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Car reviews - Subaru - Forester - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Extra performance for all variants, more composed suspension tune, handy extra interior features, manual XT’s 1600kg (braked) towing capacity, safety features, standard equipment
Room for improvement
Inferior ride quality, unintelligent auto, lack of cabin sound deadening, uninspiring new styling

15 Jul 2005

FOR good reason, Forester has long been among Australia’s top-selling compact soft-roaders.

The smallest multi-purpose Subaru’s combination of clever packaging, competitive pricing, solid safety credentials and a proven all-wheel drive system have maintained its appeal despite fierce rivalry from category stalwarts like Toyota’s Rav4 and relative overnight successes like Nissan’s X-Trail.

So a meaningful midlife facelift for the second-generation Forester can only increase its attraction among small SUV buyers, who want car-like on-road behaviour, refinement and safety with the option of leaving sealed roads behind.

Those unfamiliar with Forester won’t readily distinguish the updated model’s exterior changes, which run to a cleaner, less cluttered look courtesy of simpler new grille, bumpers, front guards, tailgate and circular-themed lights.

While the MY2006 Forester lacks the bold new corporate face of its seven-seater B9 Tribeca SUV sibling (due here late next year), it does introduce styling cues like wing mirror-mounted indicators, which take a leaf out of the Mercedes styling book.

Compared with the funkier looking X-Trail, Rav4 and even CR-V, Forester remains perhaps the most understated and conservative.

Inside, there’s a useful new multi-function centre armrest that doubles as a rear tray and houses two extra cupholders, while new water-proof seat trim increases the interior’s versatility. But X-Trail’s removable rear cargo space liner still wins that contest.

By far the most advantageous upgrade to the latest Forester, however, is the fitment of firmer suspension for all variants.

If ever there was a valid complaint about Forester’s dynamics, it was that it was too softly-sprung to inspire confidence at speed on the road, with excessive bodyroll and a disconcerting degree of fore-aft pitching conspiring to take the shine of both 2002’s all-new model and its predecessor.

But the facelifted version addresses that effectively, which shows Subaru is serious about listening to its customers.

After a complex series of changes to springs, dampers and anti-roll bar mounting points, the entry-level X, mid-spec XS and flagship XT turbo all handle with much more aplomb, delivering a flatter ride through corners and reducing a lot of the headshake that afflicts most (relatively) high-riding vehicle.

The downside is a slight but perceptible deterioration of ride quality, which has never been a strong point with Forester. Stiff-sidewalled light truck tyres don’t help this (nor do they provide the grip of lower-profile dedicated road tyres), but a slightly jigglier ride and a level of tyre roar – especially on coarse-chip bitumen surfaces - were clearly evident on the short Tasmanian launch drive, which encompassed both bitumen and gravel roads.

A lack of sound deadening was also apparent on wet and gravel roads, as water and pebbles peppered the rear wheelarches loudly enough to inhibit conversation, and engine noise from the gruff sounding boxer four is no less noticeable than before either.

That said, both MY2006 Forester engines offer more performance without increasing fuel consumption, which the naturally aspirated X and XS now offering more power than CR-V and Rav4 at 121kW – an eight per cent hike.

Of course, the 130kW X-Trail remains the leader of the compact in terms of power output, but Forester is alone in offering a higher tier of performance in the turbocharged XT, which now offers nine per cent more power at a perky 169kW.

The XT’s torque is unchanged at a handy 320Nm but its new electronic throttle helps with part-throttle response and overall flexibility.

Like most compact SUVs (with the notable exception of the MY2005 CR-V, which gained the segment’s first five-speed auto), Forester continues to employ a four-speed auto, which delivers quicker, smoother shifts in MY2006 form, but still changes instantly and frustratingly to top gear when the throttle pedal is lifted.

Forester holds its head up high in terms of standard equipment, outshining the likes of Rav4 with standard ABS and adding the theft-resistance of DataDot vehicle indentification.

It also rates highly for resale value among its compact SUV rivals and was the first SUV to achieve a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test result when fitted with side airbags (in optional Safety Pack guise).

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