FACE THE FU­TURE

Ac­tive driv­ing aids are stan­dard in the Forester that recog­nises your dial

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF

Subaru’s cam­era-based safety soft­ware is now tak­ing a look at the driver. Fa­cial recog­ni­tion in the new Forester mid­size SUV due here in Septem­ber not only mon­i­tors the driver for drowsi­ness and dis­trac­tion but also sets the seat, side mir­rors, airconditioning and in­fo­tain­ment to in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences.

Subaru Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Colin Christie says the new fea­ture re­flects chang­ing pri­or­i­ties for car own­ers and is aimed at tak­ing away some of the tedium of shar­ing a car.

“It might sound like a small thing but when a car is driven by mul­ti­ple fam­ily mem­bers, chang­ing seat po­si­tion and mir­ror an­gles is a con­stant frus­tra­tion,” Christie says.

“Other brands have sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy that mon­i­tors driv­ers from a safety as­pect — ours ex­tends that to con­ve­nience.”

The soft­ware will recog­nise up to five faces — and had no prob­lem iden­ti­fy­ing this driver with or with­out sun­glasses. Be­yond iden­ti­fy­ing fa­tigue based on how of­ten driv­ers blink, it also beeps if they take their eyes off the road for more than a mo­ment.

Christie says feed­back from Aus­tralian own­ers has been built into this Forester in terms of a large rear cargo open­ing — which will now take a golf bag side­ways — and a pow­ered tail­gate that opens and shuts in about half the time of the out­go­ing ex­am­ple.

The Forester will be the first Subaru to have ac­tive driv­ing aids as stan­dard across the range, from the base ver­sion to the blinged top grade. Other no­table changes in­clude a 15mm longer, 20mm wider and 10mm lower body with in­creased pas­sen­ger space and a di­rect­in­jec­tion 2.5-litre en­gine.

Subaru has deleted the ex­ist­ing diesel and 2.0-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated and per­for­mance turbo petrol en­gines. Even with the new body, it will take a trainspot­ter to pick how it dif­fers from the cur­rent model.

Op­er­at­ing on the premise that the Forester is ap­pre­ci­ated for its boxy looks, Subaru hasn’t tin­kered much. The grille is deeper, the lights front and rear get a more mod­ern de­sign and fog lights are re­shaped and repo­si­tioned.

The win­dows have been length­ened and the side mir­rors repo­si­tioned to en­hance the al­ready good all-round vi­sion. Rear seat ac­cess is eas­ier cour­tesy of larger and wider-open­ing doors.

The cargo area has grown in vol­ume from 422L to 498L, or 1768L with the rear seats folded.

In­side the con­ven­tional look re­mains, though the qual­ity of the plas­tics and trim will earn com­par­i­son with the newest ar­rivals in the seg­ment. Other niceties in­clude rear vents mounted be­hind the con­sole bin, along with a pair of USB ports.

The air vents sep­a­rat­ing the multi-func­tion dis­play from the in­fo­tain­ment screen have been re­lo­cated to ei­ther side of the cen­tre stack but over­all the cabin will look re­as­sur­ingly fa­mil­iar to ex­ist­ing own­ers.

ON THE ROAD

The Forester was launched on an out­door cy­cling track at the Ja­pan Cy­cle Sports Cen­tre.

The course is about 6km with de­cent el­e­va­tion changes and cor­ners rang­ing from fast sweep­ers to 180-de­gree hair­pins, let­ting Subaru show off how the SUV’s stiffer chas­sis and sus­pen­sion re­vi­sions have re­duced body roll.

It didn’t present much in the way of bumps — with one ma­jor ex­cep­tion — so a de­cent as­sess­ment of its han­dling on lumpy lo­cal roads will have to wait un­til Septem­ber.

What is ap­par­ent is the new model doesn’t pitch or squat nearly as much un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion or brak­ing. The steer­ing feels marginally more re­spon­sive and the re­vised vari­able ra­tio steer­ing makes changes of di­rec­tion smoother and faster.

Opt to switch the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion into man­ual mode and there are now seven steps in­stead of six.

Use the pad­dle-shifters and the en­gine sounds noisy when be­ing pushed to the top end of the rev range, which is where peak power is found.

The noise is less in­tru­sive in the de­fault auto mode and doesn’t seem to af­fect the ac­cel­er­a­tion ei­ther, so we’d rec­om­mend let­ting the CVT do its own thing.

A brief off-road test high­lighted the ad­just­ments made to the X-Mode soft­ware to help driv­ers in low-grip con­di­tions. The stan­dard snow and mud mode is joined by a new deep snow and mud op­tion that dis­ables trac­tion con­trol.

Forester project man­ager To­moyuki Nu­mone says the changes were made be­cause own­ers didn’t man­u­ally over­ride the trac­tion con­trol when con­di­tions de­manded. Now, if stuck in the thick stuff, they can twirl the dial for a more ag­gres­sive all-wheel drive set-up.

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