Subaru Forester VS Skoda Kodiaq
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Plentiful power
- Super-supportive front seats
- Plenty of practicality perks
- Not as sporty as RS badge implies
- Suspension can feel firm
- Expensive compared to rest of lineup
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|
You don't hear the words 'performance' and 'diesel-powered, seven-seat SUV' together often, do you? Like Marvel and DC, the two things just feel like they're from completely different universes, one of which is filled with prams and groceries and weekend sport, and the other with twisting roads, plentiful fuel and burbling exhausts.
But Skoda is now attempting to merge these two distant worlds together with the launch of the new Kodiaq RS, blending the impressive practicality of the Czech car maker's (occasional) seven-seat SUV with the sporting promise of its performance sub-brand.
It's a delicate tightrope to walk, though. Too hard and sporty, and the Kodiaq RS will fail at its primary task of moving people and stuff. Too family focused, and it becomes an RS in badge only.
The question now, then, is has Skoda got the balance right?
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
It might not be the sportiest SUV on the market, but it balances its extra performance with its core family carrying duties with aplomb.
Seven seats, plenty of equipment, practicality for days and with enough grunt to keep you smiling, the Kodiaq RS ticks plenty of boxes.
The only question mark really remaining is does it justify the extra spend over 132TSI model?
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.
A lot like a Skoda Kodiaq, just with more sportiness. It never screams "look at me", but in our humble opinion, that's no bad thing.
You do get a bespoke front bumper arrangement, and the grill, under bonnet meshing, roof rails and and side skirting are blacked out. The wheel arches are filled by those jumbo 20-inch alloys, and, stepping around to the back, you'll find two squared-off exhaust outlets.
Inside, I'm a big fan of the super-supportive front seats, finished in leather and Alcantara, but for mine, the carbon-look trimming is less effective, and feels thin and hard to the touch.
That said, Koda deserves props for sending the best front-seat design elements into the second row, and if you forget the RS stuff completely for a moment, you'll find the cabin to be a clean, comfortable and tech-focussed space, with the the big central screen especially giving the cabin a modern feel, and the switch gear all emitting a commendable sense of quality.
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 Kodiaq RS pulls of an incredible party trick in managing to not look like a cruise ship from outside the car, while also serving up a big and spacious-feeling cabin.
To be clear, the Kodiaq isn't small, stretching 4699mm in length, 1882 in width and 1685mm in height, but its crisp design ensures it never looks slab-sided, looking more like a five-seat SUV than it does a full-time seven-seater, like the Mazda CX-9.
Those riding up front have plenty of space to stretch out, with the two seats separated by a wide centre console toped by an armrest that slides backwards to reveal a really usable storage space below. There are pockets in each door and two cupholders between the seats, too.
The front seats are electronically adjustable, and there's wireless charging, a USB connection and everything else you might need to make your life a little easier (including umbrellas hidden in the front doors).
Space in the backseat is genuinely impressive, even for taller passengers. I'm 175cm (so no giant) and there was so much room between my knees and the seats in front I could cross my legs comfortably, and more than enough headroom, too.
Yes, space will get considerably tighter should you attempt to squeeze three adults in the second row, but should you instead deploy the seat divider (itself home to 2.5 tiny cupholders), you'll find the back seat a pleasant place to spend time.
For a start, the nicer cabin materials from the front make their way to the second row, and you'll also find air vents with their own temp controls, a 12-volt charge point, bottle holders in the doors and two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
The third row is tighter, of course, but these are intended more as occasional jump seats rather than a permanent solution, and because the second row is on rails, there can be a surprising amount of leg room, provided the seats in front are pushed as far forward as they go.
Step around to the auto-opening boot and you'll 270 litres of space with the third row in place, 630 litres with the Skoda in five-seat mode, and a huge 2005 litres (to the roof) with the second row folded flat, too.
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 go-fast Kodiaq will set you back a not-insignificant $65,990(+$770 for metallic paint) - or about $12k more than the second most-expensive model in the lineup, the 132TSI Sportline - but Skoda's first RS-badged SUV does at least arrive with enough kit to ensure you won't be troubling the limited options list.
