Subaru has been in the ‘compact SUV’ market since before that term even existed. The engineering-oriented Japanese marque pioneered all-wheel-drive passenger cars and station wagons over 40 years ago and remains a major player today.
This early work by Subaru is paying big dividends today, because compact SUVs compete in one of the fastest growing of all market segments. Interestingly, this doesn’t just apply to Australia; buyers in many other countries are discovering how much sense it makes to own affordable, driver friendly compact SUVs.
Which brings us to Subaru’s Forester, the midsize model in the extensive Subaru all-wheel-drive wagon range. So important is the Forester that Subaru Australia imported several pre-production generation-four Foresters to Australia to permit a select group of journalists to drive them on- and off-road this week. The new model won’t reach us downunder till February 2013.
In an interesting move, all models in the Subaru Forester range have satellite navigation as standard. However, it’s a rather basic system with maps that look more like kid’s drawings than the real thing.
New Forester can be specified with a 2.0 or 2.5-litre flat-four petrol engine, and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. However, only the 2.5 petrol can be specified with an automatic transmission, the others have a six-speed manual gearbox. The automatic is a CVT unit and Subaru’s engineers have done an excellent job of minimising the sometimes irritating ‘slipping-clutch’ sound and feel. Once that transmission is designed to sit behind all engines in the Forester range we are sure it will be a big winner.
The fourth-generation Subaru Forester is marginally smaller on the outside but clever design means the interior is slightly larger in most dimensions. Rear seat passengers are the biggest beneficiaries and I found my six-foot frame could sit easily behind itself, if you know what I mean.
As is the way with most latest generation cars the Subaru Forester is quieter and smoother than ever before, with cabin noise levels diminished to the sort of levels that used to require an expensive sedan to achieve. Luggage space is lost due to the installation of a full-size spare wheel in an area obviously designed for a space-saver. But given the number of Australian drivers who may take their Forester off road this is probably an acceptable sacrifice.
We road tested the EyeSight system fitted to the topline Forester. Unlike other crash avoidance and mitigation systems, Subaru's uses cameras, rather than radar, in its operation. Anything that can be seen by the human eye will create an image behind the cameras’ lenses, whereas radar only works when its beams are reflected back from metallic or similar surfaces, so may not ‘see’ pedestrians, cyclists or animals.
Though we never needed Eyesight for crash prevention we did witness the warnings it gave when we deliberately let our Forester wander out of its traffic lane. It was even able to see very vague lines at the edge of country roads, lines that had been all but worn away by age, harsh sunshine and vehicle tyres. Impressive, and a potential life saver in situations that may result in crashes typically classified as ‘unexplained single vehicle accidents’.
We did some reasonably serious driving in hills near Canberra as part of the press launch of the Forester. Its ground clearance of 220 mm is greater than that of all its competitors, even of some dedicated 4WDs. So deep ruts and large rocks will seldom cause hassles. The electronic traction controls, tagged X-Mode by Subaru, are arguably the best we have yet experienced; sophisticated, non-intrusive and simple to use. However, X-Mode is only fitted to Foresters with automatic transmission, not on manuals.
Downhill and uphill assist are controlled by the throttle and brake pedals, making them significantly more intuitive than the hand controls generally fitted. Even first time off-road users of a gen-four Forester will feel they are experts in the way the wagon responds. Having said that, it may be best that these people have some professional instruction before they become too brave and get themselves stuck.
On sealed roads, the added ground clearance of the Forester isn’t a problem unless pushed far harder than is ever likely to be attempted by the typical owner. Even then the electronics will do their best to keep you safe.
To say we are impressed by the latest Forester is an understatement. While competing vehicles in this class are becoming softer by the day, Subaru has stuck to its guns and produced a genuine off-road wagon. Even better, Forester’s on-road behaviour has been further refined despite the upgrading of its allroad abilities.
Though the new gen-four Forester won’t reach us downunder till February 2013 it may be an idea to contact your Subaru dealer well before then as there is likely to be an initial rush by existing owners wishing to update. However, they won’t have prices at this time.
Price: from $31,000 (approx.)
Onsale: February 2013
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC
Crash rating: 5-star (predicted)
Engines: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 110kW/198Nm, 2.5-litre 4-cyl petrol, 126kW/235Nm, 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 108kW/350Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or CVT auto; AWD
Thirst: 7.2L/100km; 168g/km CO2 (2.0 petrol); 8.1L/100km; 187g/km CO2 (2.5); 5.9L/100km; 156g/km CO2 (diesel)
Dimensions: 4.6m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.7m (H)
Spare: Full size
Mazda CX-5 AWD
Price: from $32,380
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 113kW/198Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 6.9L/100km; 91RON; CO2 160g/km
Nissan X-Trail AWD
Price: from $32,490
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 125kW/226Nm
Transmission: 6-spd manual; AWD
Thirst: 9.1L/100km; 91RON; CO2 216g/km
Honda CR-V AWD
Price: from $32,790
Engine: 2.4-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 140kW/222Nm
Transmission: 5-spd auto; AWD
Thirst: 8.7L/100km; 91RON; CO2 201g/km