Subaru Forester VS Subaru XV
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Solid road feel
- Relative value
- Safety equipment
- Thrashy 2.0L engine
- Hybrid not super efficient
- Small boot
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|
Subaru has always been a good fit for Australia.
Cars like the Forester and Outback solidified the brand’s place amongst SUVs before SUVs were really a thing, and the XV is the logical progression of the Impreza range, slotting nicely into the brand's offerings of lifted all-wheel-drive wagons.
It’s been a few years since the XV launched, however, so can its latest 2021 update keep it in the fight in a quickly evolving and notoriously competitive segment against many newer rivals? We’ve taken a look at the whole range to find out.
|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.
Even years on from its initial launch and with only subtle changes to its main range, it’s really to Subaru’s credit that the XV feels just as capable and modern as any of its rivals.
This is not to say it’s perfect. We can’t recommend the base model, the maths don’t really work out on the hybrids, the only available engine is breathless, and it has a small boot.
But the XV’s excellent safety suite, driving dynamics, all-wheel-drive capability, quality finish and comfortable interior mean it’s hard not to be charmed by this little lifted hatch.
Our pick of the range? While the 2.0i-L is great value, we’d recommend you splurge to the 2.0i-Premium to get the full safety suite and extra garnish.
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 key to the XV’s fun and adventurous appeal is perhaps the fact that it’s not really an SUV at all. It’s rather obviously a lifted version of the brand’s Impreza hatchback, and this is to its credit.
It’s simple but tough, cute but capable, and really everything many consumers are looking for when it comes to a small, all-wheel-drive SUV. Not only does this design philosophy (of lifting wagons and hatches rather than creating bespoke “SUVs”) match Subaru’s family of products, but the ride height, plastic claddings, and tough-looking alloys offer hints of the all-wheel-drive capability that lies beneath.
Little has changed for the 2021 model year, with the XV most recently receiving a tweaked grille, updated front bumper, and a new set of alloy wheels. The XV range is also available in a fun array of colours, which Subaru hopes will help it win more of a youth vote. As an added bonus, none of the colour choices carry an extra charge.
The interior of the XV continues the fun and adventurous theme with Subaru’s signature chunky design language noticeably different from its rivals. My favourite element of this has always been the bumper-car steering wheel, which feels great in your hands in its leather-clad finish, but there are also nice soft claddings throughout the doors and big seats with nice bolstering and design.
While we like how big and sharp the main 8.0-inch screen is, if there’s one thing Subaru gets wrong it’s how busy the whole cabin package is. The visual assault of three screens seems unnecessary, and as much as I like the wheel, it is also completely adorned in somewhat confusingly labelled buttons and toggles.
Still it’s an attractive, fun, and unique design amongst its small SUV peers. Subaru fans, at least, will be sure to adore it.
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.
In some ways the XV is very impressive when it comes to its interior practicality, but in other ways it disappoints.
The front seats offer heaps of room for adults with good adjustability, and while the seating height is very high by default, there’s still lots of headroom and adjustability, with the added benefit of a very commanding view of the road for such a small SUV.
As mentioned, the doors, dash, and transmission tunnel are all clad in soft materials, and front passengers also benefit from no less than four USB ports in every grade except the base 2.0i, a huge centre console box, comfortably large bottle holders in the centre with a removable divider, a small bay under the climate unit that also houses a 12v outlet and auxiliary input, and a single large bottle holder in the doors with a small adjoining bin.
A surprise comes in the rear seats, which offered enough head and knee room for a particularly tall friend of mine. It’s rare for the small SUV segment to offer such space, but behind my own (182cm tall) seating position I had ample airspace for my knees and decent airspace for my head too, even despite the Premium and S grades having a sunroof fitted.
Rear passengers get a flip-down armrest with bottle holders, a small bottle holder in the doors, and pockets on the backs of the seats. The seat cladding is just as good as it is in the front, and the width in the rear seats is notable, however the centre seat suffers from the existence of a tall transmission tunnel to facilitate the all-wheel-drive system, and there are no adjustable air vents or power outlets for rear passengers either.
Finally, one ongoing weak point for the XV is the amount of boot space on offer. Boot capacity is 310-litres (VDA) for non-hybrids or 345 litres for hybrid variants. This is decent when compared to smaller light SUVs but definitely leaves room for improvement when it comes to the XV’s main small SUV competitors.
Space can be boosted to 765L in non-hybrid or 919L in hybrids with the seats down (again, not great), and the hybrid model loses the underfloor space-saver spare wheel, instead leaving you with a very compact puncture-repair kit.
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.
Subaru’s pricing strategy is an interesting one. Generally, the brand’s entry-level models are priced above rivals, but top out well below them. For 2021 the XV range has four variants, two of which are available with the hybrid-drivetrain option.
The entry-level XV 2.0i ($29,690) sits above the entry-level Hyundai Kona ($26,600), Kia Sportage ($27,790), and Honda HR-V ($25,990). Keep in mind, the XV range is all-wheel drive by default, which is a value boost, but the unfortunate news is that we’d recommend you ignore the base XV altogether.
Included on the base 2.0i are 17-inch alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch multimedia touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a 4.2-inch supervision cluster and 6.3-inch function screen, basic air conditioning, a single USB port, basic cloth seats, halogen headlights, standard cruise control, and some more basic trimmings. Not only is this car the only one with the more basic multimedia screen, but crucially it misses out on any of Subaru’s excellent EyeSight safety suite.
The starting point for your XV journey, then, should really be the 2.0i-L, starting at $31,990. The 2.0i-L ups the interior to include a dazzling 8.0-inch multimedia screen, improved interior trimmings with premium cloth seats and leather-trimmed steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, extra USB ports, and adaptive cruise control as part of the EyeSight safety suite.
