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Subaru Forester tS 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Bill McKinnon road tests and reviews the Subaru Forester tS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict. The performance arm adds go-fast gear and Subaru fits an odd limited edition badge. When Subaru sprinkles some go-faster goodness on its mid-size Forester SUV, the result is usually impressive because it's such a

Bill McKinnon road tests and reviews the Subaru Forester tS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

The performance arm adds go-fast gear and Subaru fits an odd limited edition badge.

When Subaru sprinkles some go-faster goodness on its mid-size Forester SUV, the result is usually impressive because it's such a well-engineered, capable machine in the first place.

It's not a regular occurrence, though, with Subaru deliberately restricting high-performance Foresters to limited numbers and infrequent release. According to Subaru, this exclusivity further enhances the Forester's already solid resale values.

The 2011-12 Forester S-Edition blew everything else in the class into the weeds with its 193kW 2.5-litre turbo WRX engine. According to industry valuer Redbook, it still commands more than 50 per cent of its $50,990 new price, something very few four to five-year-old cars can do. Most are lucky to pull 35 per cent.

Only 300 examples of the 2016 Forester tS are available in Australia. Many "limited editions" become unlimited editions when dealers start screaming for more.

However, Subaru swears on a stack of sacred camshafts that when all 300 are sold, that's it (for this model, at least). As I write, about 150 are still available in showrooms, priced at $54,990.

The Forester tS is based on the XT Premium, with that model's driveline of 177kW 2.0-litre turbo "boxer" four-cylinder and constantly variable transmission left unchanged.

Its claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time is 7.5 seconds, which is respectable rather than rapid and a full second slower than the 2012 S-Edition.

So why does the tS cost $7000 more than XT Premium? Subaru has significantly upgraded the chassis with performance hardware from its Subaru Technica International (STi) performance division, to make an already fine handling SUV even better.

This includes firmer springs and dampers, the latter inverted at the front, plus stiffer bushings and a "flexible tower bar" between the upper front strut mounts to improve cornering response and precision while maintaining compliance. Ride height drops by 35mm.

Brakes from Brembo — with four-piston front calipers — are a welcome improvement on Subaru's merely adequate standard stoppers, while 19-inch Enkei alloy wheels are shod with 245/45 Bridgestone Turanza tyres.

The rest is mostly bling: sheet metal features red STi badging and stripes, spoilers at both ends and Crystal Black highlights on three bespoke colours: White Pearl, Black Silica and WR Blue.

The front seats are luxuriously comfortable on a long drive, and beautifully trimmed in leather, suede and STi embroidery.

Inside, man-cave black is the only decor available, relieved by red stitching and accents, suede door trims, STi logos wherever you look and an STi push-button start.

The front seats are luxuriously comfortable on a long drive, and beautifully trimmed in leather, suede and STi embroidery. However, they lack the upper body support of pukka sports chairs so you get flung about a bit when cornering in the tS — a pair of cuddly WRX STi sports seats would be a better fit here.

You also get all the fruit from the XT Premium, apart from the sunroof. Subaru's Eyesight camera-based driver assist safety tech includes adaptive cruise, forward collision alert, emergency braking and lane departure warning but no blind spot detection.

Heated front seats, satnav, cornering headlights, power tailgate and Harman Kardon audio are also standard.

On the road

This isn't an SUV version of the WRX STi stablemate — with 44kW less power, an extra 84kg and a much higher centre of gravity, Forester tS won't see which way Rex went.

That said, performance is at the pointy end of the SUV spectrum. Subaru's adjustable Si Drive ECU has three drive modes: I (for Intelligent, or code for sluggish, with excessive turbo lag), Sports and Sports Sharp.

On rough country roads, the ride is surprisingly comfortable.

The latter two deliver smooth, strong, seamless shove, with increased responsiveness in Sports Sharp, which also switches the CVT to stepped eight-speed mode. Paddle-shifters allow you to select as in a conventional auto.

It likes a premium drink. I averaged high eights-low nines on the open road and low-mid teens in town.

Forester's light, tight body, the STi chassis upgrades and active torque vectoring enable the tS to tackle corners with fine balance, control and precision, but the overassisted steering gives little feedback from the front end, which feels remote and not quite as bitey as it should.

On rough country roads, the ride is surprisingly comfortable, while compliance improves with speed and mid-corner bumps don't upset the tS, as they do some other Subarus. Tyre noise is excessive on coarse bitumen.

The high SUV driving position, low windowsills and tall roof give the driver a clear view around the car and the cabin a lovely sense of space and light. Kids will be happy in the rear seat, which has ample legroom for adults.

The dash needs an overhaul, though. Its multiple multimedia screens and control sets are dated and the ergonomics are messy, confusing and potentially dangerous.

The main touchscreen is mounted low on the dash and the icons are small, so you have to take your eyes off the road for too long to do simple tasks. Voice control gets it completely wrong too often to bother.

On test, our car's Eyesight cameras were temporarily deactivated on a few occasions: once by low, direct afternoon sun, again by a lightly misted windscreen on a cold morning and, one night, for no reason I could work out. This doesn't happen with radar-based applications, though they too have their foibles.

Verdict

At the price you won't find another mid-size SUV with the performance or handling of the Forester tS. Its closest competition isn't an SUV but it is a Subaru — the new Levorg, a 197kW 2.0-litre WRX-based wagon priced from $42,990. I'd take that any day. It's even got a bigger boot.

What's new

Price - An expensive Forester but a good value performance SUV.

Technology - STi running gear sharpens up the Forester's dynamics but EyeSight, voice control and the touchscreen need more work.

Performance - No gain over the XT Premium. If you want a Subaru sports wagon, buy the Levorg.

Driving - By SUV standards, it's sporty-ish, confident and secure on our rubbish roads.

Design - Subaru stodge but blue- chip Made-in-Japan quality.

Would the Forester tS tempt you way from your SUV? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Subaru Forester pricing and spec info.

Pricing guides

$25,919
Based on 348 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$16,000
Highest Price
$35,950

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.0D-L 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $16,000 – 26,999 2016 Subaru Forester 2016 2.0D-L Pricing and Specs
2.0D-S 2.0L, Diesel, CVT AUTO $22,500 – 29,888 2016 Subaru Forester 2016 2.0D-S Pricing and Specs
2.0i-L 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $15,500 – 21,890 2016 Subaru Forester 2016 2.0i-L Pricing and Specs
2.0XT 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $26,880 – 31,990 2016 Subaru Forester 2016 2.0XT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7