The mid-life update to the fourth-generation Forester is worth taking note of
The 2016 Subaru Forester has arrived in Australia, bringing with it a range of mid-life updates to the fourth generation of Subaru’s most popular SUV, inside and out.
Subaru Forester buyers are an interesting bunch, there’s something peculiar about buying a Subaru that just isn’t there with the other Japanese brands. There’s a certain element of uniqueness with owning a Subaru rather than just another Toyota or Mazda.
The brand has an incredibly rich and successful history in motorsport, which is perhaps not so relevant to buyers of Forester SUVs, but from that experience has come a very solid foundation of dynamically capable cars and SUVs of all sorts. With the Forester being the perfect example.
The Forester goes up against some serious competition from the likes of the Mazda CX-5, which is the best selling car in the medium SUV segment. But where the Mazda does well with its modern styling inside and out as well as its arguably more advanced powertrains, the Forester remains true to its origins by providing an almost utilitarian choice that does everything really well without being the best in any one particular category.
Inside and out the new MY16 Subaru Forester has gained minor design changes (full details of the MY16 Forester changes can be found here) but it’s the car’s suspension that gets the majority of the mid-life changes.
Subaru engineers visited Australia to fine-tune the suspension on local roads and the modifications are extensive, with changes to the front and rear damper force, front and rear spring rates, bushes and cross member rigidity and even the rear suspension geometry alignment. The stabiliser bar has also been replaced, while perhaps the most noticeable change comes from the steering, which has had its ratio reduced from 15.5:1 down to 14:1 to allow for less turning.
All of that may seem too technical, but it’s worth noting, as the results were instantly noticeable as we took our Forester 2.5i Premium through a selection of rough country roads and dirt tracks in Mt Gambier.
The Forester is now more compliant than ever, absorbing all sorts of poor surfaces with ease, something its direct rival from Mazda doesn’t do nearly as well with its hard ride and focus on dynamics above all else.
The 2016 Subaru Forester range retains its existing list of diesel and petrol engines which includes 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, 2.0-litre turbo charged four-cylinder engine and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine (power and fuel economy figures here).
The base model is basically nothing but a price leader with its smaller engine and its manual-only setup, which means private buyers will mostly be eyeing the 2.5-litre and the 2.0-litre diesel variants.
The 2.5i is a proven engine that is used across the Outback and Liberty range and just like its siblings, the Forester can feel short of pulling power with just 126kW and 225Nm of torque (3kW less than the Outback and Liberty) carrying a near 1600kg kerb weight.
Acceleration from a standstill is adequate for normal city driving and once the Forester is up to speed any deficit is barely noticeable, however the lack of torque in the naturally aspirated petrol models makes overtaking on the highway a bit of a chore.
The 2.0D is better, with 108 kW and 350Nm of torque but even that lacks the outright acceleration some buyers may seek from their sporty SUV. Thankfully Subaru has an answer, which is the WRX-inspired 2.0-litre turbocharged XT variant with its 177kW and 350Nm.
Though Subaru will release an even sportier version of the Forester – named Forester tS – in a few months time, the Forester range itself is more about practicality and spaciousness than anything else.
Behind the wheel the Forester feels smaller than it is, with very direct and sporty steering and a sense of confidence that its permanent all-wheel drive system brings. That’s the Forester’s biggest advantage over its predominantly on-demand all-wheel-drive soft-roader rivals.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) can make plenty of unpleasant noises when under full or even half throttle and while Subaru says it has modified the CVT shift behaviour with the 2016 updates, we still found the Forester seeking the optimal rpm and creating an unnatural (compared to a regular automatic gearbox) sensation as the speed increases but the engine rpm does not. One can get used to it, but it could be better.
Subaru is committed to its CVT transmissions in order to find the perfect balance between fuel efficiency and performance, which no doubt sounds like a worthy goal, but is to its detriment as the rival CX-5’s standard automatic system is a more pleasant experience to use daily.
Fortunately for the new Forester, some of that CVT noise is now reduced thanks to extensive work to improve the SUV’s noise vibration and harshness (NVH) levels with the addition of thicker window glass and better rubber for the seals as well as modifications to the door and body structure. Subaru claims a five per cent improvement in cabin NVH though it certainly felt quieter than that.
While it may be regarded as a medium SUV, its boxy dimensions (4610mm in length by 1795mm in width by 1735mm in height) make it feel much larger than plenty of its rivals.
That larger size-perception from the outside becomes reality inside, where the rear seats offer a very generous amount of room for families that require more than one child seat and the use of the middle seat concurrently. Like all Subarus, it offers Isofix child seat anchor points for easy installation of modern seats.
The back seats are also a pleasant place to be with the compliant suspension allowing for a smooth ride along both country and suburban roads. Outward visibility through those large side windows is excellent.
It can comfortably sit four large adults for long trips and the 422L luggage capacity will do well for families that need to carry large prams or other large items. The rear seats can be folded down to increase that storage to 1481L.
The interior itself doesn’t have the premium feel of the CX-5, but it offers plenty of storage space and comfortable seats front and rear. It’s not so much that the interior feels cheap, it’s more than its very utilitarian in its design, almost as if it was designed by an engineer rather than a designer.
The multimedia system is quick to react and easy to use but again, it’s not up the same level as Mazda’s BMW iDrive clone. We also found the active safety system, which Subaru calls Eyesight, to be slightly sensitive with the lane departure warning system beeping away far more often than it really should. It can do with the steering vibration warning technique employed by other manufacturers that helps keep the car’s communication just with the driver rather than the whole cabin.
It can be turned off independently while its forward collision warning system remains on for those long drives where fatigue may be of concern. Given it’s a few years older than the Outback and Liberty, it also lacks the vision assist system available on those two cars, which means the Forester misses out on the more useful systems such as blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, auto dimming rear view mirror, high beam assist and rear cross traffic alert. There’s also no head-up display, a competitive disadvantage.
Overall, the 2016 Subaru Forester is a great choice for families with two kids that need the additional interior space and practicality on offer without having to step up to the larger SUV segment.
The outstanding ride compliance, driving dynamics and reputation of ruggedness and reliability makes the Subaru Forester a rather smart choice in the heavily contested medium SUV segment.
2016 Subaru Forester pricing (plus on-road costs):