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

Launch Story

14 Mar 2008

PROGRESS in space, safety, driveability, style, economy, emissions, refinement and value define the redesigned Subaru Forester, which officially goes on sale on March 15.

Known internally as the PF3 and on-sale now from $30,490, the third-generation vehicle to wear the nameplate since 1997 is priced between $1000 and $2900 lower than the outgoing version, despite gaining a host of new features.

A larger car than before, the MY09 Forester ditches the signature frameless doors – a move that mirrors the new Impreza on which the compact SUV is based – while the rear suspension is an all-new double wishbone arrangement.

Subaru also beefed up the structure, widened the tracks, lengthened the wheelbase (primarily to increase rear legroom), jacked up the ground clearance by 20mm, and cut the rear overhang, to conjure up a more SUV-style vehicle.

Yet the Forester’s centre of gravity falls 5mm as a result of lowering the engine by 10mm and the transmission by 22mm. Lower noise and drivetrain friction levels are the upshot of lessening the angle of the propeller shaft.

More powerful yet frugal engines, a five-star ENCAP crash-test rating, standard stability control and more interior practicality round out the main changes made to the MY09 Forester.

Subaru identified insufficient interior space as one of the outgoing Forester’s biggest drawbacks to one of its potential target group, young families.

So the MY09 model’s length, width, height and wheelbase increase by 75, 60, 110 and 90mm to come in at 4560, 1795, 1700 and 2615mm respectively.

More specifically, thanks to a 75mm-longer body, rear legroom is 109mm more generous at 965mm, while front legroom rises by 29mm to 1095mm. Yet the Forester’s mirror-to-mirror width actually drops 8mm to 2008mm through the fitment of less bulky items.

Having full-framed doors means that they open wider than before (from 63 to 68 degrees for the front and 68 to 75 degrees at the back, which also aids child seat fitment significantly), and are far less prone to noise and vibration issues.

There’s also a wider cargo area that can accommodate four golf bags, a steering column that both tilts and telescopes (by 40mm), more storage areas, and rear seats that recline.

Under the bonnet are revised versions of Subaru’s signature horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ four-cylinder engines.

The 2457cc 2.5-litre unit is available in single-overhead cam naturally-aspirated guise in the base X and better-equipped XS models, or as a double-overhead-cam turbocharged engine in the XT flagship.

Running a compression ratio of 10:1, the non-turbo 2.5-litre ‘boxer’ produces 126kW of power at 6000rpm.

This represents a 5kW and 3Nm increase, partly thanks to the adoption of a variable valve timing device called Active Valve Lift System (AVLS), which plumps out low and mid-range torque a redesigned cylinder head intake port, which improves intake gas flow for better combustion and changes to the exhaust cam.

Using twin exhausts also ups performance by reducing airflow restrictions, while the rear catalyst length has increased by almost 50 per cent for improved gas cleaning efficiency.

Fuel economy benefits from these despite a weight gain of between 30kg (XT) and 80kg (X), dropping 0.3L/100km in the standard five-speed manual X/XS and 0.1L/100km in the revised four-speed automatic X/XS with a Tiptronic-style sequential-shift function, to register at 9.3 and 9.6L/100km respectively.

Meanwhile, the XT’s powerplant delivers the same 169kW (at 5200rpm) and 320Nm as before. However, the latter peaks at 2800rpm, which is 800rpm lower for improved driveability.

Aiding this is a reshaped turbocharger turbine wheel and compressor impellor, while a larger Tumble Generator Valve reduces pumping loss.

Other turbo engine gains include a new intercooler with an uprated core capacity of 3.8 litres (it was 3.2), for a cooling capacity of 12.1kW versus 11.9 a faster-acting catalytic converter on cold start-up as a result of more efficient secondary air pump flow and high-ignition long-reach sparkplugs for increased fuel efficiency.

The latter helps the XT five-speed manual record a 7.8 per cent decrease in petrol consumption – 10.5 versus 11.4L/100km. It’s the same figure for the XT four-speed auto, dropping from 11.1L/100km for a 5.4 per cent improvement.

