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.
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-Trail, Mitsubishi 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.
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.
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.
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.