Subaru Forester VS BMW X2
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Great to drive
- Looks good
- Bargain in its segment
- Silly C-pillar BMW logos
- CarPlay is subscription-based
- Rear middle seat not very comfortable
This is not the Subaru Forester Sport model they get in Japan, and it's therefore not the one most Aussies have been desperate to see launched here.
Nope, the giveaway is the 2.5i part of the name for this 2021 Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport model, which has just been added to the brand's range to add a bit more of an eye-catching variant to the line-up.
In Japan, the Sport gets a new turbocharged petrol engine, but this one instead soldiers on with the same powerplant as the rest of the Forester range, but there have been plenty of changes and additions besides.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
As is often the case, BMW has come late to a really good party. One imagines there was some chatter about making a quick X1 but that would have been an answer to a question few people thought to ask. It's not a racy-looking machine and perhaps its more prosaic aims as a compact SUV ruled it out. Or the hangover from the weird first generation.
The X2's Paris Motor Show debut a couple of years ago signalled BMW's second entrant in the compact SUV segment, but this one looked fast standing still. Most of it made it to production - including the C-pillar BMW badges, sadly - but there was no promise of a fast one.
Weirdly, the Australian market hasn't really taken to the X2 as enthusiastically as I thought it might and I wondered if it was because there was no headline act - Mercedes has the guilty pleasure of mine, the AMG GLA45, and Audi the completely bonkers RS Q3. But the headline act has arrived in the form the of the X2 M35i - perhaps this will suddenly get us a bit more interested.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Subaru Forester Sport is an interesting new addition to the range, despite not really moving it forward in any other way apart from its eye-catching looks. It is a competitive counterpoint to the likes of the CX-5 and CR-V, but still doesn't quite reach the same levels of refinement and driving enjoyment of the RAV4.
There is no doubt the Forester Sport will add a level of appeal that Subaru has been needing in its family SUV range since launch, but we really think the thing that would get more customers excited would be a new turbocharged top-spec model, which would certainly be more deserving of the Sport name.
If the X2 M35i doesn't wake Australia up to the charms of the X2, then perhaps we're dead inside. This car is brilliant fun, reasonably practical and goes about the business of going fast with a childish glee.
Unusually for BMW it's extraordinarily competitively priced and by competitive I mean cheaper than its obvious rivals by quite some margin. One of its rivals is faster but it's also harder to live with and the other one is old and about to depart this Earth.
What this car also tells us is that despite BMW's smallest cars going to four-cylinders and front- or all-wheel drive, the fast stuff is in no danger of being boring.
Does the BMW X2 light your fire? Or does Audi or Mercedes have your heart? Let us know in the comments.
If you've ever trawled the Subaru Japan website like me (high five, car nerds!), you might be thinking: "This Subaru Forester Sport model looks a lot like that Forester X-Break in Japan!". And you'd be right.
It is, essentially, the same car. Just with a considerably nicer looking set of wheels than the Japanese model. They aren't my favourite rims, but then again, I think the Forester's rims on the whole are pretty yuck.
Wheels aside, the flashes of orange around the car will no doubt catch your eye. There are plenty of them: the lower body protection has orange trim from the front bumper to the side skirts/sills and the rear bumper, too; plus there are orange bits as part of the roof rails, too.
The exterior also cops a bit of a blackout treatment, with new dark graphics front and rear, including a black garnish between the tail-lights. And of course, the rims are black, too.
Inside the style a bit more adventurous, with a smattering of orange trim highlights on the vent surrounds, the transmission tunnel, the stitching that runs on the dashboard, doors and seats, and even the eye-catching and intriguing mesh-look water-repellent trim on the seats that goes up to the doors, too. I guess Subaru assumes Forester Sport buyers will be spending a lot of time in the rain?
I really love the orange trim finishes - they really lift the ambience of the cabin and make it feel a bit more exciting than a regular Forester. In fact, it's like the Forester looked a bit further down the Subaru line-up to the XV and said, "Hey, how come you're getting all the attention?".
There are some inherently awesome SUV features that the Forester's interior design brings to the fore - we'll get to that in the next section.
