It’s been a while since I’ve test driven a Forester and I’ll admit to being the poorer for the situation. With the head spinning onset of so many SUVs gracing our roads it’s easy to forget that the all wheel drive Subaru Forester has been there and done it long before many of the current flock arrived from overseas.
True, some of the newer SUVs might have more upmarket infotainment systems, they might sit higher, sport larger screens in the dash but when it comes to road holding capability, levels of build quality, sound insulation and a feeling of balance and laid back ease of driving, the Forester is still very capable of holding its own.
The Japanese-made Subaru Forester has always been an all wheel drive proposition. Some makers these days offer either two or all wheel drive – based primarily on front wheel drive – Subaru have steadfastly remained with their trade mark all wheel drive system in the Forester. This means there is no sensation of torque feedback from the front wheels when the Forester’s 126 KW horizontally opposed fuel injected four cylinder engine is pumping the ponies. Instead there’s merely a feeling of controlled acceleration thanks to the inherent smoothness and lack of vibration from the Subaru’s boxer engine.
The engine is very low in the engine bay when compared to the usual in line four or V6 power plants, which contributes greatly to the Forester’s low centre of gravity. Not surprisingly, all Subaru’s are acclaimed for their stability and all round excellent handling; so much so that many awards have come their way in serious competition.
For the average driver these attributes come down to sheer driving pleasure, the little things that make one vehicle so much better to drive than the next. And it’s in ease of driving and the enjoyment of the experience where the Subaru outshines many rivals.
The 2014 Forester 2.5i - L as reviewed, with its 2.5L petrol engine, featured a seamless six speed CVT unit; with the manual Forester being equipped with a 2.0L engine by way of comparison. The auto was very slick although steering column paddles are there for the driver who likes to select ratios; my feeling is that most drivers won’t bother.
A quick word on Constantly Variable Transmission ( CVT) units. Many modern SUV’s are equipped with these seamless auto units. Some cars, unfortunately seem to suffer from a little miss match between CVT gearing and engine with the result that the engine has to work mighty hard, and with some excessive noise, to keep things up and running.
This situation has seen the somewhat cheeky term ‘Buzz Box’ being coined and cheerfully applied to some cars – not the Forester.
With a useful 235Nm of torque on tap both the wagon’s CVT unit and engine are always doing it easy. When the Forester’s tacho needle moves up the dial it does so somewhat sedately without engine revs drowning out all else –Subaru have effectively taken the buzz out of the box! In fact the lack of under bonnet and road noise intrusion is an impressive feature of the Forester.
The Forester’s 2.5L petrol engine is quite under-stressed too, with 100km/h highway cruising seeing only 1700rpm on the tachometer. A supple suspension consisting of McPherson struts up front, a double wishbone independent set up at the rear, was easily capable of ironing out prominent speed bumps in car parks plus ripples and bumps on the open road encountered at speed.
Off road work is optimised by the Forester’s X Mode controlled speed program, which uses the ABS system to maintain a selected speed (up to 40km/h) when going down steep inclines or in really rough going.
Among notable features for the 2.5i –L included a leather wrapped wheel, fog lights, 17” alloy wheels, dual zone air conditioning, cruise control and a reversing camera linked to an 11cm wide information screen, which allowed an on-going assessment of fuel use plus stereo system information. The screen, when compared to some competitors in the Subaru’s price range – $36k+ – was somewhat small.
Electric windows, height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, iPod streaming plus a voice active Bluetooth connectivity system were also standard fare, as were stereo audio controls for the excellent six speaker sound system.
I found the Subaru’s interior to be well finished albeit somewhat subdued. However, night driving aesthetics – with emphasis on illumination of major dials and gauges in a subtle rather than eye catching manner – were very good. Headlights were also bright and well focussed. The 2.5i-L’s fabric seats were comfortable, quite roomy and that ample head and leg room are certainly a bonus. The reclining rear seat, in particular, was very well cushioned and a deep floor depth was very noticeable.
Storage was in plentiful supply throughout the cabin with large door pockets up front, a rear map pocket plus a flip down centre storage bin in the console ready for action. The rear luggage compartment was somewhat shallow although quite reasonable at almost 450L capacity. Note that the rear seats have a 60/40 split fold capability to provide extra cargo area. Rear loading is simple thanks to a lower than usual loading lip and a wide uplifting door. On the topic of doors both driver and passengers will enjoy the way in which the Forester’s doors open almost at right angles to the main body of the car for ease of access and departure.
The Forester is also blessed with svelte lines based on smooth rather than boxy styling and with an overall ground clearance of some 220mm all round has ground clearance approaching that of several of today’s larger 4x4 wagons.
The Forester’s fuel capacity is 60L and it has a smart fuel saving auto on/off engine system, which automatically turns the engine off at traffic lights, yet the moment the driver’s foot disengages the brake or touches the accelerator pedal the engine restarts instantly. The system takes a little bit to become accustomed to and is totally driver activated. I saw no reason to disengage it and was happy with the 10.5L per 100km fuel consumption achieved during 500km+ of mainly city driving.
Fellow small boat owners are going to be happy with the Forester’s towing capacity rating of 750kg unbraked, 1500kg for a braked trailer. The Kampe fishing team towed the TABS 4300 Bullshark with its 40hp E-Tec on a few local fishing forays and were mighty grateful for the Forester’s all wheel drive capability during a low tide retrieval at a muddy ramp on the Logan River. The rear wheels were in the slush, the front ones on the clean section of ramp and we had a perfect lift off. The mud cabs were nice, too.
In all, the Subaru Forester has a lot going for it. It’s a great all rounder with many things done very well but with handling and road manners as really outstanding attributes. As a family RV/people mover it also shines, and there’s no doubt the full time all wheel drive system would be very handy around boat ramps or on forest tracks.
Safety is paramount with a 5 star ANCAP rating, ABS and EBD also standard. The reviewed Forester was provided by Keystar Auto World of Rothwell. Retail price of the 2.5 petrol auto was $36,879 with Keystar offering free window tinting as a bonus for the New Year. Warranty is three years with unlimited kilometres while Data Dot anti theft protection comes standard.Reads: 2696