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First drive: Subaru Forester XT grows up

Fast Forester: Subaru's Forester XT gets more power and better fuel efficiency – and loses that bonnet scoop.

Turbo Forester XT sheds its cap-on-backwards leanings as Subaru chases sales


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23 Jan 2013

SUBARU has smoothed over its feisty Forester XT to broaden the appeal of the turbocharged flagship of its new-generation SUV range that hits showrooms this month.

While power and performance have been increased, overt “boy racer” features such as the pronounced bonnet scoop have been deleted in favour of family friendly design elements, a more refined ride and better fuel economy.

The company also has elected to dump the manual gearbox that comprised 15 per cent of XT sales in the previous generation, instead employing the latest continuously variable transmission (CVT) in place of the five-speed manual and dated four-speed auto, bringing the top petrol Forester into line with other newer Subaru models such as the Outback.

The CVT and smaller engine contribute to a 19 per cent improvement in fuel economy, even though the Forester XT is 40kg heavier than before, at 1629kg.

Standard features have also been ramped up with a resultant impact on price. The Forester XT now starts at $43,490 (plus on-road costs), an increase of $1500 or 3.5 per cent on the previous generation XT auto (or $3500 over the discontinued manual).

The range-topping XT Premium has been hiked $3000 or 6.3 per cent per cent to $50,490 compared with the old-generation auto (or $5000 over the old manual).

The XT sits on top of the Forester line-up that now starts with the 2.0-litre 2.0i manual at $30,990 – the same price as the previous 2.5-litre entry model.

The Forester XT’s new-generation boxer engine has been downsized from 2.5 litres to 2.0 litres, but thanks to direct injection and other refinements, has slightly more power – up from 169kW to 177kW at 5600rpm – and 9.4 per cent more torque, to 350Nm at 2400-3600rpm.

Acceleration from zero to 100km/h has been cut by 0.4 seconds, to 7.5 seconds.

The smaller engine is also more efficient, helping the Forester XT to achieve a 19 per cent fuel consumption improvement, down from 10.5 litres per 100km to 8.5 L/100km.

Describing the new Forester XT as “comfortably quick”, Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said the Forester XT was the sporty alternative, but not at the expense of comfort.

“It has been to finishing school,” he said.

Mr Senior said he expected the new XT to make up between 15 and 20 per cent of Forester sales – up from about 7.0 per cent in the previous generation.

He believes many of the buyers will come from traditional sedans, seeking a more interesting family vehicle with plenty of power.

For now at least, the XT will be the most powerful Forester in the range, with Subaru yet to say if will bring back the even more grunty S-Edition that mustered 193kW of power and 347Nm of torque from its turbocharged 2.5-litre flat four in the previous model.

The new XT's 177kW engine output is comparable with that of the 2.0-litre turbo engines of the most powerful Volkswagen Tiguan and Range Rover Evoque variants, and shades all of the four-cylinder engines in compact SUVs fielded by Subaru's Japanese and Korean rivals.

The engine employs a twin-scroll turbo to force air into the cylinders where multi-jet direction injection adds the juice.

With the bonnet scoop relegated to history, the turbo intercooler is now on the underside of the bonnet. Subaru says the deletion of the scoop in the new aluminium bonnet not only helps to improve aerodynamics (11 per cent better) but improves forward vision for the driver.

Like all new fourth-generation Foresters, the XT gets the all-new, bigger and more aerodynamic body based on a platform shared with the latest Impreza.

About 35mm longer than before at 4595mm, the Forester XT sits on a 26mm longer wheelbase that affords an extra 26mm of rear seat space.

The hot turbo model is differentiated from other Foresters by a mesh grille embedded in a unique front fascia, along with one-inch larger 18-inch alloy wheels.

The Forester XT becomes the second Subaru to gain direct fuel injection after the new BRZ sports coupe, but the first to combine it with turbocharging.

The system allows for a higher compression ratio and what Subaru claims is optimal air-fuel mixture for combustion near the spark plug. Fuel required is 95RON other petrol Foresters take 91RON.

The paddle-shift CVT has been tweaked to handle the higher torque of the turbo engine, with ratios optimised for the winding and hilly roads typically encountered by a Forester.

The transmission has up to eight “steps” to make it feel more like a conventional torque-converter transmission, and these steps can be varied with the new three-mode SI-Drive system that, with the press of a steering-wheel-mounted button, can set the driving mood between Intelligent (a conservative fuel-saving setting), Sport (for normal gear changes and throttle settings) and Sport Sharp (for red-line action).

The Forester XT also gains Subaru’s X-Mode – a system that engages a central electronic control of a range of systems such as ESC, traction control and hill descent control for safer driving in awkward conditions such as snow or dirt tracks when driving below 40km/h.

As befits its sporting pretensions, the Forester XT sits on a firmer suspension than other Foresters – struts at the front and double-wishbones at the back – that has been tweaked to deliver improved road holding and ride this time around.

However, it maintains the high 220mm ride height of the standard Forester, which Subaru claims is the highest in the class.

The front seat height has been raised more than 30mm for a more commanding view, while elbow room has been increased by 15mm.

Doors open an extra 135mm for easier entry and exit, while boot space has been increased by 55 litres.

However, that gain dips to 38 litres in the XT Premium due to the mechanism controlling the power-operated tailgate.

As 35 per cent of all Foresters end up fitted with tow bars, the towing capacity has been increased by 200kg to 1800kg for braked trailers.

Standard features on Forester XT include reversing camera (now on all Foresters), an electric sunroof, dual-zone climate control, alloy wheels and roof rails.

The XT Premium adds Subaru's EyeSight anti-collision system, a power-operated tailgate, automatic headlights and wipers, a premium Harman Kardon audio system, sat-nav, leather upholstery, heated front seats and door mirrors, eight-way driver's seat power adjustment and keyless start.

Subaru expects to sell about 12,000 Foresters this year, up from 11,533 in 2012. The XT is expected to account for between 15 and 20 per cent of those sales, more than double the previous 7.0 per cent of the previous model.

2013 Subaru Forester pricing*
2.5i (a)$32,990
2.5i-L (a)$35,990
2.5i-S (a)$43,990
2.0XT (a) $43,490
2.0XT Premium (a)$50,490
*Plus on-road costs

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