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Car reviews - Subaru - Forester - S-Edition 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Superb performance, WR Blue paintwork with matching interior
Room for improvement
Old-fashioned five-speed automatic instead of a six-speed manual, dynamics not up to WRX-type image

2 Feb 2011

ARGUABLY, Subaru has shown considerable confusion about how best to create a sportier variant of the Forester wagon to capitalise on the image of its WRX and WRX STi models.

The original GT proved quite popular but the decision was taken to drop the GT badging in favour of the anodyne ‘XT’. Paradoxically, from the launch of the MY06 edition the XT offered much more performance than the old 155kW GT, but this was not celebrated in badging or interior presentation.

Now the S-Edition gives the compact SUV a closer affiliation with Subaru’s trademark WRX and WRX STi models. But, puzzlingly, the 193kW S-Edition, so carefully targeted at lovers of the Subaru brand heritage, is not available with a manual transmission.

The Australian market’s inexorable march into automatic transmission territory began back in about 1960 but many observers were surprised when an automatic edition of the legendary STi was introduced in September 2010.

This was no state-of-the-art twin-clutch unit as showcased on the STi’s deadly rival, the Lancer Evolution, but an old-world five-speed torque converter automatic.

Of course, enthusiasts can still get a six-speed manual STi but, despite the evocative World Rally (WR) blue livery - available only for a short introductory period - and STi logos on the lovely 17-inch wheels, the S-Edition does not offer a choice.

In some respects this automatic works well with the effortless torque and abundant power of the turbocharged engine but it is far from the perfect combination. If you never intend to explore the upper limits of the S-Edition’s performance, you’ll find it shifts smoothly and that your progress is energetic but unremarkable.

No, this team only fails to deliver when the driver’s right foot feels for the metal. The auto is slow to respond and a keen driver will be reaching for the paddles, while wishing for a clutch pedal and one more gear ratio. At least the blipping of the throttle on downshifts adds to the driver’s pleasure.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, the most powerful Forester is pretty fast and exhilarating in the process. Its zero to 100km/h time of 6.5 seconds is equal to a WRX of only a few years ago and there is almost no difference in weight between the S-Edition and a WRX STi.

Drive it hard and economy obviously suffers but gentle cruising requires the consumption of only 7.5 litres of petrol per 100km and sometimes even less. The official combined figure is 10.5L/100km.

Firmer suspension settings endow the S-Edition with more agile handling but at some expense to ride comfort. But the steering is too light in feel and does not deliver the sense of connection with the road that you expect in a sports model of any kind.

It’s okay on the lesser Foresters but disappointing in this context. Those attractive alloys also give the Forester a broader footprint. If you try not to think ‘STi’ or even ‘WRX’, you could get a lot of pleasure from this compact wagon.

The interior has received a tasteful upgrade. Subaru enthusiasts will love the leather/Alcantara seats with the latter material matched to the WR Blue exterior livery.

But neither the Forester nor the Impreza on which it is based has ever enjoyed a stylish cabin. Subaru has gone to some lengths to make the ambience more pleasant on all the latest Foresters and the S-Edition benefits the most.

It’s not quite plush and the dashboard plastics leave something to be desired but there is none of the bargain basement cabin feel of early Foresters and Imprezas.

Even the uprated engine in combination with the suspension upgrade, 17-inch wheels and nicer upholstery would justify the $3500 the S-Edition adds to the pricetag of an XT Premium auto.

So the $50,990 Forester S-Edition offers a great blend of performance, style and practicality. If you can excuse the lack of a manual transmission the hottest ever Subaru wagon is well worth looking at, especially in trademark WR blue.

But a better badge would be ‘Tuned by STi’, which Subaru Australia has already used successfully on the Liberty and WRX.

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