The X2 is by far the prettiest of the even-numbered Xes. While it shares a lot of heritage with the X1, the shorter X2 is way cooler. Designed by Sebastian Simm, it's a bit more at the lifestyle end of things. The headlights are sleeker than the X1, it has its own distinctive rendition of the BMW kidney grille (it looks like it's upside down) and on the M35i, it's satin grey rather than chrome. Like other BMW SUVs - sorry, SACs - the wheel-arches are squared off a little, for more "stance" according to Simm. I'm a big fan of the shapely rear lights, too.
The nose is quite high and bluff, but the efforts to stop it from being too square-rigged has worked wonders - only from some angles does it look a bit like it kissed a wall.
The M35i features a huge set of 20-inch alloys that look the business, deeper front and rear bumpers and those dud silver caps on the mirrors.
Inside, it's pretty familiar and the tail-end of BMW's long-standing design philosophy. Lots of grey plastic, a small, hooded instrument pack and a decent-sized screen perched on the dash. I liked the Alcantara trim on the seats but wasn't a fan of the 90s-looking blue pattern on the seats.
The Forester could be the most practical vehicle in its class. Against the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan, it stacks up pretty well for cabin practicality, space utilisation and accommodation.
It's a nice, bright and airy place to be, with a big glasshouse that makes it feel a bit more outdoorsy than its rivals. The benefits of that are two-fold - it's easy to see out of, whether you're the driver or if you're a kid in the back.
Looking up front first, the Forester's cabin presentation is much more eye-catching in this grade. The other models in the range are, well, a bit bland. The Sport, though, is a bit more - dare I say it - sporty. And I personally hate models called Sport, but that's a story for another day.
The orange stitching everywhere and the orange metallic look finishes on the dash and the centre console - it combines for a more special feeling cabin than any of the other Foresters available.
I really appreciate the media screen Subaru offers - it's easy to use and is bright and colourful, and also the flush finish design - not a floating tablet style screen - does make it just a little easier to use. However there is a secondary screen above it, which shows you a bunch of information about the car that you theoretically will never actually need to know.
That top pod also has a driver monitoring camera system which is looking at you all the time and will warn you if you take your eyes off the road for too long. Intriguingly, it flashes a warning onto another screen - the one on the instruments, which also makes you look away from the road...
It really is a button and screen overload. If you like minimalism, you're not going to like the number of things in front of you as the driver of a Forester. But they all have a purpose (sort of), and for me, it's better than everything being run through touch screens!
The front seats are quite comfortable, with electric adjustment for the driver and passenger. Both are electric adjusted and heated as well, which is nice, and the material used is genuinely really comfortable - it's like a good quality couch.
Even though those are nice elements, I couldn't find myself a perfect driving position – I feel like I sat just a little too high and I couldn't get the steering wheel in quite the right position for my preferences.
Storage is mostly okay up front: the cupholders between the seats are a little bit deep so small takeaway coffees might be hard to get out, and there are bottle holders in the doors, a small cubby in front of the gear selector for a wallet and/or phone, and that's also where you'll find 2USB ports. No wireless phone charging, though.
The overall space for a family of four is perfectly usable. There is no seven seater version of the Forester, nor any seven-set SUV in the brand's range at all in Australia, so it's strictly a smaller family affair, or a good option for grandparents on duty.
There's very good second row seat space, with a high seating position and hip point allowing for adults to easily slot in there (I'm 182cm/6'0" and I can fit behind my driving position with heaps of leg, toe and headroom to spare), but it's also a handy height for child loading, with dual ISOFIX and three top-tether points. Weirdly, though, Subaru has kept with the ceiling-mounted centre seatbelt, and the seat is flat and a bit uncomfortable for adults in terms of cushioning and support. Great for child seats, though.
There are plenty of smart features in the second row, including twin map pockets on the seat backs, one of which is sectioned and divided for smaller items. Plus there are those two USB ports for charging devices (again, perfect for a family of four), and there are rear directional air vents. There is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, plus bottle holders in the doors.
