Subaru Forester VS Holden Trailblazer
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Solid all-rounder
- Plenty of torque at low revs
- Off-road ability
- Engine can be noisy
- Suspension too firm
- No rear diff lock
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|
SUV wagons based on their ute stablemates are by no means a new thing – just look to Toyota Fortuner (based on HiLux), Ford Everest (based on the Ranger) and Isuzu’s MU-X (based on the D-Max) for evidence of that.
But the strategy is not always a successful one and these ute-based wagons have already gone through a stage or two of tweaking and refining in an attempt by car makers to shed some of the lingering ute-related niggles (such as work-focused suspension tunes) and improve the final products so they're better suited to a life of work and play.
The 2018 Trailblazer (formerly known as Colorado7, and based on the Colorado ute) is another clear sign that these wagons are indeed getting better, but are those improvements good enough to attract the cash of an otherwise ute-fixated public?
|Engine Type||2.8L turbo|
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.
The Trailblazer is a solid all-rounder and deserves the consideration of those in the market for a decent seven-seater 4WD. It does everything well without ever really excelling at any one thing.
Is it fantastic? No. Is it a game-changer? No. Does it represent pretty good value for money in the grand scheme of things? Yep.
The pick of the bunch for me is the LTZ – solid, off-road capable, and suburbs-friendly with just a hint of leather-appointed class. In the LTZ, you get everything worthwhile in the Trailblazer mob and if you’re a family man you won’t feel the need to fork out an extra $1000 for the Z71’s try-hard window dressing.
The Trailblazer is a mostly comfortable SUV wagon, stacked with features and is well worth your consideration if the Isuzu MU-X, Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner don’t float your boat.
What do you reckon? Get a new one of these, or spend your money on a second-hand LandCruiser?
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 Trailblazer is a solid-looking wagon – all clean, tight lines from front to back – and overall it has a real squat and substantial presence. If we’re going to get all ‘fancy Dan’ with our hyperbole: chrome-accented daytime running headlights swoop back along the chunky body to slick LED tail-lights. If we’re sticking to basics: the Trailblazer looks good.
Inside, the tweaked interior has a tidy if rather basic feel to it – but that’s not a bad thing in a wagon that will have to cop dirt and dropped ice creams amid the general chaos of day-to-day life.
The leather-trim seats add a touch of class to otherwise family friendly dimensions and environment.
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.
Climbing in is easy enough with a sturdy "overhead assist handle" for all comers and goers.
All of the Trailblazer’s seats are mostly comfortable except they are quite flat and hard, which may prove a hindrance over longer trips. The driver’s seat is six-way electrically-adjustable and there is little in the way of lumbar support.
The second row will better suit two passengers than three for long-distance comfort but there is enough room all round – head, shoulders and legs – to avoid most complaints, for a little while anyway.
Third-row passengers will need to be children or those of a shorter stature to cope with the ‘back of the bus’ squeeze – and even then trips should be kept to shorter distances to avoid an in-car riot. It’s not a terrible place to be, in the third row of this thing, but it’s not ideal either – pretty much in keeping with the rear-row offerings of its rivals.
Back up the front again and the dash design is clear, user-friendly and easy to get used to with day-in, day-out use.
There is a fair bit of storage space in the cabin but some of it is awkward to access and actually use. The glove box is big enough to cope with one or two handfuls of bits and pieces. There is a sunglass holder up near the rear-view mirror.
There are two cup holders in front of the small centre console housing the USB port which, when used, eats into that available space.
All doors have a moulded bottle bulge, which wouldn’t cop our CarsGuide water bottle without forceful encouragement.
The second-row passengers get a fold-down centre arm-rest/cup holder when there’s no one sitting in the middle. Passengers in the back also get air vents and manual aircon control.
With all seats up, if you pack to the roof, there is 235 litres of cargo space at the very rear; with the 50/50 split-folding third-row seats folded down, there is 878 litres; with the second-row (60/40 split-fold and tumble) and the third-row seats down, there is 1830 litres of cargo space. There is a retractable cargo blind stowed away under the floor at the rear.
With the second-row seats folded forward, it is easy enough to get into the third-row seats; no contortionist moves required.
There are two 12-volt outlets in the centre dash; one at the back of the centre console (for second-row passengers); and one in the rear cargo area.
Up top, the roof rails are rated to carry 100kg.
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.
The Trailblazer is available in three spec levels, each with a market-competitive price: base-spec LT (from $47,990, excluding on-road costs), LTZ (which we tested; from $52,490) and the limited-edition Z71 (from $53,490).