Next up is the 2.0i-Premium at $34,590, which adds a sliding sunroof, heated wing mirrors, built-in navigation, a front-view camera, and the full safety suite with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear auto emergency braking. This variant is now the best value, as it offers the full set of safety items previously only available on the top-spec car at a lower price.
This brings us to the top-spec 2.0i-S with an MSRP of $37,290, which adds LED headlights with auto high-beam assist, a side-view camera, leather interior trims with extended premium cabin upholstery and chrome finishes, auto power folding wing mirrors, leather-appointed seat trim with heated front seats and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, and extended functionality for the all-wheel-drive system.
Finally, the 2.0i-L and 2.0i-S can be chosen with the “eBoxer” hybrid drivetrain option, wearing MSRPs of $35,490 and $40,790 respectively. They mirror the specification of their 2.0i counterparts while adding silver exterior accents and a pedestrian-alert system. They also trade out the space-saver spare wheel in favour of a puncture-repair kit, due to the presence of an under-boot-floor lithium-ion battery system.
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 XV now has two drivetrain options in Australia. One is the carryover 2.0-litre petrol engine, now with a smidge more power, and a hybrid version of the same layout with an electric motor housed in the continuously variable transmission. There is no manual variant in the XV range.
The 2.0i models produce 115kW/196Nm, while the hybrid produces 110kW/196Nm from the engine and 12.3kW/66Nm from the electric motor. All variants are all-wheel drive.
The hybrid system is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack under the boot floor, and in practice functions a bit differently from Toyota’s popular system.
We’re sure Subaru die-hards will be dismayed to know a version of the XV packing the larger Forester’s 2.5-litre petrol engine (136kW/239Nm) will not be making it to Australia for the foreseeable future.
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 not such a great story for the hybrid variant here, as even on the official numbers it only saves a tiny amount of fuel.
The official/combined number for 2.0i variants is 7.0L/100km, while the hybrid variants trim this to 6.5L/100km.
In practice it only got worse on my test. Over similar driving conditions consisting of several hundred kilometres over the course of a week, the 2.0i-Premium non-hybrid produced 7.2L/100km, while the hybrid actually used more fuel at 7.7L/100km.
It’s worth noting we’ll be holding on to the hybrid for a further three months as part of a long-term urban test. Check back in to see if we can trim this number down to something closer to its claim in the coming months.
All XV variants can drink base-grade 91RON unleaded and 2.0i variants have 63-litre fuel tanks while hybrids make use of a 48-litre 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.
No matter which XV you choose, you’ll be getting a very comfortable and easy-to-steer small SUV, and the drive experience has only improved with this year’s updates.
The XV’s newly re-worked front suspension and tall ride height make for a package more than capable of dealing with anything the suburbs will throw at it. This is the kind of car that scoffs at speed bumps and potholes.
The steering is light enough to be comfortable, but provides just enough feedback to keep it engaging, too, and the always-on all-wheel-drive system provides a sense of constant security in corners and even on loosely sealed or wet surfaces.
The XV has better SUV cred than almost every other car in its class on the capability front, enough at least to make it a decent companion for seeking those unsealed campgrounds or vantage points.
Where it’s not as good is its engine options. We’ll get to the hybrid in a moment, but the standard 2.0-litre engine is underpowered for a relatively heavy small SUV, with the added burden of all-wheel drive, and it feels it. This engine doesn’t have the follow-through of its turbocharged rivals and is very thrashy when much is asked of it.
This experience isn’t really helped along by the rubbery-feeling continuously variable automatic transmission, which is at its best in stop-start traffic. It strips the fun out of trying to drive this car with a bit more vigour.
Unlike Toyota's hybrid alternatives, the hybrid XV isn’t a significantly different experience behind the wheel. Its electric motor doesn’t really have enough strength to get it up to speed, but it does assist when it comes to acceleration and coasting to help take the stress partially off the engine. The XV also doesn’t provide a hybrid indicator like Toyota does, so it’s much harder to understand the effect your accelerator input is having on the motor.
The centre screen does display the energy flow, though, so it is good to have some kind of feedback that the hybrid system is helping on occasion.
Hybrid variants also add something called “e-Active Shift Control”, which uses input from the car’s sensors and all-wheel-drive system to better tune the hybrid assistance to the CVT. In general driving terms, this lets the electric motor pick up the slack of the petrol engine when it's most needed in the corners and in low-torque instances.
On a final note, all of these moments of electrical assistance do make the hybrid versions notably quieter than the non-hybrid ones. I still wouldn’t recommend choosing the hybrid on its driving experience alone, but it will be interesting to see how Subaru can build on this technology in the future.
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 XV has an excellent safety suite so long as you avoid the base model 2.0i. Every other variant gets at least the forward-facing and unique stereo camera safety suite, which Subaru dubs ‘EyeSight’.
This system provides auto emergency braking up to speeds of 85km/h capable of detecting pedestrians and brake lights, it also includes lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and a lead vehicle start alert. All XVs get an excellent wide-angle reversing camera.
Once you get to the upper-mid-grade 2.0i Premium, the safety suite is upgraded to include rear-facing technologies, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear auto braking. The Premium gets a front-facing parking camera, while the top-spec S grade gets a side view camera as well.
All XVs come with the expected stability, brake, and traction controls, as well as a set of seven airbags, making for a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2017 standards.
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).
Subaru remains on par with other Japanese automakers, with a five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty promise. There’s 12 months of roadside assist included, and the XV is also covered by a capped-price servicing program for the life of the warranty.
Services are required once every 12 months or 12,500km, and while this is a welcome improvement on the six-month intervals this car used to have, these visits are far from the cheapest we’ve seen with an average price of nearly $500 per year.