What? No bonnet scoop, no manual change, a CVT auto? You've got be kidding? The boy racers aren't going to like what Subaru has done with the latest version of its turbocharged Forester XT. But you know what?
Subaru doesn't really care, because it reckons with the changes it has made it's going to sell more XTs anyway. Subaru Australia boss Nick Senior explains that many people find the styling, especially the bonnet scoop "too overt''.
The more restrained look of the 2013 Forester, minus the some might say infamous scoop, is expected to appeal to a broader cross section of people, Senior says. "You could say it's gone to finishing school,'' he says.
The previous five-speed manual transmission has also been dropped, unneeded and apparently unwanted as it accounted for just 20 per cent of sales. Fair enough. But a CVT? No one wants a bloomin' CVT? What the hell were they thinking?
Believe it or not, this particular transmission works brilliantly, with none of the "zoomy'' up and down feeling that we've come to associate with CVTs. In fact, it's probably the best application of the technology that we've seen to date, with eight steps or gears to choose from in the sportiest of the car's three drive modes.
Power in the new XT is up 4.7 per cent and torque has risen a more significant 9.4 per cent, at 177kW and 350Nm compared with the previous XT's 169kW and 320Nm even though this one has a smaller 2.0 litre engine.
The secret ingredient is direct injection, a twin scroll turbocharger, higher engine compression and the addition of variable valve timing on both the inlet and outlet sides this time, along with a multitude of other changes.
In terms of maintenance, the timing belt has been replaced with a maintenance-free chain that will significantly lower service costs. The car still takes 95 Premium unleaded, but fuel consumption is down 19 per cent to 8.5 litres/100km (compared to 10.5 before). The chassis is lighter and stronger and the suspension firmer, but not at the sacrifice of ride comfort, with rebound springs added to the front dampers for the first time.
Purists may deplore the fact the new XT comes with a CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission, in contrast to the previous model's traditional four-speed auto. We were sceptical at first too, but this CVT is nothing like those that we have sampled before.
It's smooth, responsive, and with conveniently located wheel-mounted paddle shifts offering between 6 and 8 steps (gears) to choose from depending on the drive mode selected. Trust me. Try it and you'll never look back.
The old one was good for 7.1 seconds to 100km/h in manual form and 7.9 seconds with the automatic. The new one slots in between with a time of 7.5 seconds. Not to forget the 2.5-litre 193kW Forester S Edition in essence a Forester with the WRX engine that trumps the lot at 6.5 seconds.
It's worth noting at this point the XT costs about the same as the superseded S, with more tech but less performance.
It's bigger of course, 35mm longer in fact, with a 25mm longer wheelbase and weighs about 100kg more than before even with an aluminium bonnet to save weight. That translates to more room inside, particularly for rear seat passengers.
The XT rides on 18 inch wheels and in the absence of the bonnet scoop, can be distinguished from regular Foresters by its mesh radiator grille. It does however retain a twin exhaust system that it seems is not viewed as being in any way overt.
Changes to the body have seen the front A-pillar moved forward 200mm, giving the car a sleeker appearance and better field-of-vision for the driver. At the same time the rear of the roof has been lowered for better aerodynamic performance. The door openings are also wider for easier exit-entry.
The entry level XT is priced from $43,490 while the XT Premium with extra kit is priced from $50,490. Both get the same mechanicals and both are fitted with a large sunroof. Premium adds leather, heated seats, push button start, auto lights and wipers, satellite navigation, Harman-Kardon audio and a power tailgate.
It also includes the EyeSight driver assist system that includes auto braking, active cruise control and lane departure warnings.
With a twin scroll turbocharger it lacks the urgency or ham-fisted punch of the WRX, but it's deceptive because it is still pretty quick for an SUV. Standing start acceleration is best described as linear with an emphasis on a smoother, more refined delivery of power.
Some drivers, especially those who've owned a Rex could find the car less exciting to drive. If you haven't, then you're not going to miss it. Mid-range acceleration is strong, with plenty of get up and go for overtaking, and a variety of drive modes from which to choose, including Intelligent, Sport and Sport# selected via two buttons on the steering wheel.
The latter is our preferred mode of transport, along with liberal use of the steering wheel mounted change paddles that provide maximum control over the proceedings. With six cogs in Sport mode and eight cogs from which to choose in Sport# mode the driver is surely spoiled for choice.
Subaru says the ratios have been optimised for winding roads, hills and other engaging driving conditions. The result is greater overall control of the car, making it easy to flick down two or three gears at a time, without the usual waiting period. There's been a huge improvement in the way the car rides and handles, giving it a more connected to the road feel, with brakes that are stiffer and more responsive, and allow deeper braking into corners.
The XT is no WRX substitute. They're two very different cars with very different characters. If you've never driven a Rex before you won't be disappointed but we don’t know whether we'd shell out the extra $7K for the Premium model though?
Subaru Forester XT
Price: from $43,490 plus on-road costs
Safety rating: 5 stars
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Body: 5-seat wagon
Dimensions (L/WB/W/H): 4595/2640/1795/1735
Weight: 1629 to 1647kg
Engine: 2.0-litre direct-injection horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder petrol, 177kW/350Nm
Transmission: 8-speed CVT automatic
Performance (0 to 100km/h): 7.5 seconds