Subaru Forester VS MG HS
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Improved design
- Frumpy handling
- Inconsistent transmission
- Laggy multimedia
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|
If you plugged a computer into Australia’s car market and had it design a car, I’m fairly sure it would come up with something like the MG HS.
Does it compete in one of the hottest-selling segments in Australia? Yep, it’s a mid-size SUV. Does it compete on price? Yep, it’s impressively cheap when compared to segment favourites. Is it well specified? Yep, it ticks pretty much every box there is to tick when it comes to gear. Does it look good? Yep, it borrows key styling elements from successful rivals.
Now the tricky one: Is there more to the story? Yep, turns out there is.
See, while MG has made impressive progress with its colour-by-numbers approach to car design, selling increasingly large numbers of its MG3 hatch and ZS small SUV, it’s still had a lot of catching up to do to be considered serious competition for Australian consumers.
So, should you be wooed by the HS SUV? Does it represent true progress for a fledging competitor brand? We went to its Australian launch to find out.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
MG has built the HS to tick as many feature boxes as it possibly can at an incredibly compelling price.
It’s definitely rough around the edges when it comes to the drive experience, suggesting that the brand hasn’t taken the time to make all those parts work together nicely, but ultimately this won’t chase potential customers who already love its styling and features out of dealerships.
If nothing else, the HS represents a clear progression for MG from the ZS, but it remains to be seen if the brand can convert that progress to taking sales away from its major rivals.
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 HS looks pretty good, don’t you think? And, I know what you’re thinking – It looks a bit like a CX-5 with the glitzy grille and curvy shape – and you’d be right. It’s nothing if not derivative.
That doesn’t take away from those looks, and when MG has a dealership filled with just three cars that are all consistently styled, it’s bound to draw people in.
The glitz is upped by the standard LED DRLs, progressive indicators, fog lights, and silver diffusers front and rear.
Possibly the best part for prospective base-model buyers is that you can barely tell the difference between the base and top on looks alone. The only giveaway is larger wheels, and full LED front lighting.
Inside was better than expected. While its smaller ZS sibling looked good, the material choices were less than impressive. In the HS though, the trim quality has been upped significantly, and so has the fit and finish.
Again, there’s a lot of parts here that are derivative of other automakers but the turbine vents, an Alfa-Romeo-esque steering wheel, soft-touch surfaces, and faux-leather trims lift the ambiance to a competitive level.
Not everything is great. I wasn’t sure about some of the buttons, and plastic inserts in the centre console and door trims was as chintzy as ever. It’s probably not going to bother anyone getting out of an older vehicle, but there are more consistent trims to be had from more mainstream players.
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 HS is as you’d expect from most mid-sizers with no major red flags thrown up. Visibility is pretty good out the front and rear thanks to large wing mirrors and window apertures. Adjustability for the driver is decent, too. You’ll miss out on electric driver’s seat adjustment but you do score a telescopically adjustable steering column.
The seating position is high, and the comfort from the seats was middling. Neither good nor particularly bad.
The faux-leather trim on the seats, dash and doors is simple and will be easy to clean, but did seem a bit thin in places.
An annoyance is only being able to control the air conditioning through the screen. There are no physical buttons. It’s especially clumsy and slow to operate while you’re driving.
Storage-wise front passengers get a bottle holders and trenches in the doors, two big cupholders in the centre console with a trench for phones or keys, an adjustable length armrest console which is air-conditioned, and a small tray with two USB ports and a 12-volt power outlet.
Rear passengers score decent space. I’d say it’s about on par with Kia’s Sportage from my recent test of it. I’m 182cm tall and I had airspace for my head and legs behind my own driving position. The seats can be reclined slightly, and the trim is the same as it is in the front seats.
Amenity-wise rear seat passengers get dual adjustable air vents and two USB ports, so certainly not forgotten.
The boot is 463 litres (VDA) which is almost identical to the Kia Sportage (466L) and on-par but not remarkable for this segment. The boot floor is high, making for easy access for light items but hard access for heavy ones. The Excite gets an electric tailgate - it’s a bit slow but a nice feature to have.
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.
This is what’s going to ultimately get customers into HS over anything else. This mid-size SUV is incredibly cheap for the segment.
MG has the HS stickered with drive-away prices of $30,990 for the entry-level Vibe or $34,490 for the top-spec (for now) Excite.
There’s not much between them, and generally the specification ticks off almost every box on our checklist.
