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First drive: Subaru impresses with latest Forester

Power play: The Forester’s near-new 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer petrol engine now produces 136kW at 5800rpm and 239Nm at 4400rpm, up 9kW and 4Nm.

Subaru Australia eyes sharp pricing for new Forester as GoAuto gets a brief drive


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5 Jul 2018


SUBARU Australia has revealed that the fifth-generation Forester mid-size SUV will be sharply priced and highly specified when it enters local showrooms on September 1 this year.
Speaking to GoAuto last week at the Forester first international media drive in Shizuoka, Japan, Subaru Australia managing director Colin Christie reiterated that the mid-size SUV’s line-up will likely mirror that of the new-generation Impreza small car and XV SUV.
“We’re still finalising it. It’s (still) probably going to be between three and four variants in the range,” he said.
“That’s what we’re thinking at the moment – following the XV and Impreza (line-ups). They’ve been incredibly successful for us since launch.”
As previously reported, the entry-level manual and turbo-petrol flagship variants have been axed from the Forester line-up alongside the diesel engine option, with Mr Christie indicating its yet-to-be-finalised price bracket will contract accordingly.
“We’ve had a look around (at our rivals), and the view at the moment is the pricing is extremely competitive,” he said.
“If you look at the base (variant), in particular, as we released (its) specification … it’s a really highly-specced car. (With) EyeSight (advanced driver-assist systems) as standard across the range, there’ll be nothing close to it in terms of entry specification.”
Mr Christie was unable to confirm if pricing for equivalent variants would increase given these improved specification levels. 
“The interesting challenge is there’s almost no equivalent variants … so it’s really hard trying to match them up, because they’re so different in terms of specification levels and even just starting positions,” he said.
One of the Forester’s headline new features, the Driver Monitoring System (DMS), will be included in the range-topping grade but not the price leader, but it is unclear if it will be available in mid-spec grades.
Mr Christie cautioned that a turbocharged petrol flagship was unlikely due to the low sales volume of the outgoing XT grades.
“I think the challenge is, once it got to the end (of its current life cycle), it was a low-volume product. XT, it’s a halo car, and we’re disappointed it’s not going to be part of the range,” he said.
“I think the reality is Subaru have done the exact right thing, which is put all their energy and focus on making an incredible car in that sort of structure.
“In terms of long term, there’s nothing in the planning that we’re aware of for a turbo version to come back into that car, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future.”
Furthermore, Mr Christie indicated that a more powerful STI variant of the Forester is currently not likely, but other sporty versions could be.
“I couldn’t see a full-blown STI variant, certainly in the medium term. In terms of the tuned by (STI, or tS), they’re certainly the sort of things we look at … (alongside) a CrossBreak or Forester Sport, that we’re looking at with the factory right now if that’s an option at some stage,” he said.
The aforementioned CrossBreak variant was exclusively offered in the Japanese market fourth-generation Forester range but has returned as a global offering in the new model, while the tS is currently available in the BRZ sportscar line-up but could be used elsewhere.
Mr Christie was quick to defend the evolutionary redesign of the Forester, stressing that the new model builds upon its predecessor’s renowned foundations.
“It's been a design that has evolved over the generations and, I think the designers have done a terrific job by changing the things that needed to be changed, yet (they) left the ones that made it such a successful model,” he said.
“It’s the old adage: don’t fix what isn’t broken. The reality is that it’s been a terrific car, and the styling has evolved to suit the market.”
After a brief drive of the new Forester at the Cycle Sports Centre in Shizuoka, Japan, we can happily report the petrol model showed plenty of promise, with its interior packaging, handling and ride comfort proving to be highlights.
The tight test circuit was punctuated by hairpin turns, sweeping bends and chicanes that put the Forester through its paces, but it showed welcome improvements to bodyroll, even if its increased weight (up 15-25kg depending on variant) and larger dimensions (15mm longer and 20mm wider) lend themselves to the opposite.
While mid-size SUVs are not always dynamically capable, the previous Forester was one of the better offerings around the twisty stuff, and this new model takes this successful formula a step further.
Much of this success is owed to its new Variable Gear Ratio steering system, which was appreciably much heavier than before. At the same time, it did not require the driver to put up a fight, while its quick response and steady control were also good.
The revised suspension set-up claims responsibility for this improved dynamism, too, thanks to the relocation of the rear stabiliser bar directly onto the vehicle body, among other minor changes.
The roads at the Sports Cycle Centre are silky smooth compared to Australia’s lower-quality tarmac, so it is too early to pass judgement on how the Forester’s ride will stack up in local real-world conditions.
As such, we will wait until we can test it Down Under, but the ride was supple on the test track and recovered quickly when the vehicle temporarily lifted. These early positive signs hold great promise – on perfect surfaces.
Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system has plenty of grip on the tarmac.
However, where it really came into its own was on an off-road course where we tested the enhanced X-Mode that features regular, deep snow and mud settings.
The circuit itself was by no means challenging, but the Forester proved to be more than capable, unlike some other high-riding soft-roaders.
X-Mode demonstrably used brake torque vectoring while altering throttle response to overcome deeper ruts. However, the alternate Normal driving mode proved to be more than enough in most scenarios.
About 90 per cent of the parts in the Forester’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer petrol engine are new, thanks to the introduction of direct injection.
As a result, power is up 9kW, to 136kW at 5800rpm, while torque jumps 4Nm, to 239Nm at 4400rpm, with the increased outputs felt behind the wheel.
The Forester was still no speed demon, as it laboured up steep inclines and needed plenty of revs, but most buyers will likely be pleased by the extra urge. Performance and efficiency figures are yet to be disclosed.
Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) continues to soldier on in the Forester, now in its latest form, which ushers in a seven-speed manual mode – one more ratio than its forebear.
However, as CVTs do, this one was frustrating as it attempted to delicately optimise performance alongside efficiency, even if it was noticeably better.
Most drivers will not be bothered, but enthusiasts will inevitably be turned off by Subaru’s persistence with this set-up that saw engine speeds bounce around as the throttle was gently prodded.
While Subaru claims the Forester’s noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels have been reduced, our initial impressions indicated otherwise.
We found that the upgraded powertrain was noisier than before under full throttle, while wind noise over the repositioned side mirrors and tyre roar from the 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels were also prevalent.
The Forester’s exterior may have been conservatively redesigned, but its interior has taken a major leap forward with a higher-quality, premium-like feel, thanks to the addition of more soft-touch materials and swathes of artificial leather – and that’s just on the entry-level variant.
Nevertheless, the Forester’s best feat is its more practical tailgate opening, which is now 1300mm wide, up 134mm, making loading items sideways, such as golf bags, much easier. As a result, cargo capacity is up 15 litres, to 520L.
Plenty of rear legroom was on offer sitting behind our 184cm driving position, but headroom was much tighter, with less than an inch between our head and the roofliner.
The aforementioned Driver Monitoring System proved to be quite neat. Similar in operation to the Apple iPhone X’s Face ID facial recognition feature, it uses an infrared sensor to process driver behaviours and react accordingly.
Demonstrably, it recognised up to five different drivers and immediately automatically adjusted the seating and mirror positions to suit their individual preferences.
Australian pricing and full specification for the Forester will be announced closer to its September launch – an event we look forward to attending after our brief but good first taste of the new model.

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