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

Our Opinion

We like
Punchy engine for a compact SUV, intuitive CVT, smooth drivetrain, AWD grip, refinement, spacious though subdued interior
Room for improvement
Feel-free steering, hard ride, no rear-seat air vents, 18-inch alloys steal boot space

Subaru logo21 Jun 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

THE XT CVT kicks off from $43,490 (plus on-roads), and includes a massive sunroof, 18-inch alloys, reverse camera, hill-descent control, and dual-zone climate-control air-con, amongst a host of other goodies.

As tested here, the $50,490 XT Premium also includes (curiously vinyl-like) leather, auto on/off lights and wipers, (a slow) electric tailgate, (fiddly) sat-nav, two fully powered (and heated) front seats, and Subaru’s (extremely effective) ‘EyeSight’ radar-based cruise control/lane-change/obstacle detention driver-assist technology.

Only the cheaper but smaller Volkswagen Tiguan 155TSI comes close, but that has less power (155kW versus 177kW) and torque (280Nm versus 350Nm).

Interior

THERE are two ways to look at the Forester’s interior.

A big step forward from before, the newcomer is noticeably larger, roomier, airier, and finished with better materials than the rather cruddy looking outgoing model.

But for fans of the marque, is it the least Subaru-esque cabin yet, or the most Toyota-like?

Either way, there is precious little of the old company’s visual touchstones other than the steering wheel badge and instrumentation markings.

From a functionality point of view, every major control or button is where you’d expect it to be. The homogenisation of Subaru is complete.

The flipside, of course, is complete familiarisation and ease from the moment a novice steps inside. And getting in and out is a doddle thanks to long doors that open wider than ever, as well as a high hip point.

Acres of head, shoulder and legroom await up front, even with the optional full-length glass sunroof. If you’re an owner of an early Forester the amount of sprawling space will astound you.

Well-upholstered front seats benefit from an extended range of adjustability, and remain comfortable even after a longer stint on them, while the driving position really is second-to-none., We’re especially impressed with the improved all-round vision afforded by the pushing forward of the A-pillars, deeper side windows, and lofty seating.

Also receiving a thumbs-up are the many different storage areas, classy brushed metal-like trim on the consoles and door cards, and double-stitching leather finish. But the plasticky cabin ambience remains.

Three adults should be able to squeeze in without issue on the back seat, though the lack of rear air vents in this flagship Forester isn’t fantastic news. Nor does the backrest recline like in so many rival SUVs.

With the Forester being bigger than ever, you could be forgiven for expecting a massive boot.

But the 18-inch alloy spare requires a higher cargo floor than usual, which then eats away at available volume, and also means that the total load space is uneven with the backrests dropped. If this is an issue consider buying a lower-grade model with smaller wheels.

We’d like to see a higher (and faster opening) tailgate too. Even average sized adults might hit their heads.

At least there are a trio of child-seat restraints immediately behind the backrest (which can be dropped via a switch from the back of the car, handily enough). Plus, this is the first Forester tested in a while with a parcel shelf that hasn’t rattled.

In summary, this is a functional and very easy to live with cabin. But even diehard fans of the marque might struggle to identify this as a Subaru with all the badges covered up.

That it, until the boxer engine is fired up, of course…

, Engine and transmission

IT might be smaller than before, but Subaru’s trademark flat-four turbo still delivers a punch coupled with one of the industry’s more distinctive soundtracks.

The difference to before is the way it’s all delivered.

Some enthusiasts moan about CVT autos, and for good reason too. They often drone endlessly and lack the instantaneous response of a conventional multi-ratio automatic transmission. There’s never that leap forward you’d expect, even with a turbo application (a laggy turbo – this isn’t one, mind) exacerbates it.

But the XT comes closer than any CVT we’ve ever experienced in emulating a normal auto.

Yes, burying the pedal still elicits a slight hesitation, but after a split-second delay, the acceleration comes on hard and fast, with speed piling on faster than a 1650kg SUV has any right to.

And that’s in normal ‘Intelligent Drive’. Push the wheel-spoke sited button to ‘Sport’ and the electronics allow for extended stays in the lower of the eight ‘artificial’ gear ratios, while choosing the ‘Sport Sharp’ option liberates more power regardless of engine speed.

The 7.5s 0-100km/h time is actually slower than the seat of the pants feeling suggests.

Paddle shifters allow for some driver say in what gears are chosen, especially when the T-bar lever is shifted in ‘M’ for manual mode, but the transmission will always override and upshift when necessary.

