As I'm writing this review in early December, I’d like to make a prediction – the new Land Rover Defender should win the New Zealand Car of The Year title.
Best described as a mild hybrid, it mates a flat-four, 2-litre petrol engine making 110kW and 196Nm torque, with a 12.3kW/66Nm electric motor. Combined power and torque is slightly less than the conventional 2.5 litre petrol that produces 136kW/239Nm. The key difference claimed by the manufacturer is, of course, lower emissions and a drop in fuel consumption of up to 19%.
Like the petrol-only Forester, the Premium spec hybrid has the same DNA, including CVT transmission and Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, meaning Subaru diehards can stop feeling faint and read on. Add in the excellent Eyesight package that delivers the likes of adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist and pre-collision braking and the Forester is right up there with the latest tech. It also has a clever driver monitoring package that uses internal cameras to “watch” the driver for signs of drowsiness and distraction, while also using facial recognition for automated seat, preferred displays and rear-view mirror settings.
So how does it look, accommodate and drive? Certainly, first impressions are positive, with a proper grown up boxy SUV look, with chrome accents around the headlights, front grille, lower valance and under the door sills.
Wide opening doors offer easy access to plush leather upholstered seats that are yielding, yet supportive, with plenty of adjustment for drivers of all sizes. In the centre of the cabin, a 6.3-inch centre display covers all key operational aspects such as cameras (reverse, side view and front facing) navigation and the vehicle’s eco credentials.
Where the car really comes into its own is handling and grip, offering faultless road holding on the black stuff and unlimited grip on loose or slippery terrain. Having taken the vehicle throughout the Waikato on surfaces ranging from loose gravel to farm tracks and even muddy paddocks, we never felt as if we would have to divert from the plotted course and it never felt like getting stuck. This Forester also benefits from Dual X-mode that allows separate additional settings for snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
Given the Forester offers plenty of space for occupants and cargo, while delivering industry leading smarts and great capability, it looks like Subaru has followed the mantra, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. So the only real question to ask is whether the hybrid is worth the $5,000 for a little electric shove. If you want to feel good, while reducing emissions and saving around a fifth on fuel, or if you spend time in urban traffic, go for it. If that doesn’t light your fuse, stick with the 2.5 litre petrol.