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  • Best-in-class ground clearance; excellent dirt road handling; much improved fuel consumption; spacious interior; comfortable ride; standard reverse camera
  • No automatic transmission for the diesel; no entry-level front-drive price leader; cluttered dashboard

8 / 10

2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
by James Stanford

Call it stubborn or smart, but the fundamentals of the Subaru Forester have not changed to cash in on the current SUV craze.

Low-riding SUVs that send their power to the front wheels only are recording phenomenal sales at the moment, but Subaru has maintained the fourth-generation Forester as a high-riding all-wheel-drive-only model.

Pricing for the new Subaru Forester will be released closer to its Australian launch in February, but there will be no cut-price entry-level model like the front-drive models that are now part of the line-up of most SUV model ranges.

While Subaru has not altered the primary character traits of the Forester, it has evolved. The new car has a new base level engine and a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It is also larger, has an improved interior and is vastly more fuel efficient.

The Subaru Forester is also now available with some of the latest technology features such as the EyeSight safety system that includes adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking as well as some luxury items such as an auto-opening and closing tailgate.

The Forester is Subaru Australia’s best selling model (with 169,548 sold since 1997) and is particularly popular with owners who occasionally head for the hills. You see a far higher percentage of them at snowfields or mountain bike haunts.

2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review

Many customers choose the Subaru Forester for its practicality, but also the fact that it can actually manage a bit of off-road work.

They can be reassured the new Forester has the best ground clearance in its class at 220mm, even if it is merely 5mm more than the Nissan X-TrailMitsubishi Outlander and the Mazda CX-5 2WD (10mm more than CX-5 AWD).

All Foresters run a constant all-wheel-drive system.

Subaru has cut the low-range system that is present on the manual version of the outgoing model. At the same time it has introduced a system called X-Mode, which uses individual wheel braking, throttle actuation changes as well as fine tuning the operation of the centre differential in order to assist the driver navigate tricky gradients in slippery conditions. It is standard on automatic Foresters, but is not available for the manuals.

The new Subaru Forester range kicks off with the 2.0i and the higher-grade 2.0i-L. These run a 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine and are only available with a six-speed manual.

It generates 110kW and 198Nm and achieves a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 7.2 litres per 100km, which is 22.6 per cent lower than the previous entry-level car that ran a 2.5-litre engine.

We didn’t get to drive the Forester 2.0 on the Subaru Australia’s preview drive program, but we did try out the mid-spec petrol engine, a revised version of the 2.5-litre boxer four that makes 126kW and 235Nm (pictured above). It’s a strong and torquey engine that pulls well without making too much noise.

2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review

You can get it with a six-speed manual, but we drove one fitted with the CVT automatic. CVTs can cause engines to make an awful slurring sound when they are working hard. Thankfully, the Forester 2.5 has enough torque that this is not an issue.

It accelerates nicely and there are no step changes of a traditional transmission. This is a plus for owners, but the improved economy over a torque convertor automatic is likely to make more of an impression.

An XT turbo 2.0-litre petrol boxer (pictured above) will also be part of the line-up, but Subaru didn’t have any available to drive on the preview.

A 2.0-litre boxer turbo diesel with 108kW and 350Nm is available and has an economy figure of 5.9L/100km. Unfortunately, it is only available with a manual at this stage, which is a problem given automatic diesels are very popular.

We had very short run in this model, including a rough section of road. It seems refined from inside the cabin, and goes along well enough. Its initial low speed performance could be better as it feels a little underwhelming at low engine speeds.

The Subaru Forester proved very capable on the fire trails chosen for the drive, which included some terrain that very few customers would traverse. The diesel manual managed it easily as did the CVT petrol model, which had the go-slow X-Mode feature.

2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review

An experienced off-road driver has no need for this feature, but it helps novices make their way up and down hills that they may feel nervous about tackling otherwise. The hill descent feature is also reassuring and works well.

The Forester is at home on faster dirt roads and feels sure-footed when driven at pace on slippery surfaces. It is extremely well balanced and benign.

The Subaru Forester is no sports car and the ride height means it moves around on its springs and dampers more than a low-rider, but it doesn’t pitch and wallow either. The ride is also comfortable over bumpy and rutted roads.

The new model is 35mm longer and feels spacious inside, with ample leg and headroom in the back. The rear seats don’t quite fold flat but they aren’t far off.

Subaru is not renowned for great interiors, but the Forester represents a step forward. It is not class leading – the sound system head unit and secondary display in particular look messy – but the soft plastics give an impression of quality and the general design and layout is neat.

It is a positive that Subaru is offering its EyeSight technology, standard on the premium 2.5i-S (optional on the 2.5i-L). The twin camera system can tell you if your car drifts from a lane as well as maintain a safe distance to the car in front, and also includes automatic emergency braking.

