The 2016 Subaru Forester stacks up pretty impressively on paper. It's benefitted from a substantial update for this model-year and remains the Japanese brand's best-selling SUV year-to-date.
Medium SUV sales are booming and the Forester is one of the originals among a field teeming with newer, flashier competitors. In order to stay current, relevant and in the game, Subaru needed to make sure this update was substantial. And it has.
The Forester is considered to be a more 'serious' SUV, not overly stylised or a poser compared with some of its rivals, largely thanks to its iconic horizontally-opposed boxer engine and its AWD prowess. It can be had with either a petrol or diesel engine, and a manual transmission is available in the petrol base model as well as both diesel specifications.
The Forester faces some stiff competition in the segment, which is dominated by the Mazda CX5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson. The Nissan X-Trail and Kia Sportage were also higher sellers than the Subaru last month.
The 2.5i-S falls smack-bang in the middle of the petrol range and we thought it worth a closer look because it was the beneficiary of a good portion of the features included in the aforementioned MY16 update and is reasonably priced – in fact prices remain unchanged.
The petrol range starts with the manual-only 2.0i-L priced at $29,990 before on-road costs, the range then steps up to the automatic 2.5i-L at $32,990, the 2.5i-S is priced at $39,490, the 2.0XT is $40,990 and caps out at the 2.0XT Premium from $47,990. There are also two diesel variants - the 2.0D-L is priced at $33,490 and the 2.0D-S is $39,490.
Minor changes have been made inside and out. When it comes to the exterior tweaks you'll notice the Subaru hexagonal grille has been restyled, the bumper and fog light housing has also been revamped, the 2.5i-S gets adaptive LED headlights and new daytime running lights (also added to 2.0XT) but the biggest changes have been made to the suspension – which we will examine in further detail later.
The Forester is practical and functional with just enough space allocated for storage in the cabin. There's a big storage compartment in front of the gearshift, there are bottle holders in the doors but the pockets seem a little on the small side.
Similarly, the glove box seems a little tight, however the centre console bin is square-shaped and quite deep, making up for the lack of space elsewhere. It also houses a 12V, two USB, an auxiliary outlet and a handy coin tray.
The cabin is nicely finished with leather trim on the doors plus leather seats, heated up front, with contrast stitching and perforated trim. Overall it is quite a comfortable place to be. Visibility from the driver's seat is good and the high driving position certainly helps in this regard. The extendable sun visors with mirror and light are a nice touch too.
The 2.5i-S also scores Subaru's EyeSight safety system, also standard in the 2.0XT Premium, which includes driver assist features like lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and brake assist. A rear-view camera is standard across the range.
Controls for adaptive cruise control, S (sport) and I (intelligent) drive modes, radio and phone controls as well as buttons for the small display above the infotainment screen are all positioned within easy reach on the steering wheel, which incidentally, fits nicely in hand.
I'm not sure why there are essentially three displays... there's the 3.5-inch LCD multi-information display in the instrument cluster, the 7.0-inch LCD infotainment screen and the 4.3-inch LCD display located above that. Both of the smaller screens display things like EyeSight information and journey information – there are a few differences but a lot of double-ups which is a little confusing.
The system is positioned at the top of the windscreen, as are the buttons to turn the functions on and off. For example, when travelling through roadworks, lane departure warning can wear a little thin and can be turned off then back on quickly and easily. There are also buttons for the symmetrical AWD system located in front of the gearshift for X-Mode and hill decent control.
Moving into the second row and it's spacious with lots of head, leg, foot and elbow room. There's a large and solid armrest in the middle with two cupholders, bottle holders in the doors and the map pockets are a really good size thanks to the width of the front seats. However there are no air-vents or media/charging outlets and though the seat backs are supportive, the seat base is a little short and lacking in under-thigh support.
This specification features an auto-tailgate, and it is one of the more laid-back we've come across... it's quite slow. It eventually opens to reveal 422 litres of cargo volume with the rear seats in play, however there is a full-size spare under the floor but it's set at a strange angle and may contribute to the uphill slope to the boot floor from the loading lip. That then doubles as a downhill slope and presents a bit of an issue if you open the tailgate when the boot is full of groceries or luggage that could slide or roll out.
There are buttons to flip the rear seats down which is useful, and when the rear seats are folded away cargo space increases to 1474 litres. A 12V and cargo hooks are also present and accounted for.
The 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine produces 126kW and 235Nm and is the same engine that's found in both the Outback and Liberty. Across the Forester range there are four engines, as well as the 2.5-litre there is a 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder petrol and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder.
The petrol does lack torque compared with the diesel option but it still performs well around town, acceleration from a standstill is powerful enough to inspire confidence at intersections, roundabouts and traffic lights. At speed it still lacks the torque to tackle highway overtaking manoeuvres with extreme urgency.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a little noisy at times and though the shift behaviour has been tweaked for 2016, it still seems to hunt around a bit for the right rpm. Work has been done to help reduce noise vibration and harshness levels, including thicker glass in the windows and tougher rubber seals and these measures have made quite a difference to the amount of noise that permeates the cabin.
The suspension changes are fairly extensive and include modifications to front and rear damper force, the spring rates and rear suspension alignment. The steering ratio has been reduced which means less turns lock-to-lock.
As a result the ride is compliant and disguises lumps and bumps better than a pair of Spanx while the steering is direct and a little bit sporty. Although the Forester lacks any semblance of dynamic performance and doesn't corner like a sporty car – it wallows a little around bends – behind the wheel is still an enjoyable place to be.
Subaru offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with a three-year/75,000km capped-price servicing plan. Combined claimed fuel consumption is 8.1-litres per 100 kilometres and the equivalent urban figure is 10.2L. During our time with the car, in mostly urban environments, we recorded a fuel consumption figure of 10L/100km.
The Forester 2.5i-S is a well-heeled allrounder that – if you can deal without the extra punch from the diesel engine – has a well thought out list of included standard features, is well finished, spacious enough for a young family, comfortable inside and drives like an SUV should.