For that spend, you get that punchy diesel engine driving all four wheels, of course (and we'll drill down on that in just a moment), but you also get a host of performance kit, like a Dynamic Sound Boost amplified exhaust, adaptive dampers calibrated for the RS, and several drive modes, including Sport.
Outside, you'll find jumbo 20-inch 'XTREME' alloys, red brake calipers, LED automatic headlights, LED DRLs, rain-sensing wipers and a boot that opens automatically.
Inside, expect super-supportive leather-and-Alcantara sports seats, triple-zone climate control, an awesome 9.2-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Skoda's digital cockpit, wireless phone charging, heated seats in the first two rows and a solid Canton stereo.
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).
It's pared with a seven-speed DSG automatic, and power is sent to all four wheels.
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.
It's here that the joy of diesel power makes itself clear. The Skoda Kodiaq RS, with its seven seats and half-tonne of torque, will drink a claimed 6.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Emissions are pegged at 167g/C02 per kilometre.
It means you should theoretically get close to 1000kms out of the Kodiaq's 60-litre fuel tank.
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.
When it comes to performance vehicles, we're usually the first to begin waggling our fingers at a car that's not loud enough, angry enough, stirring enough, to wear the hallowed go-fast crown.
Usually the "hot" part of a car's description refers to a booming exhaust, super show-off looks and a suspension tune stiff enough to double as one of those weight-loss vibrating plates. And yet the Skoda Kodiaq RS really does none of those things. And to be honest, it's a better car for it.
The more subtle way the Kodiaq approaches its sportiness perfectly suits the nature of a car like this. This is, after all, a (sometimes) seven-seat SUV, and so it will likely be spending a lot of it's time with a family on board. And having kids in the back is even less fun if they're bouncing off the roof lining every time you hit a bump.
In the Kodiaq, they won't be. In its Normal drive setting (you can also choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Snow or Individual), the Kodiaq definitely lingers on the firm side of comfortable, but not so much so that it neuters its worth as a family hauler.
And even when you engage Sport, the Kodiaq remains comfy enough. The exhaust perhaps takes on a more noticeable, artificial timber (thanks to the Dynamic Sound Boost function) and the car tightens, but it's never feels overly aggressive or sharp.
Skoda's engineering team has done a terrific job of minimising body movement here, and you can legitimately throw the Kodiaq up and down a twisting road without ever feeling sea sick when you get to the other end. So much so, in fact, that you can forget you're driving a 1.8-tonne, seven-seat SUV, the predictable steering and composed ride helping convince you you're in something much smaller and more nimble.
It's not lightning-quick, with the bi-turbo diesel propelling you to 100km/h in 7.0 seconds (1.2secs quicker than a 132TSI version), but there's more than enough punch to get you up and moving in a hurry, and the engine has a fine relationship wth the seven-speed gearbox, with shifts largely occurring when you want them to (though it can feel a tough jumpy when you first start it up in the morning).
It's like a performance for responsible adults, then. It won't blow your socks off, but it offers just enough of everything to keep you engaged on the right road.
The only lingering question you need to ask yourself, though, is does that make it worth the extra bucks over a petrol-powered car?
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.
There is a heap of stuff on offer here, with the Kodiaq RS really wanting for little on the safety front.
The regular Kodiaq already wears five-star ANCAP safety rating, which carries over to the RS, and you can expect nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, city AEB, a rear-view camera, Lane Assist, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver fatigue monitor.
And if you're a nervous parallel parker, the Kodiaq RS will take care of that for you, too.
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 Kodiaq RS is covered by Skoda's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with servicing required every 12 months or 15,000kms.
You can also pre-pay your servicing at the point of purchase, with five years costing $1700, and three years setting you back $900.
Skoda also offers a nifty guaranteed value program, which allows you to settle on a kilometre window when you purchase your vehicle, then return it to the dealership after three years with no more payments to make.