Subaru Forester XT Premium 2017 review | road test

16 February 2017
 by 
, CarsGuide

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Subaru Forester XT Premium with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Subaru's Forester has something of a cult following. Well, I say something, it's got a huge one. These things continue to fly out the door, riding the SUV wave Subaru saw coming long before the seismic event that started it.

Over the years, the Forester has gone from slightly-higher riding wagon that sounded like a WRX to a full-on majestic mid-size SUV, bigger than a Mazda CX-5. Being a Subaru, though, it has beaten its own path, sticking with cow-pushing ruggedness, an off-beat boxer engine and some home-grown  technology.

Price and features

The Forester range starts with a 2.0-litre manual at $29,990, moves straight on to the 2.5i-L petrol, the $33,490 diesel then a few more petrols and diesels before ending up at the top of the range Forester tS at $54,990. One step back - or seven thousand, depending on your view - is the Forester XT Premium, priced at $47,990. All of them are all-wheel drive, a Subaru signature, and a $2000 option on most other SUVs.

Want any options? Tough, there aren't any.

For this CX-5 Akera-baiting price you get dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, electric tailgate, power front seats with heating and driver's seat memory, part-leather trim, remote central locking and keyless start, active cruise control, power windows, huge sunroof, active LED headlights, sat nav, auto wipers, headlamp washers, powered and heated mirrors, roof rails that actually work, a full-size spare, comprehensive trip computer, 18-inch alloys and privacy glass on the rear windows. Subaru's own safety package, called 'EyeSight', is standard.

The eight-speaker stereo is powered by the 'Starlink' entertainment system, controlled by a 7.0-inch touchscreen.

Want any options? Tough, there aren't any. Not even metallic paint costs extra, which is excellent news.

Practicality

The tall boot kicks off with a minimum cargo volume of 422 litres with the rear seats in place, more than tripling to 1474 litres when you flop them down and stack your chattels to the roof.

Front and rear rows each get two cupholders for a maximum of four and each door will hold a modestly-sized bottle.

the inside delivers exactly what the outside suggests - height and space.

Storage for your bits and bobs is a bit limited - there's an awkward-shaped tray at the base of the centre stack that doesn't quite fit a plugged in iPhone 6-sized phone. The centre console's bin is tall and has a removable tray at the top, covering the USB port.

Design

Boxy. Practical. Slabby. A bit busy at the front. These were a few of the opinions from neighbours and shopping centre car park buttonholers eager to have a look at the Forester. People are real fans of this car, not blind anything-else-won't-do fans, but all of them have fond memories of their Subarus past or present, so looks don't matter too much.

The Forester XT Premium builds in the inherent busy-ness of the front end design, throwing in more chrome and adding LED driving lights. It looks pretty good at night, it has to be said, bombing down the road towards you with an Audi-like luminescence.

In classic Subaru what-you-see-is-what-you-get style, the inside delivers exactly what the outside suggests - height and space. There's a terrific view out front and the huge side windows ensure you feel like you're out and about and not deep undercover. You sit high in the Forester, imparting a king of the road feel without the car being obnoxiously large. Wind open that huge sunroof and the cabin floods with light and is fantastically airy.

The inside, like most other Subarus, is really well executed, if quite conservative. One imagines LCD screens were going cheap because as well as the 7.0-inch touchscreen for stereo and sat nav duties, there are two smaller ones high in the dash - one for climate control (as far away from the controls as possible) and another for one of the most comprehensive trip computers you'll find this side of a race car.

A third LCD screen nestles between the two dials in the instrument panel which, like most of the controls, is clear and easy to use. Some are packed far too tightly but this one is quite good.

Engine and transmission

The XT Premium is powered by the Japanese company's venerable 2.0-litre flat-four turbo, in this case developing a handy 177kW/350Nm. With the eight-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT) delivering power to all four wheels, Subaru says you'll crack the ton in 7.5 seconds.

This isn't a style-led SUV at all, it's what we used to call a four-wheel drive.

The Forester XT Premium is rated to tow 1800kg braked and 750kg unbraked.

Fuel consumption

Subaru claims a combined fuel figure of 8.5L/100km versus our real world average of 11.4L/100km. And that's premium unleaded. We spent some time in flowing traffic, a bit of motorway and some city driving - watching the fuel figure climb alarmingly in stop-start commutes is tempered by its quick fall when you're moving at a steady pace.

There is no stop-start or energy recovery cleverness to cut consumption.

Safety

The XT Premium is packed with seven airbags (including driver's knee), ABS, stability and traction controls and brake assist. In 2013, ANCAP awarded the Forester five stars, the highest score possible.

EyeSight is Subaru's own camera-based safety package. Cameras are attached inside the windscreen and look forward, providing the lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation (high and low speed) and active cruise control data to the car's computers. And, seemingly, 400W of beepers.

