The Subaru Forester has been a mainstay of the medium-SUV segment for a long time now. While most manufacturers have eschewed car-like styling for a more typical SUV exterior, the Forester remains the choice for those buyers who would rather feel like they’re behind the wheel of a car.
The segment has made quantum leaps forward, though, and the 2021 Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport, which was released in September 2020, has a tough task ahead of it.
Priced from $41,990 before on-road costs, the Sport sits almost right in the middle of the Forester range. All Foresters are AWD, and all have a petrol engine, with the range starting from $35,190 for the 2.5i and rounding out at $46,490 for the Hybrid S.
It was some time ago now that Subaru explained the Forester needed to ‘grow up’ in terms of styling and execution to match maturing market expectations. Once upon a time, the Foresters – GT and XT – were aspirational performance wagons for any JDM tragic. Try finding an unmodified example for sale now…
However, the SUV market, and what buyers expected from an SUV, changed – and changed big time. As such, Subaru (metaphorically) removed some of the hard edges and focused more on cabin quality and execution.
Don’t pay too much attention then to the black detailing and orange touches around the exterior. The 2021 Subaru Forester isn’t the boy racer AWD performance wagon it used to be.
Does that make it less appealing? Not the way I see it, but then again, I’m older and more boring than I used to be, too. Advancing years and all that…
|2021 Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport|
|Engine||2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||136kW at 5800rpm, 239Nm at 4400rpm|
|Transmission||Continuously variable transmission (CVT auto)|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.9L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star rating from 2019|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson|
|Price as tested (excluding on-road costs)||From $41,990|
We refer often to the fact that the RAV4 and CR-V pioneered the concept of the medium SUV in a modern sense, but Subaru was right there with them from the heady mid-’90s. Things have changed, though. There’s no diesel Forester, and there are no turbochargers to be found throughout the range either. In 2021, the focus is on hybrid, rather than forced induction, technology.
Competitors are many, and nothing if not competent. Some standouts include the RAV4, CX-5, Escape and CR-V. That’s without tossing the Tiguan into the mix, and doesn’t account for Tucson, Outlander or X-Trail, which are all ageing platforms but still popular with Australian buyers. This segment is now quite literally bursting at the seams. From the mindset of the buyer, then, there’s never been a better time to drive a hard bargain and get into a medium SUV.
For your 42-grand outlay, you will get a 2.5-litre, naturally aspirated boxer four-cylinder, which puts out 136kW at 5800rpm and 239Nm at 4400rpm. The engine is mated to a CVT and AWD. In addition to the exterior styling changes, the Sport also gets different interior cloth trim. Against an ADR claim of 7.4L/100km, we used an indicated 8.9L/100km.
Outside, additional changes include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights with black surrounds, black grille surround, front, side and rear under-guards with orange highlights, roof rails with orange accents and an electric sunroof. Our test Sport is white, but there’s an exclusive blue available for the model as well. Inside the cabin, the seats are finished in a water-resistant grey cloth trim with contrast orange stitching, chrome-finished window controls and further black and orange accents.
It’s worth noting, too, that the tow rating has been lifted from 1500kg to 1800kg, which won’t make a difference to you if you tow a jet ski or tinnie, but it will help those of you with larger pop-top camper trailers. In any case, the tow rating furthers the point that Subaru reckons the Forester is the choice for those of you with an active lifestyle.
One thing that can’t be argued with Subaru product is how well-specified it is across the range. Safety is well catered for, and there’s adaptive cruise control standard on all Foresters, for example. More on that later.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Keep in mind, there is no native navigation, so your smartphone it is. DAB+ is also standard along with Bluetooth phone and audio connections, six speakers, four USB points, and a 4.2-inch digital driver display.
We found Apple CarPlay worked faultlessly on test, as did the Bluetooth connection if that’s what you’d prefer. The cabin quality in general is excellent, the leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter are tastefully executed, and at cruising speeds it’s nicely insulated inside the cabin as well. Some testers at CarAdvice would have preferred leather trim, but I reckon the seat trim is excellent – comfortable, too.
The steering wheel controls are also neatly laid out and easy to understand. Some of the warning chimes can get a little annoying, but that’s par for the course with any modern car. There is a second screen above the infotainment screen, which displays car-specific information. Elements of it are handy, but I don’t pay too much attention to it.
What I do love whenever I drive a Forester is the airy sense of light and space inside the cabin. It’s a combination of the glasshouse, the design of the pillars and the seating position. Together, they ensure that you feel like you’re driving a car from yesteryear, where visibility was king. Around town especially, it makes a big difference, and electric adjustment for the front seats means you can get into the most comfortable position for driver or passenger.
There’s plenty of room into the second row, occupants get two USB ports, and the back seats, like the front pews, are comfortable. Six-foot-tall adults will have plenty of room behind tall front-seat occupants. The luggage space is useful (498L out to 1740L), with remote releases for the seats, a nearly flat floor, bag hooks and a sturdy luggage cover. There’s not an enormous amount of storage compared to some in the segment, but what's there is useful.
The engine is smooth and responsive, but thanks to the nature of the CVT it can sometimes feel (or sound) like it’s working hard, even if it isn’t. The fuel use indicates that it does have to work hard some of the time, though, but the engine never feels gruff or unrefined. Still, the match of CVT to naturally aspirated engine works well enough.
In general, the ride comfort is excellent. While the Forester certainly isn’t soft as such, it soaks up poor surfaces with competence. On the flip side of that, the handling is, as expected, excellent. I write 'as expected' here because Subaru has always had the AWD platform on which to rest its laurels, and while it might not provide the clear advantage it once did, it ensures the Forester is beautifully balanced.
There is some tyre noise that will enter the cabin on longer coarse-chip surfaces, but aside from that and some wind noise up at 110km/h, the cabin remains pretty much unruffled. The only problem with the engine note is the fact that thanks to the way the CVT works, it doesn’t sound overly – um – sporty. In fairness, though, this Forester is only supposed to be sporty in name, and it does everything else asked of it quite well.
The Forester gets the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, tested back in 2019, and has an extensive list of safety equipment. There is AEB that works up to 80km/h, with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning, active lane-keep assist between 60–145km/h, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear AEB, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and a front kerbside camera.
It is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and 12 months of included roadside assistance. Service intervals are 12 months or 12,500km, and there’s a capped-price servicing plan up to five years/62,500km. Average cost for a service over that period is just over $470.
In short, the Subaru Forester Sport is a quality medium SUV that does everything asked of it with relative ease. The segment has moved so far in a short time really, and there are more up-to-date offerings from the competition. The RAV4 – especially the Hybrid – comes to mind.
However, if you prefer your SUV to drive – and feel – more car-like than most, the Forester still sits up at the top of the pile. Subaru has a long history of reliability and quality in this country, so the ownership attraction is high. While it’s not a clear-cut winner like it might once have been, it’s still worthy of consideration.