But those prices soon start to climb when you add in accessories such as all-weather floor mats ($130 for a pair), boot lip protector ($80) and a rigid cargo barrier ($960). Our test vehicle had a Power Blue (prestige paint) colour on the exterior, at a cost of $550.
The LT’s standard features include cloth seat covers, 17-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen to go with its Holden MyLink infotainment system, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, front fog lamps, signature daytime running lights, side steps, limited slip diff, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
The LTZ gets all of that (although its touchscreen is eight inches) and more: integrated satnav, blind spot alert, forward collision alert and heated front seats and leather-appointed seat trim. It has 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Z71 has all of that gear as well as a distinctive sports look, replete with black bonnet, black mirrors, black exterior door handles, Z71 leather-appointed trim and 18-inch black alloy wheels.
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).
The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine punches out 147kW at 3600rpm and its big-gun 500Nm at 2000rpm and is well-matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. This Trailblazer is, on paper, a very good tow vehicle with so much torque available and from down so low.
Its towing capacity is 3000kg (braked), but I’d prefer to see how it fared in a real-world tow test before I pass judgement.
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 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.
Its turning circle is 12m but it feels like more of a cumbersome beast when trying to manoeuvre in the bush or in the city, though not enough so for that characteristic to be any sort of deal-breaker.
The tilt-adjustable, electrically assisted steering lacks any reach-adjustment, which is annoying, but it can still be counted on to deliver a precise feel – light at low speeds, heavier at high speeds – when pushing the Trailblazer along at a fair clip on open roads or in and out of corners.
Acceleration seems livelier now; there is more off-the-mark oomph for take-offs and safe, smooth overtaking, even on long gradual climbs, than before. The torquey engine and six-speed auto – with its smooth changes and gear-holding when appropriate – make for a high-achieving combo.
Ride and handling seem better than in Colorado7 guise although the tweaked suspension – Aussie-tuned coil-spring front and coil-spring live-axle rear – and Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts tyres* may account for some of that. However, we did feel some body-roll while driving along back roads, unlike the last time we were in a Trailblazer LTZ. (*The Trailblazer has a full-sized 18-inch spare.)
The locally tuned suspension is, at times, a bit too firm; when we hit heavy bumps and deep potholes on rough gravel tracks several times, we were unsettled because the Trailblazer’s suspension bashed its way over and through.
We completed a series of emergency braking scenarios – on bitumen and dirt – and the Trailblazer’s disc brakes – 300mm at the front and 318mm at the rear – helped rip us into a controlled stop.
Our drive loop included a decent bit of four-wheel driving – coastal sand, bush tracks peppered with rocks of all shapes and sizes, and shallow mud in a dried-out dam. Drive modes can be switched via the centre console dial between 2H, 4H and 4L; high range modes are actually represented by an ‘up’ arrow on the dial; low range is a ‘down’ arrow. Bonus: the Trailblazer’s 500Nm of torque is readily available from way down low.
The Trailblazer has a limited slip diff, 218mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 600mm, which was never tested as our usual creek crossings were so bone-dry they were more like puddles. Approach, departure and ramp-over angles are 28, 25, 22 respectively.
Its armoury of off-road tech – auto hill-start assist, hill-descent control and more – make it almost unstoppable, straight out of the showroom, for anything demanded of it on a light- to medium-difficulty adventure weekend.
Its 76-litre fuel tank, however, hinders any claim it has to off-road touring potential.
The Trailblazer has 3000kg towing capacity (braked); 750kg unbraked.
Note: Holden has persisted with a system which, when you open a door, the front windows automatically slide down a bit, an action aimed at reducing air pressure when you close the doors. It remains annoying but we still weren’t annoyed enough to actually bother to check the owner’s manual for a possible hack to switch it off.
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 Trailblazer range has a five-star ANCAP rating. The LTZ has seven airbags, and electronic stability control (ABS, EBD etc), rear view camera, front park assist, rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, a tyre-pressure monitoring system and trailer sway control.
The second row has three child restraint anchor points and one ISOFIX child restraint anchor point.
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).
The Trailblazer comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty. Lifetime capped price servicing includes a free inspection at one month, then $299 (at nine months/15,000km), $399 (18 months/30,000km), $479 (27 months/45,000km), $479 (36 months/60,000km) and so on.
(At time of writing, the LT was being offered for $45,990 driveway with a seven-year/175,000 warranty.)
Potential problems might include cumulative driveline wear and tear from people towing heavy loads (horse floats, boats etc).