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Subaru Forester 2020 review: Hybrid S

The Forester looks solid; a station wagon with the height of an SUV.

It’s exciting news that Subaru has released a hybrid version of its popular mid-size SUV, the Forester. With such a solid foundation, adding a hybrid option can only be a step forward, with the main benefits being fuel savings and lower carbon emissions.

Not all hybrids are created equal however, so it’s best to assess each car to make sure it matches your expectations. 

The Forester Hybrid S costs around $3000 more than a regular Forester, and this is the top-of-the-range car, so it comes in at $45,990, before on road costs.

It’s in a category with the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V but if you’re comparing hybrids, you’ll be looking closely at the Toyota RAV4, too. 

Here’s how it performed over seven days for this week’s family review. 

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✅ What does it look like?

It’s hard to tell the regular Forester S from the Hybrid S, save for a badge on the back suggesting it's a hybrid.

The Forester looks solid, like a station wagon with the height of an SUV. The Forester looks solid, like a station wagon with the height of an SUV.

So, they look as a Forester does... solid. A station wagon with the height of an SUV.

Subaru is one of the only companies to champion this shape and it works well, carving a point of difference in the crowded mid-size SUV market

Subaru is one of the only companies to champion this shape and it works well. Subaru is one of the only companies to champion this shape and it works well.

Inside is quite stylish. Being the top-of-the-range model there are leather seats that are also heated and power adjustable. There’s a leather steering wheel that feels lovely under the hands and a sunroof to let light through the car. 

The centre console looks good, but is a little fussy with an overzealous use of buttons and a split screen situation which is confusing at first, but it's  not a deal breaker.

The addition of metal inserts on the foot pedals really lift the whole design of the car. 

✅ How spacious is it?

Those in the Forester's front seats have plenty of leg and headroom; enough for even the taller members of my family. There is no cramped feeling, with enough room between the front seats to rule out the rubbing of  shoulders. 

Those in the Forester's front seats have plenty of leg and headroom. Those in the Forester's front seats have plenty of leg and headroom.

My two children, aged six and eight, were comfortable in the back seat. They had a good amount of space between them, and you will be able to fit a third child seat back there.

In the back seat there's a good amount of space. In the back seat there's a good amount of space.

It’s tight but it does fit. I did it with two boosters and a baby capsule. We’d always suggest checking with your seats first as they are all different. 

  • At 509 litres the boot is a good size for a family of four. At 509 litres the boot is a good size for a family of four.
  • I was able to fit the bulky CarsGuide pram in with room around it for school bags or groceries. I was able to fit the bulky CarsGuide pram in with room around it for school bags or groceries.

At 509 litres the boot is a good size for a family of four and I was able to fit the bulky CarsGuide pram in with room around it for school bags or groceries. If you’re beyond pram stage, there's plenty of room for sporting equipment and other big kids stuff. 

✅ How does it drive?

The Forester Hybrid S drives well and it takes out all those things you’ve heard about electric cars and may not be fond of.

For example, it coasts along without your foot having to be on the accelerator, and they’ve added in some noise so pedestrians can hear the car on approach rather than it creeping along silently at low speeds. 

There’s no issue with power as it has a 2.0-litre petrol engine along with the electric motor which gives instant acceleration. There’s no issue with power as it has a 2.0-litre petrol engine along with the electric motor which gives instant acceleration.

It gets up hills quickly, there’s no issue with power as it has a 2.0-litre petrol engine along with the electric motor which gives instant acceleration, so it doesn't have a lag.

The steering is slightly stiff to turn but you get used to that the more you drive it and by the end of the week it felt normal to me. 

I think the electric motor added agility and made the Forester feel more nimble than usual, so if anything it’s a benefit because of that.

But how and when does the hybrid kick in? The electric motor can work on its own at speeds under 24km/h. It works together with the petrol engine at medium speeds, and then at higher speeds, the petrol engine takes over completely.

