Subaru Forester Range
The medium SUV segment already has its fair share of competitors, but Subaru’s latest iteration of its popular all-wheel-drive Forester breathes new life into this corner of the market. With that, it’s a good thing the Forester brings with it a legacy of success.
Starting from $35,990 plus on-road costs, this edition is a sportier take on its predecessors, but flush with the off-road capabilities that have become synonymous with the Forester range. Let’s not forget, the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V may often be viewed as the mainstays in this category, but the Forester has accompanied them every step of the journey, even as new competitors like the Mazda CX-5 emerge.
What features are included?
The Forester range consists of a base option, as well as the L, Premium, Sport and S variants, with each boasting all-wheel-drive functionality and a petrol engine - hybrid is also available across the S and L variants, so long gone are the days of diesel options and turbo engines for that matter.
Across the line-up, the Forester comes with an enhanced interior, with the highlight being the Sport’s water-resistant two-tone cloth trim that is adorned with contrasting orange stitchwork - perfect for those eight-way powered and heated front seats. There is also a healthy splash of black and orange throughout the rest of the dual-zone climate control cabin, not to mention a sprinkle of chrome finishes.
Elsewhere, the striking exterior sports 18-inch alloys, rain-sensing wipers, LED fog lights and electric sunroof, neither of which come as standard under the base, L or Premium models, in addition to under-guards and roof rails with sharp colour accents, plus a bold grille surround.
Upgrade to the S and you’re treated to leather trim, a sophisticated Harmon Kardon sound package, keyless ignition, electric parking brake, and a 17-button multifunction paddle-shift steering wheel. The S takes things one step further, including extras like rear-parking sensors, privacy glass, powered tailgate, adaptive self-levelling LED headlights, heated power-folding mirrors, plus a kerb-side camera.
Apart from the 110kW and 196Nm hybrids, which use a 2.0-litre engine and 12.3kW electric motor, the rest of the Forester range uses the same powertrain, a four-cylinder 2.5-litre naturally aspirated boxer engine offering 136kW of power at 5800rpm, and 239Nm of torque at 4400rpm. The brawny engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), with fuel economy rated at a frugal 7.4L per 100km.
Of course, tech is a central highlight to the Forester, including not one, not two, but three screens. These include an 8.0-inch infotainment console, 6.5-inch trip and camera screen, plus a 4.2-inch central driver’s screen. From here, a wealth of controls are at your fingertips.
Rounding things out is a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty that also comes with 12 months roadside assistance. Service intervals are yearly or at every 12,500 kilometres, with new car buyers able to sign up to capped price servicing across a three-year or five-year timeframe.
Practicality, amenity and comfort
Arguably the highlight of the Forester, practicality is an assurance, and few medium-size SUVs can lay claim to achieve half of what is on show here. There are plenty of storage options around the cabin, including loads of compartments, and when it comes to the boot, around 500 litres is well on point. If that’s not enough, the rear seats are fully-foldable, which more than triples the size of the boot to a cavernous size of over 1,700 litres.
Inside the cabin, the Forester feels roomy and expansive, offering ample light. While it might not be the most upmarket of interiors, the seats do offer great support and comfort, especially for the driver, who is afforded first-rate vision. Neither leg room nor head room are an issue in the rear, with generous space on offer.
What’s more, the entertainment system is intuitive and effortless, integrated smoothly with Apple CarPlay, and the S variants benefitting from the upgrade to Harman Kardon speakers. One of the real differentiators here is Subaru’s Driver Monitoring System, which uses facial recognition to detect driver alertness. It also acts as somewhat a personal concierge, setting controls and mirrors to preferred positions.
As a bonus, the Forester now offers 1,800kg of braked towing capacity, which is a great improvement on recent years when it was limited to just 1,500kg, making it ideal for active go-getters.
How does it drive?
In a crowded market, the one thing that really sets the Forester apart from many of its rivals is its off-road credentials. It is an enthralling experience taking this AWD unit out into the countryside, where the Forester feels just as adept off-road as it is on bitumen.
Sure, the Forester is no hardcore 4x4 SUV, but for dirt roads and patchy gravel tracks it comes to life and if anything, almost thrives off the challenge. It’s all the better thanks to 220mm ground clearance, hill-descent control and X-Mode traction, perfect for tricky conditions.
Back on road, however, the Forester feels poised and assured, with a sense of composure in its handling. It is balanced, refined and stability is never found wanting in the middle of corners, thanks in part to the smart profile and boxer engine of this mid-size SUV. This sort of performance puts the Forester in rare company as a true all-round vehicle.
The 2.5-litre engine is brisk, robust and responsive, a fantastic combination with loads of grunt on the back of 136kW of power and 239Nm of torque. For all its perks, however, the CVT transmission lacks some spirit, but that could be because we’ve come to expect so much life and vitality from Subaru cars on the back of models like the WRX and Impreza.
All told, the Forester is not quite as resolved when it comes to the same distinguishing procession through the gears like in a conventional auto, lacking that sporty change in revs. On the plus side, the CVT does help with fuel economy, making for a frugal and efficient medium-size SUV.
How safe is it?
As touched on earlier, Subaru hasn’t spared any efforts when it comes to fitting out the Forester with an expansive safety suite. The centrepiece of this is its Vision Assist and EyeSight technology, which includes driver alertness monitoring.
However, beyond that, the Forester is also equipped with all the cutting-edge safety items you need in this day and age, such as forward and reversing AEB, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane-keeping assistance and lane-departure, adaptive headlights, front and side-view monitoring system, plus more.
On the back of this package, and seven airbags, the Forester scores highly for safety, and that’s backed up by its five-star ANCAP safety rating. As highlights, the Forester was awarded a rating of 94% for adult occupant protection, and an impressive 86% for child occupant protection. The Sport and S variants are also the pick of the bunch here, as the lower-spec models make do without a couple of the items above.
PROS: Off-road performance; spacious; versatile; packed with equipment and safety aids
CONS: CVT is uninspiring; no diesel or turbo variants
Although the Subaru Forester departs from some of the spirited drives from the Japanese auto-maker’s stables, it does deliver a highly competent all-round package, fit for both road and the outback. Don’t take that as an indication the Forester is not slick, nimble or punchy. In fact, it ticks all those boxes, but it’s not quite the car for performance aficionados, instead delivering a commendable level of power and precision - we only wish Subaru could fit a deft eight or nine-speed auto transmission.
Where it may fall slightly short on dynamics, however, the Forester makes amends off-road, turning into a star performer in this class. It’s this very reason why Subaru continues to notch up sale after sale of the Forester, with the vehicle in hot demand among the adventure crowd keen to skip to the regions. Rugged, confident, dependable, practical and efficient, the Forester is excellent value for money.
Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport specifications
Body: 5-door, 5-seat SUV
Engine: 2489cc 4-cyl, DOHC, 16v
Power: 136kW @ 5800rpm
Torque: 239Nm @ 4400rpm
0-100km/h: 9.5sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 7.4L/100km (combined)
Suspension: Front - MacPherson struts/coil spring with stabiliser bar; Rear - double wishbone, independent
Price: $35.990 (from)