The new Forester is slightly larger than the old one, but more to the point it has also benefitted from significantly better packaging.
Powertrain and performance: 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed petrol four, 126kW/235Nm, continuously variable transmission, four-wheel drive, Combined economy 8.1 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h.
Vital statistics: 4595mm long, 1735mm high, kerb weight 1549kg, luggage capacity 405/1457 litres, fuel tank 60 litres, 18-inch wheels on 225/55 tyres.
We like: Smooth performance, refinement, equipment, EyeSight is standard.
We don’t like: Unassuming design, transmission effective but still an acquired taste.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
We’ve already tested the all-new Subaru Forester XT: the high-performance turbocharged version that serves as the flagship of the range. But that’s a niche model in anybody’s language, while the Forester Premium featured here is much more representative of the range: it has the 2.5-litre boxer-petrol-four used in the majority of the lineup, the standard Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT) continuously variable gearbox (not the enhanced unit used solely in the XT) and a more versatile state of suspension tune.
In short, it’s more like the Forester most people will buy.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Undeniably smooth and very refined, while making no pretence towards performance like the XT. Some may be disappointed that Subaru has engineered out so much of that distinctive boxer-engine ‘throb’ from its latest models, but you cannot deny that the 2.5-litre engine is strong and remarkably thrifty: Combined economy of 8.1 litres per 100km is impressive for a family-sized crossover.
Continuously variable transmission may not be to everybody’s taste, but it’s certainly loved by Japanese carmakers. SLT is certainly one of the better of the ‘gearless’ breed, as it takes maximum advantage of the engine’s torque and tends to hold revs under hard acceleration, rather than simply racing to redline and staying there, as older-style variable units tend to do.
You do get the SI Drive system, which allows you to choose between different modes for the powertrain. Odd that Subaru places much less stock in it these days than it did in the previous-generation Legacy and Outback models, where SI Drive took pride of place on the centre console with a large control dial. On Forester, it’s tucked away as a button on the steering wheel (one of so many); possibly because its effects are much less obvious with SLT. On the 2.5 Premium you get SI Drive ‘intelligent’ and ‘sport’ modes, but no ‘sport sharp’ – that’s reserved for the hotter XT.
Subaru New Zealand is staunchly proud that it still sells exclusively four-wheel drive crossovers (although not exclusively four-wheel drive cars, if you include the BRZ coupe). Forester competes in a burgeoning segment – already the largest in the country – yet Subaru is one of only two makes that does not sell a front-drive version of its sports utility vehicle. The other is Ford, with the new Kuga.
Forester is a crossover, no question. It’s based on a road-car platform with unitary construction. But Subaru is adamant that Forester has genuine off-road ability, and that its four-wheel drive system is as useful off-road as it is for on-road driving.
A new feature for Forester is X-Mode, a pushbutton setting that optimizes the powertrain and braking for off-tarmac driving.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
The new Forester is slightly larger than the old one, but more to the point it has also benefitted from significantly better packaging. There’s a spacious, airy interior that really does make this car an alternative to some full-size SUVs – although you don’t get the option of seven seats (even though it seems to have that potential).
That’s the upside. The downside is that you no longer feel like you’re getting an intimate driving experience: you sit on, rather than in the car and while the chassis is highly capable and nicely balanced, there’s more of a margin for error built in now: the nose runs wide more readily if you charge into a corner too fast, for example. There’s broader appeal but perhaps a bit less enthusiast appeal.
Our test car may be mainstream, but this particular Premium model is at the top of the specification tree (there are also standard and Sport versions). So aside from the expected leather upholstery, climate air conditioning and power tailgate, this model is also fitted with Subaru’s excellent EyeSight system.
EyeSight uses twin cameras mounted at the top of the windscreen to provide a variety of driver-assistance and safety features: adaptive cruise control (which works right down to 0km/h), collision warning and even automatic stopping to prevent/minimize damage in nose-to-tail incidents. A highly effective system – not least because it ‘sees’ in three dimensions like a person and does not rely on radar or laser guidance, which can be affected by weather.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
The Forester was one of the original compact crossovers, so there’s a lot of history there. For many, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive only ethos also gives the car a lot of credibility.
There’s a lot of competition in this segment, but Forester consistently ticks the right boxes for image and ability. It would have to be near the top of any shopping list – especially if your requirements steer towards some off-road ability and plenty of space for family and/or lifestyle.
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Blind spot warning: No
Cruise control: Adaptive
Driver footrest: Yes
Gas discharge headlights: Bi-xenon
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
Keyless entry/start: Yes/no
Lane guidance: Yes
Leather upholstery: Yes
Parking radar: Yes with camera
Power boot or tailgate: Yes/no
Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: Yes
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Self-parking technology: No
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40, one-touch electronic folding
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Stop-start: Yes/noTrip computer