Subaru says the electric motor also takes over if you’re coasting along without the accelerator, for example downhill, and the petrol engine will kick in when you hit the accelerator. 

Compared to the fuel consumption of a regular Subaru Forester (7.4L/100km), this 'e-Boxer' Hybrid S (6.7L/100km), isn’t that different. Compared to the fuel consumption of a regular Subaru Forester (7.4L/100km), this 'e-Boxer' Hybrid S (6.7L/100km), isn’t that different.

The system is designed to save fuel in urban, high traffic areas. But when you compare the claimed fuel consumption of a regular Subaru Forester (7.4L/100km) to this 'e-Boxer' Hybrid S (6.7L/100km), there isn’t that much difference.

And when you compare it to other hybrid cars like the Toyota RAV4, the fuel saving is minimal. This week, the average fuel consumption I got was 12.3L/100km, but I did do a lot of stop/start driving mainly in the city, so it’s not the best representation of what it can do. 

It’s a fairly standard car to park. Even though the Forester is long I was able to squeeze into a number of tight parking spaces on a few rainy school runs this week where the competition is fierce.

It has a clear reversing camera with a bonus 360-degree view, as well as a front side view on the top split screen. I did find this confusing but I’m sure if I drove the car for a bit longer I’d get used to it. 

✅ How easy is it to use every day?

The Forester is a good height for young children to climb in and out of, and also lift things out of the boot without having to bend over too much (and possibly hurt your back). 

There are power adjustable seats in the front and they are heated. There are also a number of reminders which are subtle enough not to annoy you and actually serve their purpose well: a nudge to tell you the car in front has started moving if you stay stationary, and a reminder to look into the back seat before leaving the car. 

There are two cupholders in the front, a spot for keys and a phone, a large centre storage bin with a usable shelf, and bottle holders in each door.

Rear passengers get their own air vents and two cupholders in the centre armrest. There are four USB points in the car - two in the front and two in the back - which is so useful when you’re travelling with children.

✅ How safe is it?

The Forester scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in 2019., and safety is covered with rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring , lane keep assist, and auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

There’s also what Subaru calls 'Eye Sight', which works by capturing 3D images via a pair of cameras at the top of the front windscreen.

If the system sees anything that might pose a danger, it warns you audibly, urging you to take action and brake. It may automatically apply the brakes if you don’t.

There are also airbags to cover the driver and front passenger and side curtain airbags that extend to the back row. You’ll also find two ISOFIX points and three top tether points across the back seat to fit kids car seats in safely. 

✅ What’s the tech like?

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard which means you can navigate with maps or listen to your streaming apps just by plugging in your phone.

You get an extra screen above the main screen, which looks cool but might be a touch annoying.

You get an extra screen above the main screen, which looks cool but might be a touch annoying. You get an extra screen above the main screen, which looks cool but might be a touch annoying.

The eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is good, though, so turn it up to release stress levels. 

✅ How much does it cost to own?

The Subaru Forester Hybrid S comes in at $45,990 before on-road costs.

It's covered by Subaru's five year/unlimited km warranty. There is also an eight year/160,000 high voltage battery warranty.

Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000 km and there is a five year capped servicing program. 


The Wrap

The Subaru Forester Hybrid S is a great family car - even without the hybrid engine, you get a quality vehicle. If you’re looking for something that gives a nod to a hybrid but going electric still scares you, this could be right up your alley. Personally I would like to see more of the electric motor in use but at least Subaru's headed in the right direction. 

It has a good amount of interior space, boot space and the driving acumen we’ve come to expect from Subaru. It has great safety and the technology is good for 2020.

I gave it a family rating of 7.6 out of 10, taking points off because I think you can do more with a hybrid. My children gave it an 8.0. Show them a blue car and they love it. 

Likes

Interior design
Good safety
Interior and boot space

Dislikes

Not enough use of the electric motor
Fussy split-screen set-up
Slightly stiff steering

Scores

Nedahl:

The Kids:

$45,990

Based on new car retail price

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