Weirdly there are LED lighting pods for the boot and the tailgate, and up in the front of the cabin there is LED lighting, too - but in the centre, the middle lighting pod is halogen. Weird.
The boot area offers 498 litres of cargo capacity (VDA) with the seats up, but hit the electric release levers (handy!) at the sides of the boot and you liberate a total 1740L of space - enough for a pair of mountain bikes or a few weeks' worth of camping gear for a couple.
Plus there are shopping bag hooks on the outer sides of the boot area and one on the tailgate,, plus four tie down points if you need to attach things and stop it from rolling around. There's a cargo blind, and a 12 V outlet in the boot, too.
The X2 is smaller than the X1 and if you step out of the latter, you'll notice. The roof is lower and its shorter overall, meaning some compromise. But only a little. The rear seats have plenty of room for people up to 180cm, with the roof lining thinning for that extra bit of headroom and just enough legroom, as Richard Berry discovered when he first drove the car.
The boot starts at 470 litres with all seats in place and then 1355 with the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats down.
Front seat passengers have two cupholders under the centre stack and a couple of slots for odds ends. All are covered by a sliding two piece cover. The armrest contains the wireless charging cradle and, as I've already said, won't hold an iPhone XS in its sliding plastic jaw - it won't open wide enough.
Rear seat passengers score a further two cupholders and each door has a bottle holder and pocket.
Price and features
The new Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport model is a $41,990 proposition - that's the MSRP/RRP, or the price before on-road costs (you might find driveaway deals if you search Autotrader, though).
It slots in between the 2.5i Premium ($39,490) and the 2.5i-S ($42,990), but it stands out compared to both of those versions with a revamped design and a number of inclusions over the models below it, but most of them are visual differentiators which we'll detail in the next section.
Let's consider the standard equipment offered here: black 18-inch alloy wheels with a full size spare, an electric sunroof, water repellent cloth interior trim, electric front seat adjustment (driver's side with memory settings), heated front seats, electric tailgate, electric folding rear seats, smart key hands-free entry and push button start, auto headlights and auto wipers.
There's also a 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, DAB+ digital radio, CD player, six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 4xUSB ports (2x front, 2x rear), a 4.2-inch digital driver info display with digital speedo, and a leather-lined steering wheel and shifter.
The safety story is a very strong one - see the section below for all the details.
Things missing from the 2.5i Sport that you might want for include an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a proper surround-view camera, and leather seat trim.
Colours available for this spec comprise: Crystal Black silica, Crystal White pearl (as seen here), Dark Blue pearl (exclusive to Sport), Ice Silver metallic, Magnetite Grey metallic and Sepia Bronze metallic. The green and red options are not available on Sport, but no matter the colour you opt for, it won't cost you any extra.
Obviously though, you might want to choose carefully, as there are some orange highlights inside and out that might not match up with your preferred colour choice. Let's get to that next.
I often find that those late to a party bring the cheapest bottle of wine, having been caught short by their own tardiness. BMW has done something similar here - the X2 M35i is $16,000 cheaper than the RSQ3. It's a whopping $23,200 cheaper than the GLA45. Context: you could get a top-spec X2 and a Suzuki Swift Sport for similar money to the flagship GLA.
Obviously it's not cheap, and it isn't as powerful as the AMG, but it's a lot of money saved and little, if any, performance lost.
Standard on the Australian-delivered X2 M35i are 20-inch alloys, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, electric tailgate, keyless entry and start, power everything, electric and heated front seats, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Alcantara on the seats, auto parking, head-up display and run-flat tyres.
The 8.8-inch screen on the dash runs BMW's iDrive 6.0 software with its impressive sat nav and easy-to-use rotary dial interface. Apple CarPlay is standard as a three-year subscription (ie you have to renew it), which is a start, at least.
If you get the $2900 Enhance Package you get a big panoramic sunroof, metallic paint and wireless charging for your phone. That last thing is extra useful as CarPlay is wireless in BMWs (hurrah!) but bigger phones don't fit in the charging unit (boo!). Luckily there's a USB port to keep you going... but only one up front. In the rear there are two fast-charging USB-C ports.
