SUV shows its prow­ess from track to trail.

Re­fresh of Sub­aru Forester is more evo­lu­tion than revo­lu­tion

Calgary Sun - Autonet - - NEWS - James Gent Driv­inG.ca

“You’re crazy.”

This was the an­swer Sub­aru Canada’s PR and Mar­ket­ing team ap­par­ently re­ceived upon in­quir­ing whether a brace of new-for-2019 Sub­aru Foresters, driven by jour­nal­ists no less, could make the of­froad climb from the Apex Moun­tain Re­sort in Hed­ley, B.C., to the peak of its neigh­bour­ing moun­tain some 2,200 me­tres fur­ther up.

Ad­mit­tedly, chal­lenges such as this on me­dia drives are taken with an her­culean pinch of salt. What man­u­fac­turer in its right mind would set up its own prod­uct to fail, par­tic­u­larly one as in­stru­men­tal to Sub­aru as the Forester has be­come? Sub­aru Canada is chas­ing its sev­enth straight year of record sales growth, an ac­co­lade that owes just as much to in­creased in­ter­est in com­pact SUVs as it does to Forester’s hard­core fan base.

I will ad­mit to some con­cerns, how­ever. For one thing, our route in­cludes a dozen or so “dif­fi­cult” rock for­ma­tions, and de­spite boast­ing 22 cen­time­tres of ground clear­ance and 20-plus de­gree ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles, the prospect of rip­ping the front bumper off Sub­aru’s $39,000-plus top trim Pre­mier level isn’t sit­ting par­tic­u­larly well. That, plus the fact that on the fab­u­lously sin­u­ous climb up Apex Moun­tain Road to the re­sort of the same name, the Forester’s newly di­rect-in­jected 2.5-litre Boxer flat­four seems com­pletely out­classed.

Yes, you read that cor­rectly. To sim­plify the prod­uct lineup, Sub­aru is only of­fer­ing the new Forester with a flat-four en­gine with 182 horse­power and 176 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to an up­graded CVT, a unit de­signed to of­fer more us­able torque across the power band and fur­ther hike fuel ef­fi­ciency. Our ge­nial hosts say it’s now down to 8.2 L/100 km on the com­bined cy­cle.

Prob­lem is, on th­ese steep as­cents and even with the loud pedal mashed, there just isn’t the re­quired oomph avail­able un­til we’re whistling past 4,000 rpm. At this point there’s only a mod­er­ate surge of for­ward mo­men­tum and a high­pitched whine as the driv­e­train reg­is­ters its dis­ap­proval. It’s an unin­spir­ing per­for­mance that doesn’t ex­actly fill me with con­fi­dence.

What makes this all the more galling is that, across an equally spec­tac­u­lar, though less un­du­lat­ing, stretch of twist­ing tar­mac ear­lier in the day, the 2.5-L and CVT combo had proven per­fectly ca­pa­ble. In our open­ing leg in the Sport model (start­ing at $34,995), the wider torque curve and solid, lin­ear ac­cel­er­a­tion al­lowed us to keep the Forester on a bub­ble it had no right to be in. And it’s sure-footed through the cor­ners, cour­tesy of the ac­tive torque vec­tor­ing au­to­mat­i­cally brak­ing the front wheels un­der load to re­duce un­der­steer, plus pre­cise and well weighted steer­ing, the heft of which builds pro­gres­sively from lock to lock. Granted, there’s very lit­tle feel for the front end, and enough roll to re­mind you that you’re hus­tling a near-two-ton SUV, but you’ll be sur­prised just how much con­fi­dence the front end pro­vides.

Much like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ex­te­rior facelift, most of the Forester’s cabin de­sign will be fa­mil­iar to es­tab­lished cus­tomers. There’s lib­eral use of “ex­clu­sive brown leather” and chrome de­tail­ing, the lat­ter of which can be swapped out for the funkier and slightly over-thetop or­ange de­tail­ing of the Sport pack­age.

There’s also a dual-screen setup on the cen­tre con­sole linked with the multi-func­tion steer­ing wheel, a lay­out that’s sim­ple and un­ob­tru­sive but one that al­ready feels out of date. Only one of them is a touch screen, and the 6.5-inch Multi-func­tion Dis­play can, at times, be a faff to nav­i­gate via one set of sev­eral tog­gles on the steer­ing wheel.

The driv­e­train has once again started punch­ing above its briefly con­signed wel­ter­weight as we reach the mid-point of the climb. Even though we hit ac­cent an­gles ap­proach­ing 20 de­grees dur­ing our climb, the 2.5-L Boxer en­gine is now back in its sweet spot, de­liv­er­ing solid banks of torque through the stan­dard all-wheel-drive sys­tem.

Loose sed­i­ment soon turns into dust, mud and the oc­ca­sional wa­ter jump, and yet the Forester, still in nor­mal driv­ing mode de­spite the mud-and-dirt X-Mode be­ing just the twist of a ro­tary dial away, con­tin­ues plug­ging on. Only a per­ilously close shave be­tween some low-hang­ing bracken and our test model’s Jasper Green Metal­lic paint fin­ish con­sti­tute “trou­ble” as we make one fi­nal sprint up a 20-de­gree in­cline to reach the end of our crazy climb.

The Sub­aru Forester starts at $27,995 for the 2.5i base ver­sion and goes up to $39,495 for the Pre­mier.

2019 Sub­aru Forester Pre­mier.

Sub­aru

2019 Sub­aru Forester Sport.

Sub­aru

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