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Subaru Forester XT Premium

 

Because it’s a Subaru, and because the XT has a considerable amount of turbocharged power, you might be expecting a wild ride

Base price: $64,990

Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre horizontally opposed four with turbocharger, 176kW/350Nm, continuously variable transmission with 8-step mode, full-time four-wheel drive, Combined fuel economy 8.6 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 4595mm long, 1715mm high, 2640mm wheelbase.

We like: Vastly improved quality, smooth performance, space, luxury equipment.

We don’t like: Not as nimble as previous model, feels aloof, continuously variable transmission an acquired taste.

How it rates: 7/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?

Subaru is set to launch an all-new Forester crossover wagon this month: we’re yet to try the all-important mainstream models, but we’ve had an early look at the flagship of the range, the XT Premium.

While the regular Foresters have 2.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel engines, the XT boasts a direct-injection 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with performance-car power and torque outputs.

The new Forester is quite a bit larger than the old: 35mm longer, 20mm wider and 15mm taller. Small numbers in isolation, but as a package the overall impression is more of a large crossover than a medium-sized one.

The XT is niche and not entirely representative of the new range. Aside from its powerful engine, it has some unique items of standard equipment (read on) and unique frontal styling, with an aggressive-looking ‘sport grille’ and deeper bumper.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?

Because it’s a Subaru, and because the XT has a considerable amount of turbocharged power, you might be expecting a wild ride. You’d be wrong. That’s not how Subaru rolls any more and it’s certainly not how the XT presents. The boxer-soundtrack is muted, the power delivery is quite linear and the considerable performance potential is carefully modulated by the Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT).

SLT, of course, is Subaru-speak for continuously variable transmission. Forester marks the introduction of Subaru’s third-generation SLT system and it remains the best ‘gearless’ transmission on the market – albeit not one ideally suited to a performance car. Or a pseudo-off-roader for that matter.

But there are solutions provided for both issues.

The SLT is well-controlled under heavy acceleration and you can shift into an eight-step mode, which simulates conventional gearchanges. It’s not really the same thing, though.

The XT is the only Forester to have the SI-Drive system, which allows you to tailor the powertrain towards normal or sporty driving. Should you venture off-road (not likely in this model, granted) there’s also Subaru’s new pushbutton X-Mode, which reconfigures engine and SLT for the rough stuff, as well as providing functions like hill descent control.

The new Forester XT is not as nimble as the old and you get the feeling it was never meant to be. This new model is aimed at the American market and as such the chassis rewards smooth driving more than enthusiastic antics with the steering and throttle.

It remains composed and well-balanced, though. Which is exactly what you expect of a Subaru.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?

The Forester’s interior quality is light years ahead of the previous model: in terms of fit and finish it feels like more of a semi-prestige crossover than a functional lifestyle vehicle.

The extra wheelbase and height has allowed generous passenger space and excellent visibility, so Forester is now truly a family-sized crossover.

So it’s spacious, but entirely comfortable. The leather seats are wide – good morning, America – but lack shape and backrest support when cornering. You can’t help but feel that you’re sitting on the car, rather than in it. No doubt many will find this ‘command’ seating position appealing, but it does have its drawbacks in long-haul driving.

Full marks for convenience features, though: all Premium-specification models have Subaru’s fantastic EyeSight twin-camera system, which takes charge of everything from the adaptive cruise control to anti-collision automatic braking (it’s also fitted to top-line Legacy/Outback models).

Other Premium prizes include satellite navigation, smart key, gas-discharge headlights, automatic lights/wipers and a power-operated tailgate with adjustable height settings.

The XT Premium boasts a few extra luxuries no other Forester has: a power-operated front-passenger seat and Harmon Kardon eight-speaker audio system among them.

SHOULD I BUY ONE?

The days of thirsty, raw high-performance Subarus are fast disappearing. On paper the Forester XT looks like a crazy-fast crossover, but in reality it’s a car for grown-ups: astonishingly quiet, well-mannered and extremely well-equipped – as befits the $65k pricetag. Relatively thrifty too, thanks to a new-generation direct-injection boxer engine and that SLT gearbox.

In short, it’s a sophisticated luxury wagon for the family. It’s a little sad that this car lacks the charm and chassis charisma of the previous Forester, but there’s no doubt Subaru has made a large and very deliberate leap forward with this new model.


EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

Air conditioning: Dual climate

Audio: Harmon Kardon 8-speaker system with iPod connection, auxiliary input and Bluetooth streaming

Bluetooth: Yes

Cruise control: Adaptive with stop/start

Parking radar: Front/rear plus camera

Satellite navigation: Yes

Seat height adjustment: Power

Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

Steering reach adjustment: Yes


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