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Car reviews - Subaru - Forester - 2.5i-S

Our Opinion

We like
Unrivalled price and equipment, benchmark safety technology, superb visibility and headroom/legroom, great dynamics
Room for improvement
Slow and thirsty petrol engine, small boot volume, flat rear seat, lacks refinement

Subaru logo16 Feb 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

Price and equipment

WE INITIALLY had to double-check the specification sheet to ensure the $39,490 plus on-roads pricetag of this Forester 2.5i-S was not inflated by extra-cost options on our test car.

Fortunately, a panoramic sunroof, power rear tailgate, leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated front seats and Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system (encompassing active cruise control, lane-departure warning, forward collision alert and autonomous emergency braking) are standard.

By comparison it takes a $43,490 Mazda CX-5 GT to match the above equipment, minus an electric tailgate or the equivalent EyeSight gear getting the latter requires picking the $47,410 CX-5 Akera.

Likewise, only a $45,490 Hyundai Tucson Highlander equals the Subaru’s equipment, minus active cruise and autonomous emergency braking but with the addition of ventilated front seats.

To close in on this Forester, a $41,490 Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI Comfortline further needs a $5000 Luxury Package with leather, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, electric tailgate, and even keyless auto-entry that is already standard on every other medium SUV mentioned here.

Interior

The Forester has always driven to the beat of a slightly different thrum to its rivals, and we are not (yet) talking about its ‘boxer’ or ‘flat’ four-cylinder design existing in a galaxy of in-line engines.

Instead, the Subaru has always been a bit more wagon-like than the average medium SUV, a fraction more car-like, but with a chunky edge and the promise of more rugged off-road ability.

With the current generation, this 2.5i-S continues the trend with a lower driving position than most rivals and a more compact luggage area. Both aspects could irk some buyers, particularly young families with a double pram, for example. Simply, the 422-litre boot volume is among the least capacious in the class.

Although it is important to recognise that space deficit, in other ways the Forester excels and in some aspects exceeds class standards. All-round headroom and over-the-shoulder visibility are both superb, with a large glasshouse put to great use in both respects. The only downside are seats that are comfortable but lack side support, particularly the flat back bench. Likewise, there is vast rear legroom but air-vents are missing (they are standard in Tucson Elite/Highlander and all Tiguans).

The Impreza-derived dashboard is dated, but the high standard of fit-and-finish remains as impressive as the high equipment level. Thanks also to a recent facelift that added knurled-silver dual-zone climate controls, the 2.5i-S feels more upmarket. The new touchscreen is ergonomic and boasts Pandora internet music streaming as well as satellite navigation, and is matched by a colour trip computer display all proving that Subaru refuses to dip out on the details.

Engine and transmission

Some competitors, such as the 1.6-litre Tucson and 1.4-litre Tiguan, have turned to smaller-capacity turbocharging. The Forester, as with the CX-5, has resisted the trend and maintained a traditional 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine underbonnet.

Subaru’s outputs are adequate – 126kW of power at 5800rpm and 235Nm of torque at 4100rpm – but due in part to the inclusion of all-wheel drive, kerb weight of 1571kg makes this a heavy vehicle for those figures to contend with.

A standard automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) thankfully squeezes the engine of everything it has, and it does so effortlessly – or at least that is the perception for the driver. That is because it raises the tachometer needle quickly on hills, without asking for much added throttle.

The caveat here is the gimmicky SI-Drive mode must be in the Sport setting at all times. The default Intelligent mode betrays its title with sluggish throttle response and slower reactions from the CVT, which no driver would ever want. Sport is not sporty, either it is simply good.

When quick overtaking is required, however, there is no getting around the fact that the Forester is among the slowest vehicles in the segment. And although the CVT works well, the petrol engine can often be heard working hard to the detriment of refinement and – as it turns out – economy. Despite the inclusion of idle-stop technology and official combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres, the 2.5i-S returned a disappointing 11.6L/100km on test.

Ride and handling

We mentioned earlier that the Forester has traditionally been more ‘wagon like’ than its medium SUV competitors, and that continues to deliver rewards on the road. The way the 2.5i-S steers, rides and handles is little different to a hatchback, but one with a marginally higher driving position.

There is little of the ponderous, top-heavy feel that afflicts some medium SUV models, with firm but level ride quality, precise and medium-weighted steering, and tight if not sharp dynamics.

Ultimately, a CX-5 is more agile and fun, which could be important if a former hot hatchback owner is now facing the realities of family domesticity. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a Tucson offers more supple ride quality, while a Tiguan best blends the two characteristics.

The Subaru is competitive, but its suspension can be noisy over some bumps and there can be a decent rush of road roar over coarse-chip surfaces. As with its cabin design, it is starting to date in terms of overall refinement and polish.

Meanwhile, only the entry-level Forester 2.0i-L manual gets a traditional all-wheel drive system with centre differential and limited-slip differential.

This Forester 2.5i-S automatic gets an Active Torque Split system that generally prioritises sending power to the front wheels only and in wet conditions our test car managed to spin its wheels off the line, which is something a Subaru should never do. There is an X-Mode offroad button, but it should not have to be turned on around town.

Safety and servicing

Seven airbags (including dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee protection), ABS, switchable electronic stability control (ESC), rearview camera, lane departure warning and pre-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are all standard.

ANCAP has tested the Subaru Forester and it scored five stars with 35.54 out of 37 points.

Subaru’s three-year/75,000km capped-price servicing program requires below-par bi-annual or 12,500km check-ups at a higher-than-average cost of $299.92 for the first two, $387.11 for the third and $525.50 for the fourth.

Verdict

The Forester 2.5i-S mixes an affordable sticker with a high level of equipment and active safety technology better than any segment rival. It may lack packaging polish and fall behind class standards for drivetrain finesse, but Subaru is not pitching this SUV as a premium-priced proposition.

Regardless, a small boot will be an instant turn-off for many buyers, and likewise the lack of rear air-vents for what is a family car. We would also spend another $2000 and purchase the Forester 2.0D-S, which is the diesel equivalent to this petrol model grade that provides 350Nm at 1600rpm and is a calmer drive. The caveat there, however, is that the diesel curiously misses out on the entire EyeSight system. And either one requires frequent servicing for a higher-than-average price.

Ageing and imperfect it may be, but the 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S are the pick of a Subaru Forester range that remains a great buy and plainly good medium SUV.

Rivals

Mazda CX-5 GT from $43,390 plus on-road costs
Soon-replaced, but delivers a great mix of practicality and panache.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander from $45,490 plus on-road costs
Smooth and classy, but price rise has affected its value equation.

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