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Car reviews - Subaru - Forester - 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth, refined turbo-diesel, ample mid-range torque, interior presentation and comfort, chassis stability and ride comfort, potential touring range
Room for improvement
Gearshift, turbo lag

2 Jun 2010

THE Australian car market is more competitive than it has ever been, with major players all attempting to glean a few extra sales.

The focus is now on incremental sales – anything that can be spun off an existing model line without costing a packet to bring to market and which adds to the bottom line is a good thing to have in your range.

The Forester diesel is a prime example, and Subaru itself admits that take up will be low compared with its booming petrol Forester.

A good diesel engine in a big, heavy SUV makes a lot of sense – the fuel efficiency improvement over a large displacement petrol is significant, as is the mid-range peak torque figure.

Real world efficiency gains of a diesel engine over petrol are minimal in compact SUVs, compared with large SUVs. In the case of the Forester, the official figures show an improvement of about 30 per cent – 6.6 litres per 100km for the 2.0-litre diesel compared with 9.3L/100km for the bigger 2.5-litre petrol engine in manual guise.

Arguments about its relevance in this market aside, how does the Forester 2.0D shape up against its distillate-sipping rivals?

From first start-up, it is a relief to see that Subaru has worked successfully on suppressing engine noise and harshness – always a bugbear with compression ignition.

Yes, diesel clatter is there, but only the cognoscenti will really know. Engine noise is not so intrusive that your passengers will be spinning around in their seats looking for a large truck.

Press the clutch and engage first gear and the main bugbear of the diesel becomes apparent – the gearshift – normally not an issue in a Subaru – is one of the more rubbery and vague shifts around, and the throws are long too.

Subaru claims to have isolated vibrations with a cable shift design, but they lost something in the translation when compared to the generally excellent gearshifts in petrol models.

Release the clutch and with a small amount of throttle input it first feels as if there is slack in the throttle cable – it doesn’t feel as if the engine is responding. There is no throttle cable of course, it is all electronic wizardry.

Nonetheless, a dead zone first leaves you blipping the throttle to get the engine to respond. Once you get used to it, you can work around it.

Once rolling there is also more turbo lag than you might expect for a new-age diesel. While the transition between low rpm off-boost and mid-range on-boost is not as sharp as some other diesels. It also seems to lack confident response down low.

That seamless transition between low rpm and the mid-range permits assertive lane changing without the sense that you have unwittingly launched a heat-seeking missile, whose target is the car in front of you.

The more highly stressed small displacement/high torque diesels tend to display this unfortunate habit, and thankfully the Forester diesel is not among them.

In fact, the Subaru diesel is most petrol-like in its willingness to rev smoothly and quickly, and it also has a characteristic boxer-engine voice, albeit with a gravelly timbre.

The Forester cabin is an accomplished design, with ample front-seat comfort and space, good control and instrumentation presentation and good vision out with large side mirrors. Rear-seat space is not generous, with a tall driveshaft tunnel and narrow-ish seat making three adults across a bit of a squeeze.

The cargo area, like those of many compacts, is not especially deep, and with the Subaru it also has a high loading lip, which reduces the effect of the generous ceiling height.

At least the cargo area is squared off, allowing maximum load space. A full-size spare wheel is installed under the load floor.

The Forester chassis is not as sharp in its responses as the previous generation, and while its ride quality is good, it doesn’t handle quite as well. Steering feel wasn’t brilliant with the previous model, and the electric power steering is no leap ahead on that front.

Yet if it is point-to-point touring you want, the Forester makes a good companion to eat up the kilometres. It is benign, comfortable and the engine punches out of corners with a good head of steam.

The touring range is pretty good too, as evidenced by our average of 8.7L/100km with a mix of city work and press-on back road driving. On an easy highway cruise, the consumption slips down to just under 7.0L/100km.

The Forester 2.0D gets into the groove and just drives. Just don’t expect the new engine to offer a whole new experience or thrift compared with a Subaru that comes with spark plugs.

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