Subaru Forester is a useful and capable SUV
A Swiss Army knife in its road and off-road capability, but it could do with more power
Remember when Subaru defined blue and yellow paint schemes, big rear wings and gold wheels? That was Subaru and, more specifically, its rally heritage.
Following on from the much-loved, rally bred WRX and STI sedans, the more practical side of Subaru has in recent times been thrust to the fore with models such as the Outback and XV. The Forester on test here is the pinnacle of modern-day Subaru’s intentions to harness all of that dust-biting might and package it into an urban romper that can also duke it out on the rough stuff.
It takes a few steers to discover that this fifth-generation Forester has truly gone upscale and sophisticated, with a step-up in refinement, size and docility on past iterations.
This new premium feel is typified by a spacious and luxurious cabin underscored by a new digital layout of a pair of split information screens, the largest being a TFT and home to an app-led engagement with the car’s many features. Connectivity is right up there with modern expectations.
I’m glad there is a modicum of artificial intelligence. Apart from the usual segment amenities such as a start button, multifunction steering wheel, a detailed trip-computer, climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and even a massive glass-roof, Subaru’s Eyesight feature is both a safety net and convenience item.
When activated, Eyesight diligently marshals the Forester to a lead car, boasting some of the quickest responses to any change of speeds from ahead while also monitoring the car’s surroundings for any sudden potential hazards such as pedestrians crossing the road. It also features an emergency brake feature should a driver not react as promptly as necessary.
The Forester is now more visually dramatic than its predecessors, while retaining the ability to deal with both tarmac and difficult terrain and offering a cosseting drive quality. Great strides have been made in build quality and outside noise cancellation, but the biggest change is the uniform engine option of a naturally aspirated 2.0l four-cylinder engine. The turbocharged 2.5 XT has been dropped.
Outputs in the 2.0 are 115kW and 196Nm, a far cry from what fans of the brand are used to but, for the most part, this flat-four engine and its Lineartronic CVT driving all four wheels is efficient in its power delivery. In an ideal world the Forester would be teaching its peers some dynamic performance tricks but sadly with this latest model, evidence points to its maker having moved towards a more comfort-oriented, safety-focused route that puts driving enjoyment on the backburner.
It’s quite anodyne in its drive feel, exacerbated by a CVT transmission. Trying hard to recapture the thrilling drive spirit of the brand, in the end a calmer, near boring driving style triumphed while guzzling fuel. It averaged 10.6l/100km in the test period, a figure nowhere near the 7.6l/100km claimed by the factory.
Competition for Subaru’s mid-size SUV comes from a range of alternatives from the subpremium class of VW, Mazda, Ford and KIA’s top line midi-SUV ranges. Scratch around and you’ll find that this top of the pile Forester Subaru Forester 2.0i-S ES CVT is also in the pricing ball park of entry-level BMW X1 and Audi Q3 – cars that are smaller and definitely more haute couture than gritty.
The Subaru has a generous ride height of 220mm, chunky tyres and an X-Mode function which boosts off-road driving performance by optimising the electronic control of the engine, transmission, all-wheel drive system, brakes and other critical components to reduce potential for wheel slip on slippery surfaces. X-Mode also automatically adjusts the throttle power in offroad driving, leaving the driver to handle only the steering in difficult driving conditions. It’s a car engineered to love dirt.
Add a heavy duty roof rack to load bicycles, kayaks and even a camping roof tent. The all-wheel drive Forester can easily switch to an urban family cruiser thanks to its broad scope of purpose. This makes it an alluring offering in the segment.
Type: Flat four-cylinder
Capacity: 1,995 cc
Type: Seven-step CVT
Type: Permanent AWD
Top speed: N/A
0-100km/h: 10.3 sec (as claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 7.6l/100km (as claimed) 10.6l/100km as tested
Electric windows, keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, climate control, CD player, 2x USB, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, panoramic sunroof, Xenon headlights, LED daytime driving running lights, auto on/off lights, front fog lights, rain sensor wipers, electric auto folding mirrors, power rear hatch, multifunction steering wheel controls, 225/55 R18 wheels, park distance control rear, reverse camera, park distance control, X-Mode
COST OF OWNERSHIP
Warranty: Five years/150,000km
Lease*: R10,696 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Subaru Forester 2.0i-S ES CVT
Looks, specification, offroad driving capability
CVT, high fuel consumption
Capable but somewhat underpowered mid-size SUV
****Value For Money
Honda CR-V 2.0 Elegance 2WD, 113kW/189Nm – R492,500
Kia Sportage 2.0 EX Plus 2WD, 115kW/196Nm – R508,995
Nissan X-Trail 2.5 4x4 Tekna, 126kW/233Nm - R513,500
Renault Koleos 2.5 Dynamique 4x4, 126kW/233Nm - R479,900
Toyota Rav4 2.5 AWD VX, 132kW/233Nm - R545,100
Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI Comfortline DSG 2WD, 110kW/250Nm – R 494,800