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Subaru Forester tS 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Subaru Forester tS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Subaru Forester tS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

For a mass-market manufacturer, Subaru's cult following is no less than a wonder of the modern industrial world. Subaru owners are as enthusiastic as Caterham owners, or Fender collectors. What's even more amazing is that, with such a hardcore base, Subaru has created a cult-within-a-cult with its little oval pink STi badge, harking back to muddy Rally GB stages in wintry Wales, and Colin McRae up on two wheels, or upended entirely.

There have, of course been faster Foresters in the past - dropped, toughened and raucous, the backwards baseball cap brigade love them almost as much as the WRX STi. Times have changed for the Forester, though - it's big and tall and you could hold a church service in the back. So instead of a full-fat STi, Subaru came up with a halfway house - the tS (no, that's not a typo, but they should perhaps have considered that it looks like one).

Price and features

The tS sits at the very top of the Forester range, almost double the $29,990 starting price for the 2.0iL S4 manual. In exchange for your hefty outlay of $54,990, you get 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, sat nav, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, safety goodies galore, active cruise control, heated electric front seats, automatic active LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, electric tailgate and plenty of STi bits and pieces.

Those bits are fitted after the car leaves Subaru's own line and is transferred to an STi conveyor belt (that's Subaru Technica International if you're new to this game). These include a black front grille, Brembo brakes front and rear, various black trim pieces, Enkei alloys, suspension parts, 15mm lower springs and STi dampers. Inside, you get lots of STi badges, a red starter button, some suede on the seats and red rings around the air-con controls. Racy.

There are no options - what you see is what you get, including all three available colours.

Subaru reckons this little lot is worth $12,000, yet it's only charging you  $7000 more than the XT Premium. It is worth nothing that the massive sunroof is deleted.

Subaru's Starlink entertainment and nav package powers an eight-speaker stereo and connects with your smartphone via USB or Bluetooth with some very basic app integration. Apple CarPlay this is not. Starlink is basic but clever with a super-snappy screen that is probably the fastest gun in the west.

There are no options - what you see is what you get, including all three available colours.

Practicality

The tall boot sports a minimum cargo volume of 422 litres with the rear seats in place, rising to 1474 litres when you fold them down and fill it to the roof. The full-size spare means there's a higher boot floor, so the lower ride height doesn't translate to a lower loading height.

Front and rear rows each get two cupholders taking the total to four and each door will hold a modestly sized bottle.

Storage for your bits and bobs is a bit limited - there's an awkwardly-shaped tray at the base of the centre stack that doesn't quite fit a plugged in iPhone 6-sized phone and there aren't many cubby holes or slots for oddments. The centre console's bin is tall and has a removable tray at the top, covering a USB port, although there are two cutouts to stop your cable being squashed.

Design

Normally, adding STi parts to an existing vehicle serves to make life difficult for those who like clean design, but in this rare case it actually helps sort out the over-busy look of the higher-end Foresters. The grille and front splitter clear up the riot of angles and chrome of the XT, bringing calm to the nose, with a discreet flash of red to betray its STi provenance. The big 19-inch Enkei alloys and lower ride height - with Brembo STi-branded calipers peeking out from behind the double-spoke wheels - show this Forester means business.

  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Subaru Forester tS. Picture credit: Peter Anderson.

The back end has a bit more blackout action on some trim pieces and a spoiler along with the badging. Overall, it's a vast improvement. The lower ride height also makes the rear end look less like the north face of the Eiger when you're approaching from behind.

Inside is really just a tarted-up version of the already decent cabin. There's some red bits and pieces, suede inserts in the seats and red trim on the bolsters. As with the XT Forester, there are screens everywhere, hopefully negating the "need" for aftermarket gauges once the yoof get their hands on the tS in future years. It should age well.

Engine and transmission

Being an STi-badged variant, you'd expect a fire-breathing version of the 2.0-litre boxer engine. Sadly, you'd be wrong. Under the bonnet is the same 177kW/350Nm horizontally opposed boxer turbo four cylinder petrol, driving all four wheels through Subaru's CVT, this time chopped up into eight speeds.