Both specs get the impressive 10.1-inch touchscreen and semi-digital dash cluster which looks genuinely impressive, although you can tell where the corners have been cut. The processor for the multimedia software is painfully slow, and the screen quality is average, presenting with both glare and ghosting. The Excite gets built-in nav, but you won’t miss it. It’s extremely slow.
Both specs also get the faux leather trim everywhere, digital radio, LED DRLs, reversing camera with guiding lines, and the full safety suite (skip down to safety to see what that’s all about).
The Excite only adds LED headlights, 1-inch larger alloy wheels (18-inch), a sport drive mode, the electric tailgate, auto wipers, the laggy nav system, and an ambient lighting package. Nothing necessary there, but the small jump in price doesn’t break the value equation either.
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 HS ticks boxes here, too. It’s only available with one engine, and it looks good on paper.
It’s a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 119kW/250Nm. It drives the front-wheels only (there’s no all-wheel drive model for now) via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Sounds as cutting edge as any European rival, but there are some issues which we’ll explore in the driving section.
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.
MG says the HS will consume 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle. Our drive day was not a fair representation, and we drove multiple cars so we can’t give you a real-world figure just yet.
With the small capacity engine and abundance of ratios, we hope it can at least undercut thrashy old 2.0-litre non-turbo rivals.
The HS has a 55-litre fuel tank and requires mid-grade 95RON premium unleaded petrol.
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.
The HS unfortunately proves how easy it is to take the cumulative decades of driving refinement built-in to Japanese and Korean rivals for granted.
Things seem good initially with the visibility and nice steering wheel, but it quickly falls apart from there.
The first thing I noticed on my drive loop was the distinct lack of feedback I received from the car. The steering provided seemingly no feel from the front wheels at all and was inconsistently weighted at different speeds. Most low-speed city drivers won’t mind its lightness, but could notice its lack of confidence at speed.
The 1.5-litre engine doesn’t lack power, but it’s extracting it that becomes a problem. Unlike rival small capacity turbo engines from the likes of Honda, peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4400rpm, and you do notice the delay as you wait for power to arrive a full second after pressing the go pedal.
The transmission is also inconsistent. It’s a dual-clutch, so at times can be quick and gives that nice stepped feel as you work your way through the gears, but it’s easy to catch out.
It grabs the wrong gear often, and at other times will shudder when shifting down, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. It’s also slow to kick down gears when you press the accelerator.
A lot of this can be put down to calibration. It’s as though MG has all the parts to give the HS a modern drivetrain, but hasn’t taken the time to get them to play nicely together.
The ride is a mixed bag. It’s incredibly soft, which makes for a comfort tune over larger bumps and a very quiet cabin, even on coarser-chip roads, but it proved to somehow be unsettled and jiggly over smaller bumps.
The softness is its downfall over undulations though, with the rebound launching the car into the air. This means on roads with lots of elevation changes, you’re constantly bouncing around.
Handling suffers as a result of a combination of these factors, the vague steering, soft suspension and mid-size SUV bulk making this hardly a fun vehicle to pilot on back roads.
I will say that the HS made a decent companion on the freeway part of our drive though, with the active cruise control and spongey ride making it easy to live with for long distances.
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.
No matter which spec you choose, the HS gets a fully-fledged active safety suite. It’s a big step up from the smaller ZS, which was light on safety when it launched in Australia and only scored four ANCAP safety stars.
This time around though, things are much improved, with the HS scoring a maximum five star ANCAP rating, courtesy of standard auto emergency braking (AEB – detects pedestrians and cyclists up to 64km/h and moving objects up to 150km/h), lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise control, and traffic sign recognition.
It’s an impressive suite, and you can turn each feature off individually in the media system if it’s annoying you.
The active cruise kept a safe distance and behaved well during our test drive, too. The only thing to note is that it seems to harass you with beeps constantly and the lane keep assist switches the digital dash to the safety screen if you drift toward the edge of the lane and doesn’t return it to whatever screen you were on before. Annoying.
Six airbags come standard and LED headlights on the Excite are welcome for dark country roads. The HS has three top tether and two ISOFIX child seat mounting points across the rear seats.
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).
MG covers its cars with the tried and true Kia success strategy of offering the seven-year warranty that pencil pushers at mainstream brand’s won’t.
It has unlimited kilometre coverage for the seven years and includes roadside assist for the entire period.
Servicing is required once a year or every 10,000km whichever occurs first. MG hasn't yet announced capped price servicing, but promises it will be released imminently.