On the move, responses are fast, fluid, and forceful, even in the upper ranges, making the XT a proper GT. Road noise is subdued, as is wind noise, while the distinctive boxer engine thrum is far enough way not to be intrusive for those seeking peace and quiet.

Fuel consumption has never been a Forester Turbo strong suit, and needless to say that the latest porker is no exception. However, the mid-13L/100km average we recorded did include some very spirited driving styles.

Subaru claims that the new engine is 20 per cent more efficient than the old blown 2.5.

Ride and handling

IF you can get past steering with the feel and consistency of a wooden spoon in a tub of thickened yoghurt, then you’re unlikely to be disappointed with the way the XT steers and handles.

Unfortunately for the Subaru, it was preceded in GoAuto’s garage by Ford’s latest Kuga, which has the best steering feel and response of any existing compact SUV.

Yet even in isolation, the Subaru’s helm lacks sufficient feedback. While there is lightness and responsiveness to be had, the sense of weight progression as you turn the wheel is missing. It all feels two-dimensional.

The upshot is excellent round-town manoeuvrability, with a tight turning circle.

As speeds rise, the handling remains neutral and controlled regardless of weather conditions thanks to a chassis that provides quite phenomenal amounts of grip. Fat tyres help.

If you’re up for a bit of fun, the electronic stability control has been tuned to allow for a bit of slip before intervening gradually. Even on dirt tracks there’s an unexpected playfulness. Yet when things get a bit hairy, you can count on the Forester’s systems to reel it all back in.

But the ride is simply too hard, with not enough wheel travel.

In their successful quest to quell excessive body roll and pitch – which left us often feeling queasy in previous models – Subaru’s engineers have firmed up the suspension by around 15 per cent.

However the jittery ride is only really evident around town over speed humps and railway crossings, so if you’re a rural driver this may not apply.

Speaking of country, the standard ‘X-Mode’ packs all the light off-road duties under one function, accessible via a lower-console switch, and operable up to 40km/h. But the XT isn’t designed for 4WD so stick to the bitumen.

Safety and servicing

A five-star ANCAP crash-test rating applies to all Subarus sold in Australia.

Subaru does not offer fixed-price servicing in Australia.

Finally, a note about Subaru’s Eyesight system: the lane-departure sensors are too sensitive, often mistaking a rutted edge for painted lines, and sounding off warnings unnecessarily. It can, however, be turned off.

On the other hand, the radar-controlled cruise control function works brilliantly, slowing the car down to a stop and then accelerating again with traffic unless the car is stationary for more than five seconds.

Our favourite feature, though, is not the obstacle warning device but the ‘car ahead has moved forward’ beep, to help keep traffic flowing more smoothly.

Verdict

LOOKS aside, the Forester XT is the best version Subaru has offered in the series’ 16-year history in Australia.

Blending exciting performance with safe and secure handling, no compact SUV feels as fleet or fast.

We’d really like more involving steering, and a softer ride, however.

Still, we’re happy to see that Subaru isn’t abandoning its performance heritage,

, Rivals

Volkswagen Tiguan 155TSI DSG (from $42,990 plus on-roads).
The Mk5 Golf-based Tiguan is one of the most refined and car-like SUVs available, even after almost six years. But interior packaging is tight and the dash looks dated.

Mini Countryman JCW (From $56,800 plus on-roads).
Rorty and rewarding on smooth roads, the unbelievably pricey JCW provides plenty of Mini character in a roomy if narrow cabin. But the ride is hard, the options also expensive, and styling divisive.

Ford TF Kuga Trend (from $36,240 plus on-roads).
Yes, with just 134kW/240Nm, Ford’s latest base SUV is behind for performance, but A1 chassis dynamics will elicit a grin.

Note, a diesel Mazda CX-5 is worth a look too.

Specs

Make and model: Subaru G4 Forester XT Premium
, Engine type: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo flat four petrol
, Layout: AWD
, Power: 177kW @ 5600rpm
, Torque: 350Nm @ 2400-3600rpm
, Transmission: CVT auto
, 0-100km: 7.5s
, Fuel consumption: 8.5L/100km
, CO2 rating: 197g/km
, Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4595/1795/1735/2640mm
, Weight: 1647kg
, Suspension: MacPherson struts/multi-link independent rear
, Steering: Electric rack and pinion
, Price: From $50,490 (as tested)

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