My test car didn't have the package but had the sunroof ($2457 on its own), wireless charging ($200) and Driving Assistant Plus ($910, includes lane keep assist).
Engine & trans
Instead, the 2.5i part of the name indicated a carryover 2.5-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine producing 136kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 239Nm of torque (at 4400rpm). No turbo here.
The Forester is available solely with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) Lineartronic automatic gearbox, and as it's a Subie, of course it has the brand's "Symmetrical" all-wheel drive (AWD) system standard, too.
The Sport grade isn't available with the brand's hybrid powertrain, though that's no great loss. Read our review where we compared that version against the excellent RAV4 hybrid to see how it fared
The 2.5i models have seen a towing upgrade for 2021, with the unbraked rating set at 750 kilograms, while the braked towing capacity is now 1800kg (up from a meagre 1500kg in earlier models).
BMW's B48 modular 2.0-litre four-cylinder can be found across front, rear and all-wheel drive cars in both BMWs and Minis. The X2's Mini origins means its engine is slung across the engine bay - sDrive X2s are front-wheel drive.
Developing 225kW and 450Nm, this engine might fall short of the AMG's hand-built 2.0-litre and Audi's 2.5 five cylinder, but it's more than enough for to send the M35i to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. You can activate the launch control if you want, but the all-wheel drive system and eight-speed ZF automatic are perfectly capable of doing the job.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Forester 2.5i Sport is identical to the rest of the range: 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, with emissions claimed at 168g/km CO2.
On test, we saw an at the pump fuel economy of 9.5L/100km across a mix of urban, highway, country and open road driving (plus a very short unsealed off-highway stint).
Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres. It can run on the more affordable 91RON regular unleaded.
The usual government-approved lab testing produced a combined cycle fuel efficiency figure of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, aided by stop-start and braking energy recovery.
Pops and bangs cost fuel, though, and they're fun and who doesn't like a poppy-bangy performance car? I certainly like it, which means I burnt through fuel at a rate of 9.7L/100km. On reflection, that's not terrible for the kind of performance on offer.
The Subaru Forester is a smooth and decent family SUV, one that doesn't necessarily do anything exceptionally well, but nor is it terrible at anything when it comes to on-road driving.
In fact, my biggest complaint is the noise intrusion - there's quite a bit of tyre roar through even normal road surfaces, and coarse chip roads are louder again. There's also wind noise up around the windscreen and mirrors, and the engine is noisy under acceleration because of the CVT automatic transmission, and it doesn't sound overly delightful, either.
That said, the 2.5-litre engine's response is pretty good, offering decent and linear power delivery. It's not fast, not overly fun, and the CVT auto does rob it some of the excitement you might want. However, it jumps away from a standstill pretty nicely, and if you can hit the sweet spot when you're accelerating you might be surprised by its brisk response.
There are paddle shifters to take matters into your own hands - though even if you use the SI drive mode selector (Sport or Intelligent drive modes), it's less thrusty than turbocharged competitors (Ford Escape) or even hybrid-powered rivals (Toyota RAV4).
The ride comfort is quite good, there's a nice supple attitude to the suspension and the way it controls itself over bumps, but it is quite soft and that means that there is some noticeable body roll in corners.
Thankfully the seats are really quite nice and offer good support, and while the steering is decently weighted and accurate enough it's hardly the last word in excitement for thrills. I'm also not much of a fan of the lane keeping system and how it affects the steering, as it interrupts the smoothness of your steering a little too much. There's a button you can hit to turn it off, but you have to do it every time.
And that driver-monitoring camera system really does make you realise how much you're not looking at the road ahead. I'm a constant glancer, looking at whatever is driving past or whatever I see parked in people's driveways, and the system really made me realise that.
Because it's a Forester with all-wheel drive, I took it for a brief light off road review expedition, where it lived up to the brand's adventure-focused persona.
The most impressive element was a combination of nice high ground clearance (220mm), plus the way that soft suspension rolled over rocks and bumps allows decent travel to the suspension, and good control to the driver's hands, too.