2013 Subaru Forester Review
2013 Subaru Forester Review

The lane assist feature worked on our drive, although it can be annoying on winding roads if you tend to touch the lines a little. (It can be switched off if you so desire.)

Subaru is fitting a reversing camera as standard across the range, which is an excellent move. The cars are well specified, with all the must-have features, including a full-size spare. This bites into the boot space – the cargo area is adequate rather than cavernous.

The automatic tailgate feature is great and means you can open or close the boot without getting dirt on your fingers.

We will need to see the final pricing to determine just how competitive the Subaru Forester will be, but an initial drives suggests the fourth-generation car is a good one.

It is like its predecessors in that it offers the ability tackle a fair range of rugged roads in a practical and comfortable package. The new Forester doesn’t represent a revolutionary jump over the last, but rather an evolution that brings a range of improvements while retaining its key strengths.

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2013 Subaru Forester Review
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  • FanBoi

    don’t really like the face, might look better in metal.


  • The Real Wile E

    I wonder if they have beefed up the brakes on the turbo version

  • Iggy

    cx-5 has 210(AWD) or 215mm (FWD) ground clearance

    • Iggy

      150mm is Laden Ground clearance, Subaru is 220mm @ kerb weight

    • Jerrycan

      Agreed, the MazdaCX5 published 150mm ground clearance is when fully loaded.
      You would think a motoring journalist would know that. 

    • TimBeissmann

      Hi Iggy

      You’re right. We’ve updated the story. Sorry for the error, and thanks for the tip.

      Tim Beissmann

      • Iggy

        no problems, I only meant it as a FYI not as criticism.

  • Noddy_of_Toyland

    Overall looks great, especially the Focus-esque tail lights. Might be my next car.

  • davie

    Subaru have dealt with the previous models main issues

    1 – Finally the 4 speed auto is gone. took them 6 years too long to kick the ditry habit.

    2 – The incredibly awful interior of the old model has been replaced. This new one is quite nice

    I await full model list including which models are available with manual. At this stage I’m worried that the XT and 2.5 models may not get it.

    Lastly – it would be interesting to see the difference between new Forester and Outback. They seem very similar in size now?

    • Sigh

      Outback is based on the Tribeca platform and hence is still longer and wider, the rear legroom in the Outback is still gigantic compared to the Forester, but this update should square things up a little. I chose the Outback because of the size and price difference (I got a well priced demo CVT), but if the XT gets a decent auto I may go back to the Forester.

    • Ozedude

      But now its fugly on the outside.  I don’t think this is a matter of opinion, it rivals (surpasses?) Xtrail for ugliness.

  • subfoz

    Sounds promissing but I was under the impression from all other reports around the Net that the New Forester would be avaliable with a Auto Diesel?

    • matt

      where has this come from? ive read about the outback CVT TDI being devoloped, not forester?

  • Sumpguard

    Whilst I think this is a step backwards in the styling department it seems the forester has got its mojo back.

     The outgoing model was one of the better looking wagons on the market imo but by all reports it lost what made the first one so great. 

  • DJR

    How true is it that the 2.5l turbo will be mated only to a auto box, and not the six speed manual? I have owned the last three turbo models and still wish for the manual, more now with an extra cog.

    • Able

      I hate to burst your bubble (because I agree) but if you look on Subaru’s website what you predict is true unfortunately… Diesel 2.0D-S for me then… 

      Or another Yeti 😉

      • Zaccy16

        yeti is a fantastic compact suv snd is very underated

    • davie

      I’m guessing that there will be no manual XT until the new WRX surfaces. Subaru don’t seem to have developed an example of FA20T with a manual gearbox yet. The BRZ uses a RWD only gearbox from the IS250

  • Robiharr

    Is the new model’s engine going to leak oil like it’s predecessors?

    • Rex

       that”s exactly what i wanted to say, subaru are prone to engine oil leak

      • Showtime

        I’m on my 3rd Subaru and never had any engine oil leaks. My last car had 231,000 km on it and was still going strong before I upgraded.

  • Showtime

    Let’s hope Subaru put the 2.5L NA into the Impreza and XV

  • Mohammed Smith

    hope the sheet metal is stronger ….. subarus tend to dent to easily – too tinny.

    • Subfoz

      Dont know about that, I own a 2011 forester and recently i was in an accident and the rhr of my car was hit very hard at speed & to my suprise they wasnt alot of damage even the guys at the panel shop said that the Forester’s are very strong vehicles.

      The only bad complaint id say is the hard plastic inside can cause a few rattles etc when used on rough roads, and by the sounds of it that has been improved alot with this new model.

  • whatthe..

    Do they still run the Geocrap tyres?

  • davie

    According to subaru aus website:

    2.0 = manual only
    2.5 = CVT only
    2.0 Turbo = CVT only
    2.0 D = manual only

  • Jerry14

    Looks much better and the interior is a huge step up. If you happen to buy one though please don’t try and go offroad on anything serious. These are cars for dirt roads and grass but try anything else and you will be looking for a land cruiser/hilux/pathfinder/wrangler to pull you out.

