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

Launch Story

15 Jul 2005

SUBARU'S second-generation Forester has so far showed no signs of developing a midlife crisis, but to keep its compact SUV rivals honest it has received its first facelift after three years.

More power, sportier suspension, extra features and a cleaner new look are part of the first upgrade to Forester MkII since its July 2002 release.

Consistently one of Australia's top-selling compact SUVs, Forester lies just 35 sales adrift of Nissan's segment-leading X-Trail after the first six months of this year, and holds a comfortable lead over former best-sellers Rav4 and CR-V.

But that, and the fact it passed the 70,000 sales mark last month, hasn't stopped Subaru presenting a new-look MY2006 Forester with a number of meaningful upgrades.

Interestingly, the revised Forester lacks Subaru's controversial new corporate face that will feature on next year's seven-seater B9 SUV. According to Subaru, Forester's update was locked in before the B9's design was finalised.

Instead, Forester's less cluttered new look comprises a different grille, new front and rear bumpers, new front quarter guards, new-look twin headlights and tail-lights, and larger new wing mirrors now incorporating indicators.

While the mid-range XS and turbocharged XT receive compact new front foglights, XT adds high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with pop-out washers, plus unique 17-inch alloy wheels to replace the current XT's 16s.

Inside, all MY2006 Foresters gain a multi-function centre console, which doubles as a sliding front armrest and includes two cup-holders and a sliding mini-tray for rear passengers.

Along with other minor interior changes, such as a 50mm-longer rear seat base for improved rear occupant thigh support, Forester now comes with the choice of either beige or black interior trim, making it the first compact SUV to offer two interior colours.

All Foresters now feature water-repellent cloth trim, while XS variants come with monotone paint.

Paint colours available across the range are Pure white, Regal blue, Premium silver metallic and Garnet red. The entry-level X also comes in Evergreen metallic, while XS and XT add Obsidian black pearl, Champagne Gold and Crystal gray metallic paint colours.

Changes within the Forester engine bay are just as extensive, with Subaru's 2.5-litre flat (boxer) four receiving drive-by-wire electronic throttle control, more power in both naturally aspirated (X and XS) and turbocharged (XT) guises, plus an engine cover for the flagship XT.

Leapfrogging the 2.4-litre CR-V (118kW) and Rav4 (120kW) - but not the class-leading 130kW X-Trail - for power output, Forester X and XS now offer 121kW at 5600rpm (up eight per cent from 112kW), plus an extra 3Nm of peak torque (now 226Nm at 4400rpm).

The turbo XT, which currently commands 14 per cent of Forester sales, now delivers 169kW at 5600rpm (up nine per cent from 155kW).

While peak torque remains unchanged from its predecessor's 320Nm at 3600rpm, Subaru says the electronic throttle improves part-throttle response and overall engine flexibility.

Forester XT manual continues to offer an 1800kg braked towing capacity - enough to haul a medium-sized caravan or boat.

Subaru has also attempted to improve the boxer four's noise, vibration and harshness by reinforcing various engine castings including around the main bearing journal, and via "cylinder liner shape alterations".

The updated atmo boxer also now comprises "tumble generator valves" (TGV) to reduce start-up emissions by creating a straighter, tumbling induction flow.

While updated engine management systems help the atmo X/XS engine meet European Step3 emissions regulations, the updated XT turbo mill is now Euro4-compliant.

This is partly thanks to the removal of a pre-catalytic converter, higher 8.4:1 compression ratio (up from 8.2:1) and higher boost pressure above 3600rpm.

While fuel consumption figures remains virtually identical, XT's claimed 0-100km/h acceleration improves by half a second, while the X and XS time drops from 10.4 to 9.8 seconds.

All Foresters now drive through a direct automatic transmission, which sees the current model's hydraulic valves and accumulators replaced by high-frequency linear solenoid control, which electronically regulates pressure on the auto's clutches and brakes to improve shift speed and quality.

Automatic X and XS variants are 2.5kg-lighter as a result, and while they continue with a toothed-gate shifter, exclusive to the XT auto is a Sportshift manual-shift function. Five-speed manual Foresters benefit from a double-cone synchroniser for first gear.

Equally significant are the MY2006 Forester's suspension upgrades, which see all models gain firmer springs and revised damping (including 14 per cent and 21 per cent stiffer front springs for X/XS and XT respectively) to deliver improved cornering performance, reduced fore-aft pitching and enhanced steering precision.

Finally, Subaru says detail changes to Forester's all-wheel drive system increase its real-time torque distribution.

The MY2005 Forester updates bring with them a $500 premium at base level to $31,990, bringing Subaru's representative in line with other compact SUVs - although higher-sped Forester variant pricing has hiked up to $2000.

However, like some of its rivals, Forester X pricing continues to include on-road costs which, unlike "driveaway" pricing, does not include dealer delivery charges.

As such, Subaru hopes Forester will continue to maintain sales of 950 to 1000 per month, including 140 to 150 XT variants - stock shortages of which means there's a three-month wait for delivery.

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