Driving

The XT Premium is, in many ways, a bit of a throwback. This isn't a style-led SUV at all, it's what we used to call a four-wheel drive. Whether by accident or design, Subaru has stubbornly stuck to a formula that its obvious competitors have leapt straight over, with much more sporting ride, handling and styling.

The Forester rides high above the ground and stands almost 180cm tall. From behind the wheel, you get a great view forward through that big windscreen that manages to avoid the pitfall of bad reflections usually associated with such a large glass area.

If you're a ridiculous hoon/committed to thorough testing, you'll find simply breezing over all but the sharpest speed humps barely causes a stir.

The front seats seem tiny, with little under-thigh support, almost no lateral support and feel like overstuffed armchairs, an odd choice for a car that will take on a muddy bog and win. That victory comes with the aid of Subaru's X-Mode, which locks the centre diff and primes the hill descent control.

The ride is very impressive. If you're a ridiculous hoon/committed to thorough testing, you'll find simply breezing over all but the sharpest speed humps barely causes a stir. The trade-off is a fair amount of body lean, but it's never excessive, while the nose resists diving under heavy braking.

The engine is a strong performer, but is let down the by the CVT. Not only does the transmission wheeze and whine a bit, but it's way too rubber-bandy. There's no tension in it, it just sort of acknowledges your presence and will get round to you, kind of like Sybil Fawlty on the phone to her friends. The fact it has eight artificial steps to mimic gears is more than a little baffling.

You can improve things by switching from Intelligent, to Sport Intelligent to Sport # (that really is a terrible name) via one of the 16 steering wheel buttons, which adds some much needed zing and a bit more bite to the throttle and transmission.

The XT Premium is loaded with stuff, but not all of it works the way it should. Having recently driven other Subarus, it is safe to say (no pun intended) (okay, maybe just a bit) that the EyeSight systems can and do work. It seems like the installation in the Forester, or the version it's running, isn't quite right.

It is the most frantic, over-cautious, over-protective safety system in any car  - it's constantly screaming at you about cars ahead, cars on the other side of the road, cars in the same postcode. We found ourselves jabbing at the buttons on the ceiling to shut it off, just to get some peace and quiet.

If there are any vaguely confusing lines on the road, it fires up with more false positives than the Census's IT security team. The lane departure warning is spotty and the whole thing stops working when driving towards the sun, which kind of defeats the purpose - when your view ahead is compromised, you want the tech at your back. It shuts off with a soft ping, like a mumbled, "Sorry Mum."

It was infuriating the first time I drove a Forester with EyeSight, but even more so after driving the Outback and Levorg where it's far more composed and less like that screaming goat on YouTube.

The active cruise control is little better. Yes, while you're on the move, it's great. It's a bit heavy on the brakes, most of them are, so that's fine. If the car in front has stopped in the road, it will bring you and the 1657kg XT to a stop.

And then release the brakes.

It's not that all this stuff doesn't work - in the end, leaving it all on might save your life or someone else's - but it's irritating to the point where you just want it to be quiet.

Ownership

Subaru’s warranty runs for three years/unlimited kilometres with a year's roadside assistance added in the form of a subscription to your local motoring organisation such as NRMA, RACV, or RACQ.

Fixed price servicing is also offered, with the first three years covered over six services. Intervals are at six months or 12,500km, with prices from $307.41 for the A and E services, up to $517.62 for the D service at two years/50,000km. Over the three years, the scheme will cost you $2217.09 or $739.03 per year.

Fixed price servicing won't apply after 39 months or 78,000km.

Verdict 

After all that, you're probably wondering what I saw in this car. Quite a lot, as it happens. The Forester is a tough-as-guts medium SUV, stuffed with gear for a decent price. Practicality wins the day, with comfortable seating for four (or five with a smaller fifth passenger) heaps of light and space and it'll tow the boat or caravan into the bargain. On top of that, it'll cheerfully plough through moderate sand, mud and creeks when called upon to do so with that effortless Subaru flat-four growl.

If Subaru can fix the front seats and throw a couple of radar sensors at the EyeSight, most of the silly irritations will disappear.

Is the Forester still a mainstream SUV player? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Specifications

  • Price From $47,990
  • Fuel consumption 8.5L/100km (combined), 197g/km CO2 Tank 60L
  • Safety 5-star ANCAP
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 3 years/unlimited
  • Service Interval 6 months/12,500km
  • Engine 1.998L turbo 4-cyl premium unleaded, 177kW/350Nm
  • Transmission 8-spd CVT automatic, AWD
  • Spare Full size
  • Turning circle 10.6m diameter
  • Dimensions 4595mm (L), 1795mm (W), 1735mm (H)

Subaru Forester XT Premium 2017 review | road test

What we like

  • Light and space
  • Strong engine
  • Standard safety gear...

What we don't

  • Fuel consumption
  • Front seats
  • ...some of which needs work

Key Features

  • 5 Star Safety

Rivals

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