The drive mode selection system allows you to choose "snow/dirt" or "deep snow/mud", meaning soggy camping trips or drives to the snow should be pretty well catered for. Like most soft-roading vehicles and crossovers, though, the tyres will be your biggest letdown but also your easiest upgrade.
The hill descent control system worked really well, and while I wasn't pushing any boundaries of what to expect a SUV like this to do, it was pretty well sorted of the whole.
Down to business. The X2 M35i is terrific fun.
The engine is a good place to start. Fitted with a silly farting and popping exhaust that appeals to my inner eight-year-old, it's a BMW with plenty of character from the get-go.
Flooring it from a standing start means a brief interlude while the twin-scroll turbo starts spooling up and then wham, you're in second and passing 100km/h. Once you're underway, the transmission keeps the M35i on the boil, giving you that lovely big slab of torque when you need it for overtaking or hauling out of the corners.
Speaking of which, the fitment of a proper mechanical limited-slip differential up front is inspired. You can pile into corners indecently quickly and then get back on the power very early, the front wheels sorting themselves out and drawing the car tightly to where you point it. It's a familiar feeling to the GLA45 but without the underpadded seats and hard-riding nonsense that goes with it. Both are on a different planet to the hilarious RSQ3.
The ride is a point worth dwelling on - it's really good and it all happens without adaptive damping like on the other two. It won't be winning any straight spine awards, no, but the combination of grippy seats and good compliance over lumps and bumps means the M35i is surprisingly comfortable. It rides no lower than an M Sport pack equipped X2 but the M magic has wrought a much more responsive front end, a sticky rear end and a good time lesser X2s don't have.
And of course, you want the brakes to back-up the power. The M Performance brakes are very strong and filled me with confidence. Some people complain about BMW brakes but that absolute hammering they need before these complaints arise seems churlish.
That said, the Forester has an extensive safety technology specification list, starting with auto emergency braking (AEB) that works both in city and inter-urban settings up to 80km/h, and it features pedestrian and cyclist detection, too.
There's also lane departure warning with an active lane keeping assistance system that works from 60km/h to 145km/h, and there's adaptive cruise control that works through the brand's stereo camera EyeSight system. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard, as is a rear AEB system to stop you bumping into cars or walls at low speeds, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera that is complemented by a front and front kerbside camera (not quite surround view, but close).
The Forester has seven airbags (driver's knee, dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and there are dual ISOFIX outboard child-seat anchors and three top-tether points.
The X2 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera, forward AEB (only at low speeds - it works at up to 50km/h, and can reduce the speed of the car to 15km/h, but won't stop it completely), with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, auto high beam, speed sign recognition and reminder. There is no adaptive cruise and no high-speed AEB, and no rear AEB, blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert.
There are three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points.
The X2 scored five ANCAP stars in February 2018.
Subaru Australia backs its cars with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on par with its main rivals but behind the likes of Mitsubishi (10 years if you service with them) and Kia (seven years).
The brand offers just 12 months of roadside assistance when you buy a new car, where some others offer seven years or more.
The company also has unusual service intervals of 12 months/12,500km, with a capped price servicing plan that spans five years/62,500km. The average cost per service over that period is high, at $476.50 per annum - and it'll be even higher if you do a lot of kilometres.
There are also three-year and five-year service plans available. If you sign up for those, you get three years roadside assist plus a loan car when you get your car serviced. The costs for those are $1281.81 (three years/37,500km), or $2382.52 (five years/62,500km).
BMWs leave the dealership with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist tossed into bargain. Three years is a bit ho-hum for lesser machinery but appears fine up here in the German layer of the atmosphere.
You can prepay your servicing for five years. BMW has long called their service intervals "condition-based servicing." Basically, the car tells you when to come in for a service. You can buy the basic service package for $1550 upfront, which is the same as the lower models, so that's not bad.
By contrast, the GLA45 will cost you $2880 over just three years (second and third services are $1152 each) and the RSQ3 will shake you down for $2320 over three years or $3380 over five.