Subaru says it has carried over the four-speed auto because consumers would rather have more safety and value for the same money than an extra gear ratio or two.

It’s not quite the same transmission though, with a series of changes, including more accurate line-pressure control and “...optimisation of the engine mounting angle.”

The turbo engine’s power output means that the dual-range manual gearbox offered on the X and XS cannot be put into the XT.

Fitted with a limited-slip differential, manual cars have a 50:50 torque split, with a viscous-coupled all-wheel drive centre differential altering that right up to a 98/2 front/rear split difference.

Automatic Foresters have active torque split via a LAN system that constantly monitors speed info from each wheel, and engine output, to calculate changes in road conditions and steering in real time, for a 95:5 front/rear drive split.

Manual cars have a reduction in the gearbox’s TRF gear baring pre-load, which cuts friction in the transmission case, while a roller bearing in the lever system and a ball-type key in the first and second gears – along with a key groove within the third and fourth gear sleeves – contribute to a smoother shift feel with reduced effort.

There’s plenty of the ZR1 Impreza lurking underneath, with the double wishbone suspension outing the previous Forester’s transverse links and coil spring arrangement.

Besides improving handling and roadholding feel, double wishbones minimise cabin intrusion, while the MacPherson strut-type independent front suspension set-up is more rigid. It sits within a 35mm wider track – compared to 45mm-wider track out back.

The new platform aids collision performance and overall body strength, with high-tensile steel employed at key structural areas. Subaru’s ring-shaped reinforcement system surrounds the passenger compartment for added strength and impact energy absorption.

Armed with anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and VDC stability/traction control, stopping distances fall from 48 to 41 metres from 100km/h in the dry, and from 52.3 to 43.5 metres in the wet.

Manual Foresters also have Hill Start Assist to stop the car rolling back at take-off.

Scoring a five-star occupant safety rating from the independent Australasian New Car Assessment Program, the MY09 Forester’s boxer engine is designed to slide underneath the passenger compartment in a heavy collision.

It is also the first car in its class to achieve a three-star pedestrian impact rating – the latter helped by the bonnet’s optimised steel frame pattern and compressible rear section, while the front bulkhead also absorbs energy.

The Forester’s rear frame is set at bumper height as to transmit energy more effectively in a rear collision. The deep rear window also allows for a 100cm-high child standing a metre from the bumper to be seen.

Other safety measures are breakaway pedals, active front head restraints, five lap/sash seat belts, more efficient windscreen washer nozzles and front, side and curtain airbags as standard.

New to Forester items also include roof-rails that are aerodynamically tested for less noise, a solenoid switch makes opening the tailgate easier, a rear roof-mounted ‘bee sting’ radio aerial and a retractable rear tray with cup-holders on XS and XT models.

The air-conditioning system has been improved, reducing engine load, which lessens fuel consumption, while rear head ducts and dust-proof filters are added on all models.

Equipment levels rise, with steering wheel-mounted audio controls standardised across the range. The XT gains auto-levelling High Intensity Discharge headlights with washers.

Subaru says that more favourable currency shifts and a desire to topple the Toyota RAV4 from the number one spot that the outgoing Forester relinquished last year see the X drop $1500, the XS and XS Premium by $1000, the XT manual by $2000, the XT auto by $2500, the XT Premium manual by $2490 and the XT Premium auto by $2900.

Subaru says the MY09 Forester’s stiffer chassis underwent a nine-month recalibration process in Japan for it to comply specifically with Australian tastes and conditions. As a result, front damper rates are 40 per cent stiffer, for decreased bodyroll, compared to the Japanese domestic market models.

Tyre sizes are 215/65 R16 on the X and XS, and 225/55 R17 on the XT, with new-design alloy wheels on all but the steel-wheeled X. Towing capacity is rated at 1400kg.

Subaru Australia hopes to sell at least 1100 Foresters each month (up from the current car’s 1000), with the X and XS accounting for around 40 per cent each of all sales, leaving the XT – to be pitched to “...the lad inside the dad” family man who wishes he could have an Impreza WRX – with just 20 per cent. About 60 per cent are expected to be automatic.

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