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With nearly 150,000 Subaru Foresters sold in Australia, the time has come for an ultra-high performance variant. Say hello to the Subaru Forester S-Edition.
Those of you that know your Subarus might be wondering why there is now a Forester XT and an S-Edition in the one model range? The answer is rather simple. While the majority of manufacturers battle it out at the bottom of the segment, the Subaru Forester continues to be the number one selling compact SUV in Australia.
There are a few reasons for that. Subaru has built a great deal of its brand heritage on Forester and Impreza models and their performance variants. So instead of releasing a cheaper variant of the Forester or cutting equipment to compete with the Koreans (Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage), Subaru has decided to go even more up-market, where there is literally no competition.
The Subaru Forester S-Edition uses the same 2.5-litre turbocharged engine from the MY11 Impreza WRX which has a gutsy 193kW and 347Nm of torque. It has also borrowed the five-speed paddleshift automatic transmission from the Impreza WRX STI. So put those two together and you get a 0-100km/h time of just 6.5 seconds. If you can find another Compact SUV that can do that for under $60,000, go ahead and buy it.
So why exactly would you buy a Forester S-Edition over an XT? Well, apart from only costing $3,500 more ($50,990), the S-Edition comes with a whole bunch of new features. More power (24kW), more torque (27Nm), a better automatic transmission, 17-inch STI alloy wheels, choice to buy it in world-rally blue (WRX blue), unique seats and a few other things. On a good day, you'd be lucky to buy the 17-inch STI wheels from Subaru for less than $2,000, so the fact that you're getting all of that plus a more powerful engine and a significantly better gearbox really warrants the extra cash.
The real question is, why would you bother with an XT now that there is an S-edition? Subaru expects to sell 150 S-Editions a month and I suspect a good portion of those sales may come from potential XT buyers that simply can't help themselves and must upgrade to have the better vehicle. The only reason to buy an XT now is if you must have a manual, as the S-Edition is only available with the STI five-speed.
To showcase the all-new 2011 Subaru Forester range and allow us some time behind the wheel of the S-Edition, Subaru Australia brought the motoring press to Canberra, where the temperature was 38 degrees but the roads were perfect for our purpose.
If you need to know anything about the practicality or the comfort of the Forester, have a read of this. Essentially, the Subaru Forester is a great package if you're looking for a family vehicle that can act like a city car but also give you the option of carrying large items and do the occasional off-roading.
The S-Edition is a little more than just that though. The top-of-the-range Forester is made for those that simply must have the best of the best. You can, of course, buy a luxury SUV from ze Germans but it will cost you at least double the price for similar performance figures.
We started our drive program from Canberra airport and headed towards an out-of-town restaurant for lunch. Throughout this four-hour long journey we conquered some seriously twisty mountains. Switchbacks, hairpins, hillclimb-style narrow roads that left about 2 cm of room for error. Clearly the people at Subaru Australia either wanted to kill us all or were extremely comfortable with the performance and handling of the S-Edition.
Let me start by saying, the S-Edition is by no means an Impreza WRX STI when it comes to performance and handling. If you want the ultimate handling Subaru, you can't compromise. It's also no Liberty GT as the higher centre of gravity changes its handling dynamics significantly from both Subaru Impreza and Subaru Liberty. Yet, it's a far more engaging vehicle to drive than the Forester XT.
The extra power and torque coupled with the superior gearbox allow for a much better power delivery across the rev range. Stick the gear lever in sport mode and it will hold the gears as long as need be and even blip the throttle on the down-shift. So long as your friends don't know it's an auto, it makes you sound like you really know what you're doing when it comes to changing gears.
The engine's might is delivered 45 percent to the front and 55 percent to the rear but despite being slightly front-centred, power delivery out of corners is great for a car its size. There is noticeable torque steer if you get a little more excited and start pushing and pushing but the direct steering response and the feedback you get from the wheel makes up for it.
Around Canberra's country mountain roads the S-Edition proved itself a neat package capable of excellent handling dynamics for a car its size. Not many would drive it anywhere near the ferocity at which it was pushed during our review but it's good to know that if the need be, it's more than capable.
If you're a car enthusiast and want performance but can't convince the missus that you need Impreza WRX STI or you must have the practicality that the Forester offers, then the S-Edition is the ideal choice. It's by and large the best handling Forester to date, the rear end can feel a tad light at times but the suspension is the perfect balance for a vehicle that is capable around twisty mountain roads as well as comfortable enough around town. It's a harder ride than the standard Forester but still very much a family car.
Fuel economy figures are relatively high at 10.5L/100km (95 RON minimum), but that's expected from a performance Subaru.
The interior of the 2011 Subaru Forester has been updated with a darker dashboard and highlights. S-edition (and XT) gain new luminescent instruments and the Japanese company says it has helped reduce cabin noise with better insulation. Jump inside and you'll be greeted with a blue tone interior and Alcantara and leather seat trim. There is still the use of hard plastics throughout the cabin and around the doors which is perhaps the only downside.
On the upside the stereo includes Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming if you have a model that comes with SatNav. If you don't have SatNav you get USB connectivity. The S-Edition also comes with a reversing camera to avoid any unnecessary accidents. I could get Bluetooth connectivity for my iPhone 4 to work without a hitch but it wouldn't pick up the audio streaming.
The only other worthy criticism is the S-Edition's brakes. Despite the extra power and torque, it still makes use of the XT brakes which after a good hour of hard driving start to feel a little faded. Then again, how often do you drive a Forester at 10/10ths for an hour straight?
Safety is always a first for all Subarus and the company's entire line-up enjoys the highest possible five-star ANCAP rating. The Forester comes with dual front and side airbags as well as full length curtain airbags for maximum protection.
The Subaru Forester S-Edition is an excellent package and at $50,990 represents a great choice for buyers looking for a performance orientated practical compact SUV.