  • Rick12

    Very popular with women who enjoy golf if you know what I mean.

  • F1orce

    This vehicle is quite good and rugged.

    But the design SUCKS 

  • Zaccy16

    Looks better than the cheap looking previous gen but the interior is still messy and not up to scratch compared to the 2005 libertys and outbacks

    • F1orce

      Yeah the previous Liberty was an impressive piece if machinery..

  • Mohammed Smith

    i know this comparo isn’t ideal, but could the XT outdrag an R8 tourer?

  • Marcus of Hobart

    Not bad fuel consumption for the 2.0L Forester, even just beats the XV which seems a little odd given the difference in weight & body size between the two. Would be interesting if Caradvice did a group test of all the new 2.0L base models such as CRV, Outlander, CX5, and now Forester to see if the claimed dramatically reduced fuel consumption is achievable in real life. Not everyone is interested in auto only top spec models.

  • Paulxdavis

    Any news on a auto diesel?

  • InterestedPerson

    i dont think Subaru should sell a 2wd version – AWD is what they are all about and it doesnt make sense to sell a ‘cheaper’ 2wd version

  • DJR

    Having found that the XT is going to be 2l and auto, this disappionts me as I have had the XT 2.5l  with 5 speed, and am happy. I tow a van so the larger 2.5l suits. Not sure of the KWs as yet some say 177 others 206.
    The colour chart will be interesting, no to Blacks, Greys, Slivers, not much left, going on previous model.

    • Bux

      I have an 06 XT auto and love it. Use manual mode constantly. Very fast on the gear changes with no loss of boost. I had mine custom tuned and it has 210kw. The new 2.0T would benefit from a tune as well I’m sure. Love the look of the new one but like the previous one, has less length area in the boot than my “06. Have a big dog you see. I’d be happy if the new XT had that 5 speed auto that was in that STI enhanced model Forrie.

  • AutoOiler

    No auto diesel = dopey

  • Len Carter

    Lets hope Subaru are quick to bring in the Auto Transmission in their 2..5 Lt Deisel.
    There are a lot of happy clients waiting, as I am.
    Happy GT Forester owner but Choosey.
    PS. the opposition will kill you on deisel sales with their Auto 4wd,Deisels.

  • jeff

     We are on our third subaru an have never had an oil leak!

  • Power W

    I think the previous version looks better, particularly with its ‘sports’ grill – a $500 extra. Now for the price I paid new for the vehicle, I didn’t expect gear box trouble at 38,000 kms – it’s not sure what it should do at low speeds, particularly on hills.  Also, the glove box is too small for an SUV and I HATE the magnifying rear view mirrors – why did they ever invent them? The (NSW) RTA should have rejected them outright, they downright dangerous!  And why do they charge so much for extras?  Subaru roofrack; rubber mat for the back, seat covers, etc., all cost the earth.  Even if I could afford the latest model, I don’t think it’s worth the dollars: I’ll stick with my 2008, 2.5 litre turbo  for a few more years and eventually trade it in on a Toyota.

  • Milivan12

     CVT in 4wd? No, thanks! I have Nissam X-trail with CVT… it is absolute rubbish! It is noisy, engine rev unnecessarily sometimes… you do not control it…you do not drive it. It drives you!

  • Gus408

    Don’t be a dope Milivsn,
    all CVT’s are not the same, some are good and well mated with their motor and some are not, just like any other type of auto transmission. That your experience with the Nissan x-trail has been rubbish has absolutely nothing to do with the performance of the Forester CVT.
    CVT’s are not new, they are very widely deployed in large prime mover trucks that benefit from high torque at relatively low revs – just like a 4wd. I have the 2013 new model Forester with the CVT, I checked it out thoroughly in test driving in different conditions prior to purchase, and it is a ripper with the 2.5L boxer.
    i am happy to acknowledge that I have no experience with the X-trail CVT and am therefore not in any position to make any comment because that would be ignorant and ridiculous.

    • DJR

      Just to add my two bobs worth, I purchased an XTP CVT 6 months ago, with a very opened mind after owning three XTs from 2002-2008 all manual.
      I have traveled 14000km and love the CVT, highway, urban, gravel and bush tracks. Very easy to drive. It does a lot more that just a five speed manual. Fuel consumption is good and it tows very well.
      Have changed my outlook on autos. All this comes from a happy XT owner in Australia.

      • Blitzkrieg

        Test drove the 2litre manual, terribly underpowered, gearbox
        felt notchy , take off was stuttery, (i’ve driven manuals for 25yrs). Switched to the 2.5l CVT not knowing what to expect but was pleasantly surprised with decent acceleration good torque and smooth “changes”.
        Always interested in other peoples experience with the CVT as it’s still new to me.

  • SubyTim

    but they killed the low range gear box :(*sobs heavilly).