The Subaru Forester remains the shining star in the Japanese brand’s SUV range, but its pesky smaller brother, the XV, has stolen some of the limelight.
There’s a bit of crossover between the two models in terms of pricing, with the Forester kicking off at $29,990, while the XV starts at $28,490. Both of those prices relate to a version with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine with a six-speed manual gearbox.
However, unlike the XV, the Forester gets a 2.5-litre engine for all models with an automatic gearbox.
As such, we tested the Subaru Forester 2.5i-L, which is priced at $35,990 and represents the second rung up the ladder for the Forester range.
Features for the 2.5i-L include 17-inch alloys, foglights, dual-zone climate control, a reverse-view camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and cruise control. However, it misses out on a touchscreen media system that has become something of a mainstay in most of its rivals.
Indeed, the Forester’s infotainment system is perhaps the most disappointing element of the car, with its ancient-looking monochromatic double-DIN screen looking well and truly behind the times when compared to competitors such as the Kia Sportage.
It also makes navigating the menus difficult, and the voice-activated Bluetooth connectivity isn’t as intuitive as most other push-button systems.
The Forester does have a high-mounted, high-resolution 4.3-inch colour screen that features a range of fuel-use data, but mainly doubles as a display for most functions of the stereo.
The interior is nicely finished and neat and tidy in terms of its presentation, though if you’re aesthetically-minded, you will find more stylish cockpits in just about all of its competitors – even with the light fabric finishes of our test car (which were already stained after just a few thousand kilometres).
That said, if you’re more pragmatic, the Forester hits a winner in terms of function over form.
Its rear seat is one of the comfiest in its class, with superb cushioning across the rear bench and excellent leg- and head-room. Subaru offers outboard ISOFIX attachment points, plus three top-tether child-seat anchor-points, but the middle-seatbelt drops from the headlining rather than neatly unfurling from the centre seat itself, meaning child-seats can be a bit messy.
There’s decent storage through the cabin, with large pockets in the doors, a single rear map pocket, and a flip-down middle armrest.
However, the Forester’s boot is shallow, with 422 litres of capacity that is affected by a high floor, but improved by a lower-than-average loading lip and wide boot aperture. Campers will be happy with a 12-volt outlet, which is becoming de riguer for most SUVs.
The ride quality of the Forester is among the best of any SUV on the market at highway speeds, with a level of comfort to rival some luxury cars. The around-town ride isn’t quite as convincing as it is on the open road, with some stumbling over larger slow-speed bumps, but it is still one of most comfortable vehicles in its segment.
Front and rear passengers alike enjoy good sound insulation even on coarse-chip roads, while the driver is afforded excellent visibility thanks to the large glasshouse.
Through corners the Forester feels stable and predictable on the road, with decent traction and steering, but the Yokohama Geolandar tyres run out of grip when pressed. The Forester feels light on the road, and it is considerably less lardy than some of its contemporaries at 1479 kilograms.
The steering is dull and heavy when parking but thanks to its excellent visibility it is much easier to park than many similarly-sized SUVs.
While most SUVs in this price range are sold with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive, the Forester remains an all-wheel-drive only proposition. Over a limited off-road stint, the system proved impressive, allowing it to crawl up and down steep sections with decent traction available.
As is the case with the Forester’s road manners, its 2.5-litre petrol engine offers the best drivability at higher speeds, with the car’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic working cleverly to keep the engine revving in its most useful range.
Countering that, though, is off-the-line response that is doughy and frustrating at times, particularly when you’re shifting from park to drive/reverse, or vice-versa.
Still, we managed exceptional fuel use during our time with the car – 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres over a mix of country, freeway and urban testing. That fuel consumption average is just a touch above the claimed use (8.1L/100km), and better than many competitors have managed across similar disciplines.
That low consumption also means the Forester will be more affordable to run than some SUVs that may be less expensive in the showroom.
Subaru’s warranty offering is a three-year program with unlimited-kilometre coverage, and the Japanese brand recently introduced a new capped-price servicing program for its models that covers the vehicle for life. But over three years the Forester is much dearer to maintain than its key rivals ($2178, or $726 per year) – quite unfavourable considering a Hyundai ix35 will cost its owner just $1015 over three years (or $338 per annum).
While it does have some qualms in the urban environment, it feels at home on country roads with a comfortable and composed demeanour, and also offers a level of surefootedness on the dirt.
There are plenty of options out there in the mid-size SUV segment, and the Forester is one of the better bets. Just be sure to do your research, as it’s on the dear side in terms of what you get for your money, but it certainly offers a superior family-friendly alternative to its smaller sibling, the XV.