PIONEER PUSHES ON
Subaru’s Forester launched a genre. The latest model raises the bar
Movie sequels are risky when the original is a tough act to follow and it’s the same with cars. The Subaru Forester pioneered the “tread lightly” off-road wagon 21 years ago, creating a genre that now has more than two dozen competitors.
The model’s fifth iteration looks familiar but is the biggest Forester yet — as with the generation of buyers it’s designed for, it has grown up and become more sophisticated. Subaru is pitching it to adventurous types and parents acclimatising to a new reality that “now centres around people other than themselves”.
“Their priorities have changed,” says Subaru Australia marketing manager Amanda Leaney. “What was previously impromptu — going out for dinner, catching a movie or enjoying drinks with colleagues after work — is now a carefully planned out exercise.”
She says SUVs enable buyers to embark on “a journey of discovery … in their new life. They want to be more fun to their partner, their kids, their pets and their ever-evolving social circle.”
Loaded with class-leading technology, as reflected in the increased prices, the Forester will likely increase the temptation to travel beyond mobile phone range.
The Forester previously started from $34,600 drive-away. The new four-version range starts from $37,990 and tops out at $45,990, both prices drive-away.
The headline tech is concealed in the dashboard — it’s an infrared LED camera that monitors eye movement and beeps when the driver isn’t watching the road or is glancing at the phone. It should be compulsory in every new vehicle.
On dearer versions, the same tiny camera uses facial recognition tech to check who is at the wheel, then adjust the seats, side mirrors and airconditioning to suit the programmed preferences of up to five drivers.
All new Foresters come with forward-facing cameras that can detect cars, cyclists and pedestrians — and slam on the brakes if the driver isn’t paying attention. It can avoid a collision at up to 50km/h and mitigates crashes beyond that speed. This EyeSight tech also senses when the car in front has moved ahead in traffic — and beeps at the driver to get a wriggle on, in case of daydreaming.
Standard on all grades are advanced safety aids that are optional on most rivals, such as blind zone warning, rear cross traffic alert and tyre pressure monitoring. Also standard, in a
first for the Forester, are smartphone mirroring and digital radio.
Three of the four grades gain rear autonomous emergency braking, 360-degree camera and the driver attention camera.
The two cheaper models get only a 6.5-inch touchscreen, somewhat shy of current standards, and the dearer pair get an eight-inch touchscreen with built-in navigation.
There are more power points than there are seats: USB and 12V sockets under the dash, 12V outlets in the centre console and cargo hold plus two USB ports for second-row seats above the air vents, both Forester firsts.
On the dearer pair, there is an auto-dipping side mirror so you don’t scratch the alloys when parking while the power tailgate operates almost twice as fast as in the outgoing model.
One notable omission: the tailgate can’t be operated via a motion sensor or a deft foot swipe because Subaru engineers didn’t want customers to slip on ice when balancing onelegged. True story.
For convenience, all grades come with sensor key door opening and push-button start — you never need to take the key out of your pocket. The flagship gains a sunroof, ninespeaker premium audio by Harman Kardon (arguably the best in a Subaru to date) and leather upholstery.
As with the latest Impreza and XV stablemates, service intervals are 12,500km or 12 months rather than six months. Individual services are as dear as before but visits are half as often.
Subaru says there are no immediate plans to increase the warranty from three years even though most top 10 brands now have five-year coverage or more.
ON THE ROAD
The first thing you notice in the new Forester is the large windows. In an era of sleek designs it’s a relief to easily see out at all angles, whether reversing, changing lanes or clambering over an obstacle.
It’s also incredibly spacious for a car with a relatively compact footprint. Headroom and legroom in the front and back are enormous; the boot is so wide it can accommodate a large golf bag crossways.
Along with the generous proportions, there’s still a full-size spare under the boot floor.
The dashboard, as in the XV and Impreza, mixes high quality soft-touch materials up top and hard plastics below the cabin’s waistline. The small sun visors have extenders to block side glare.
Rear cross traffic and blind zone warnings and the driver attention camera work well but lane keeping assistance is hit and miss. Sometimes it detects the markings and keeps the car in the lane, other times it’ll cross a line without warning.
Even with the forward-facing cameras, there’s no speed sign recognition. The Forester relies instead on map data for speed zones.
It’s not the briskest in the class but the 2.5-litre four-cylinder is a touch perkier than before, largely thanks to a new seven-step continuously variable transmission rather than the previous six-step CVT. With each new version, it gets more like a conventional auto.
Cornering grip is good due to stickier Bridgestone tyres and the trademark permanent all-wheel drive. The suspension is a bit busy on back roads, whether on 17 or 18-inch wheels, but the suppleness of the tyres takes the edges off bumps.
The Forester can get a bit of “head toss” — subtle side-to-side movement on lumpy roads, more so than other similarly sized SUVs — perhaps because the tall roof means there’s more weight up high.
Brake performance is OK, though it’s worth noting the two cheaper models get smaller front discs to fit behind the 17-inch wheels. Models with 18-inchers have more stopping power.
In a class full of pretenders, the Forester is the real deal.