-spec Forester S, at $41,490.

In­fo­tain­ment now in­cludes Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. LED head­lights that il­lu­mi­nate your path through a cor­ner as you turn the wheel are also stan­dard.

The S adds leather up­hol­stery, rich in­te­rior trim, sun­roof, power tail­gate, nav­i­ga­tion, 18inch al­loys and Har­man Kar­don au­dio.

COM­FORT

Re­stricted vi­sion is an un­for­tu­nate by-prod­uct of 21st cen­tury car de­sign but the Forester has the best view in town, all around the car, with lots of glass, a tall roof and rel­a­tively slim pil­lars, plus a high, com­fort­able driv­ing po­si­tion.

The new body is larger, es­pe­cially be­hind the driver where rear pas­sen­gers en­joy vast le­groom. Kid-friendly prac­ti­cal­i­ties are cov­ered, with air vents, two USB ports and two stor­age pock­ets on each front seat. The 60-40 split back­rest is too steeply an­gled for proper sup­port, though, and non-ad­justable.

Ex­tra cabin width trans­lates to more boot space, eas­ier load­ing through a wider aper­ture and an ex­tended floor of al­most two me­tres.

Ri­vals fit stiffer sus­pen­sion in pur­suit of sporty dy­nam­ics. Subaru has gone the other way on the fifth gen­er­a­tion, with a rel­a­tively sup­ple tune, per­haps to suit US tastes. The re­sult is a lux­u­ri­ous, quiet ride, though with a full load of adult pas­sen­gers it can get bouncy on bumps as the sus­pen­sion strug­gles to con­trol the ex­tra weight.

SAFETY

No ri­val has such a com­pre­hen­sive driver as­sis­tance safety tech pack­age as Subaru’s Eye­Sight, stan­dard across the range. Vi­sion As­sist (not on the base grade) has sur­round cam­eras and re­verse au­to­matic brak­ing, plus an in­ward fac­ing in­fra-red cam­era that watches you as you drive and trig­gers an alarm, ac­com­pa­nied by a Keep Your Eyes on the Bloody (well, not that bit…) Road mes­sage, if you take a longish look away from the straight ahead. Some­times it works. Some­times it doesn’t.

DRIV­ING

De­spite gain­ing al­most 50kg, the Forester is a more re­spon­sive, quicker drive than its pre­de­ces­sor, reach­ing the 100km/h mark in 9.5 sec­onds.

OK, so it’s still no jet but the new engine and re­cal­i­brated CVT de­liver much more use­ful ac­cel­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially in the lower half of the rev range, than its rel­a­tively mod­est, peaky torque out­put (239Nm at 4400rpm) would in­di­cate, so per­for­mance is ad­e­quate in town and on a high­way cruise. Sport and econ­omy set­tings add to the breadth of its abil­ity, as does the seven-speed man­ual mode, us­ing pad­dles.

Fuel ef­fi­ciency is sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved. Ex­pect 6L/100km on the high­way and 9L-11L in town, on reg­u­lar un­leaded.

The all-wheel driv­e­train, now sup­ple­mented by torque vec­tor­ing, en­sures ex­cep­tional sta­bil­ity and grip on the open road, and on dirt, but its softly sprung, lightly damped sus­pen­sion doesn’t ex­er­cise quite the dis­ci­plined con­trol over body move­ment that it should.

As a re­sult, the in­creased bulk makes it­self felt, es­pe­cially in cor­ners and/or fully laden, when it al­most drives like a seven-seater SUV.

VW’s Tiguan is the best han­dler in this class; Mazda’s all-wheel drive CX-5 is su­pe­rior, too.

HEART SAYS

I have a young fam­ily so safety is my top pri­or­ity. Subaru is a blue-chip Ja­panese brand with a rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing safe, prac­ti­cal, fam­ily friendly wag­ons.

HEAD SAYS

This ticks a lot of boxes and, size wise, it’s the sweet spot for my needs – not too big but with more in­te­rior space than be­fore. Made in Ja­pan quality, off-road cred, best in class safety and strong re­sale val­ues seal the deal.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES MAZDA CX-5 GT FROM $43,950

Thanks to 140kW/251Nm 2.5-litre/six-speed auto/all-wheel drive, it does 0-100km/h in 7.8 sec­onds. Stronger per­for­mance and sportier han­dling than the Subaru, plus five years’ war­ranty. Sim­i­lar safety spec. Smaller, though.

VW TIGUAN 132TSI COMFORTLINE FROM $42,490

Great han­dling plus big torque from its 132kW/ 320Nm 2.0-litre turbo. It does 0-100km/h in 7.7 sec­onds. Seven-speed dual clutch trans­mis­sion and all-wheel drive. War­ranty is five years. Ride is firm and the full safety pack­age costs ex­tra.

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