The tS is more about keeping the unique selling point of the Forester - a tall family wagon with better-than-modest off-road ability - while adding a bit of visual and handling aggro.

As a result, the 0-100km/h is unexcitingly unchanged at 7.5 seconds for the 1621kg machine. Towing is rated at 750kg unbraked and 1800kg for braked trailers.

As an aside, lucky Japanese market tS buyers get the full-whack 206kW engine. It remains to be seen whether that engine will reach our shores under a Forester bonnet.

Fuel consumption

The upside of that letdown is that fuel use is also unchanged in its official figures, with the company claiming the tS will drink premium unleaded at the rate of 8.5L/100km on the combined cycle. During a week of very mixed driving (conditions, drivers and loads differed from day to day) we averaged 11.0L/100km. There's no stop-start or other fuel-saving magic to offer any solace at the pumps.

Driving

It's only mildly disappointing to find there isn't any extra grunt in the tS, especially given the company's history. Subaru claims it is the only performance SUV under $80,0000, drawing an obvious comparison with the colossally silly - and brilliant - Audi SQ5. It's quite a stretch to put the two vehicles even in the same rooms as the same basket, but it will keep STi-aficionados/die-hards fuelled up for internet arguments and for the inevitable trolling of those who disagree.

The seat height and lots of glass mean you see a lot more of the horizon than in even more typical looking SUVs.

The tS is more about keeping the unique selling point of the Forester - a tall family wagon with better-than-modest off-road ability - while adding a bit of visual and handling aggro. The suspension changes flatten out the sometimes lurid body roll of the rest of the Forester range and also sort out the pitching of the nose under heavy braking.

The fatter tyres offer more grip but you can really hear them working in the corners. Little seems to have been done to send more power rearward to try and put an end to the annoying understeer. While its cornering limits are undeniably higher, it still feels top-heavy, although some of this is down to the high driving position and seats that lack support.  On the plus side, that seat height and lots of glass mean you see a lot more of the horizon than in even more typical looking SUVs.

The engine is typical Subaru turbo - characterful (although quite why a new exhaust wasn't specified is anyone's guess) and strong, with a thirst for the premium stuff. It does sling the Forester along at a decent clip, keeping the chunky car moving in a way that's probably quite unexpected for other road users. Sadly, it's largely ruined by the CVT.

Ruined should be taken in context - the CVT itself is one of the better variable-boxes on offer because by and large they are not much good in cars with big torque figures. In the tS, the behaviour is somewhere between rubber band and slurry auto, which is hardly in keeping with its sporty pretensions, paddle shift or not. When you are manually shifting, the transition between gears is lumpy and at high revs, the engine warble is drowned out by the usual CVT whine, so it's not very encouraging.

The cabin is reasonably quiet, though, with just a light rustling around the A-pillars, which is a pretty good achievement for a car with a big frontal area.

Safety

The tS comes 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. Two cameras are attached inside the cabin and look forward, providing lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation (high and low speed) and active cruise control data to the car's computers.

A fairly uncomplimentary assessment of the EyeSight system can be found in our earlier Forester XT review. It works most of the time and it is better to have it than not, but it does require patience.

Ownership

Subaru's warranty runs for three years/unlimited kilometres with a year's roadside assistance added in the form of a year's 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.

If you're buying a used tS, Subaru caps the price of scheduled servicing on all cars manufactured after 2006.

Verdict

The Forester tS is a carefully considered sporty version of the Forester in that it's largely cosmetic and the suspension changes are really just mild tweaks (despite the dramatic-sounding "inverted dampers") to improve tarmac manners at the expense of offroad ability. Those attracted to the STi badge aren't rock-hoppers, so that won't matter.

It's a sporty SUV rather than a performance one - you will need to spend the $80,000 Subaru itself suggests in its press material to get a properly quick mid-size SUV - and it ticks plenty of boxes for the Forester fanbase. The $7000 over the XT Premium is a decent chunk of money but it is more than a few (well, many) badges and some red pin stripes. And it makes the Forester much better-looking, which is worth the price of admission alone. The Subaru fan club will love it.

Would the tS be your pick of the Forester range, or would you prefer an XT? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Subaru Forester tS 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
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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