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

Launch Story

2 Feb 2011

FEW things disrupt a petrol-head’s life than becoming lodged in a state of familial bliss. Gone is single life’s hot coupe or brash sedan, with the better half nagging for a large SUV or worse, a people-mover.

We have an out clause for those facing such a predicament, and it is unlikely to add to Australia’s divorce rate. The doctor is in performance issues can be solved.

If a compact SUV is on the shopping list, best to steer the family into a Subaru showroom to peek at the new Forester S-Edition.

We arrived in a hot dry Canberra expecting to drive not only the new premium S-edition, but also the new X and XS with their new naturally aspirated FB series engine. This didn’t happen with a flight delayed half our group arrived after we had to head back to the airport.

We will get into a MY2011 Forester with the new FB series engine as soon as we can.

No matter, we got a longer than expected drive of the hi-po Forester, the S-Edition.

Subaru’s managing director Nick Senior said at the S-Edition launch that competitors have broadened their compact SUV ranges, but typically at the entry level, with 2WD variants.

Subaru is not going to shed its all-wheel drive philosophy, so the only way for new models is up.

A new premium model may not sell in huge numbers (although Subaru believes that the S-Edition will sell a respectable 150 units a month), but profit margins are much better than when you’re attempting to push volume in the bargain bear-pit end of the market.

When fired and launched, this thing should be a rocket: Subaru claimed its WRX-powered Forester is good for a sub-seven second zero to 100km/h time.

Subaru chose Canberra and surrounds to give the media its first taste of the S-Edition. Subaru has a soft spot for the nation’s capital, the city’s surrounding pine forests stand as a silent reminder to Subaru enthusiasts of the brand’s once-famed rally successes here.

Blue WRX STis no longer bark and cackle their way to victory in these forests, but Subaru no doubt hopes that its motorsport glory days might still hold currency with prospective S-Edition buyers.

Sliding behind the wheel of the S-Edition for the first time, there are no surprises. Aside from the bold blue suede seat and door inserts, paddle shifters and back-lit instruments, this is standard high-grade Forester ... which is oddly low-rent where plastic trim is concerned – the dash and door cards are made of a brittle plastic that are not what a buyer of a $50K-plus car should expect.

We are not sure what things we expected of the WRX engine, but the sub-seven second sprint to 100km/h Subaru promised was, I suppose, one of them. It sure didn’t feel like it. Turbo engines in particular like cool damp days to deliver their best, and Canberra weather just wasn’t co-operating.

The ambient temperature gauge on the dash told us it was 36C. It felt even hotter, and perhaps the heat was the cause of the Forester S-Edition’s lack of punch, especially down low.

No matter we crank up the climate control and cruise out to the forests. This is where the Subaru might display some of its athletic promise.

The unique suspension set-up dispatched the fast, flowing yet undulating back roads, smoothing bumps big and small with equal measures of diplomacy. An occasional hint of wallowing over a long set of undulations was settled quickly, making this Forester the most composed back-road tourer yet.

Devouring the tight, spaghetti-like mountain stretches, the S-Edition also showed a fluidity absent in lesser Foresters.

The ability for the S-Edition to be so well balanced and malleable on the throttle through corners is something that has been absent since the Gen 2 Forester. The transition to lift-off oversteer is a progressive, confidence-inspiring thing in the tight stuff where too much entry speed or an unexpected tightening radius will get other compact SUVs howling with understeer.

The nicely weighted actually has feel, not a given in this class.

And unlike the Gen 2, the S-Edition has decent tyre grip – the bane of most SUVs. Sure, it does not pin down the Forester like Velcro, but it was better than you would expect.

The handling was, in summary, tactile and the source of a good amount of fun – and ride is comfortable on fast, flowing roads.

When the brakes were punished through a set of twisting corners to hose off speed into a series of blind corners, the pedal went a little soft, but they coped far better than expected.

We would like to wax lyrical about it, but we can’t. Perhaps some cooler weather, a different sample of the S-Edition or maybe my expectations were too high of an engine that is just 14 per cent more powerful than the XT – in any case, the car I drove just wasn’t especially responsive outside of a satisfactory – but not stunning – midrange.

Pulling out of slow corners, for example, the right foot was buried to the firewall, wanting for more. This turbo boxer four was not the smoothest or most economical engine, either.

The trip computer settled down to a consumption figure of 13.0L/100km over the demanding drive, which is not too bad. A better figure would be expected when babying the S-Edition, though.

The transmission is the five-speed paddle shift unit from WRX auto, and it is not a huge leap forward. Its shifts are smooth and the gated gearshift is a pleasure to use, but the ratio gap in lower gears seems too wide, and as much as the automatic promised to act like it was a manual, if desired, this one was not always co-operative.

After driving in manual mode, using the paddleshift gear selectors, for about 20 minutes, the transmission began upshifting of its own accord, continuing past the second-third upshift that we selected and continuing up to fourth gear.

Shortly after, the auto transmission temperature warning lit up on the dash, so we slipped into drive and cruised. After just a few minutes, the light went out and while the auto seemed fine, we didn’t play in manual mode again.

Maybe we need to revisit the Forester S-Edition to see if it can deliver on its performance promise. With its practical and comfortable interior, unique styling treatment and superb suspension, at least there are plenty of other reasons to consider the Forester S-Edition.

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