Subaru's latest SUV offering fills a need for drivers looking for something smaller and a little more potent than your average.
The new version was launched recently in Queenstown and we were sent over some secondary roads that would have stopped lesser cars in their tracks. With 220mm of ground clearance and a suite of electronic traction aids, the Forester has genuine off-road ability, the limiting factors being tyre choice and driver courage.
A one-button ‘X-Mode’ feature fitted to the automatic Foresters helps. It centralises control of the engine, all-wheel drive, brakes and other critical components to maintain progress in sticky conditions. Hill Descent Control helps maintain a constant speed when the vehicle is travelling downhill. In bone-dry Central Otago, X-Mode was rarely needed, but it worked well.
The new car has a more purposeful look than its bland predecessor, and makes much better progress, even with a CVT transmission – one of the better examples of the technology. Boxer engines are, of course, used across the range: automatic normally aspirated 2.5L Foresters produce 126 kW/5800 rpm and 235 Nm/4100 rpm. Quoted fuel consumption is 8.1 L/100 km – 12.9% more efficient than the old car.
This is the engine most buyers will get (Subaru expects the $47,990 2.5i-Sport model to be the volume seller). It is smooth and willing and makes effortless progress in the low to mid-rev range. Push too hard and in true CVT fashion you’ll generate more noise than speed. Drive sensibly, keeping the revs in the sweet spot and you’ll be rewarded with acceptable speed and better economy.
Equipment levels and fit-and-finish are a big step forward over the old car and with the exception of some hard plastics in places, it feels like a quality product. A Land Rover Freelander is classier, but not worth the huge price premium over the Forester. Order the Premium model for $54,990 and you’ll get all the leather and equipment you could want or need.
Handling and ride are impressive; it is a very assured car on any road surface.
All models are roomier and more refined, with as much leg room in the back as the previous generation Outback, and boot space is good. Combine this practicality with its compliant ride, smooth power, price and off-road ability, and you have the perfect car for rural families and rural service companies. Yet it will probably be promoted on billboards in Ponsonby, not Putaruru.
At the top of the range sits the $59,990 Forester XT. Its 2L direct fuel injection motor is a development of the unit first seen in the BRZ and cranks out 177 kW and 350 Nm of torque. Hooked up to the CVT it is fast and effortless, but not in the furious way of the boy-racer WRX.
The 2.0L turbocharged diesel wasn’t available at the launch but is expected in May. It will produce 108 kW/3600 rpm and 350 Nm/1600-2400 rpm and burn 5.9 l/100 km.