Subaru Forester VS Toyota C-HR
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Fantastic looks
- Beautifully built
- Lovely to drive
- Slow CVT
- Silly rear doorhandles
- Dodgy touchscreen
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 can almost trace Toyota's renaissance back to a single day – the day the C-HR was revealed to the world as a production car. The company could have gotten away with jacking up a Yaris and calling it a compact SUV, but instead they went all out with a bolt-from-the-blue looker with some really interesting styling ideas inside and out.
I mean, yes, they have now jacked-up a Yaris and called it an SUV, but the C-HR was first and it's cooler, even despite the name meaning Coupe – High Rider. Absolute cringe-fest that, but one of the very few missteps in this changing of the guard for the Japanese giant.
Rolling on Toyota's excellent TNGA platform, the C-HR has settled nicely into its role as one of the bravest Toyotas in years (sold here in Australia, anyway). But with the arrival of the Yaris and Yaris Cross, it was time for a little tweak to the range.
|Engine Type||1.2L 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.
The two-tier C-HR range doesn't have a duffer in it and the great thing about it is that the base model is so good the temptation to spend up on the Koba is limited to cosmetic things (with one exception...). The GXL has lots of good safety gear and the only tangible missing thing is the Koba's reverse AEB and hybrid option. The hybrid uses half the petrol, so is worth considering as well as for the extra punch.
I find myself suggesting the C-HR without reservation to people I would never have recommended a Toyota to in the past – it's good value, beautifully-built and designed, great to drive and remarkably cheap to own and run.
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 C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch. I still have to remind people that it's a Toyota, it's so much more interesting than anything the brand has built for a long time. Show them a Supra and they have to be helped back to their feet. The big bluff front end with the huge headlights still cuts through the visual noise on the road. I still don't like the weird, clunky doorhandles on the rear doors which are ungainly and impractical, sited quite high for small children. The rear view is as polarising as ever, but I fall on the "yes, well done," side of the ledger.
The cabin is also virtually unchanged, which is the right thing to do because it really is very cool. It's a tad colourless like so many cabins these days, but with a consistent, coherent design philosophy, right down to the neat imprint in the headlining of the ovoid shape that dominates the interior design theme. The C-HR was one of the first cars to go without those big clunky rocker switches so beloved of Toyota for so long and it all feels really good.
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.
Up front, a long, narrow bin is a good place for your bits and pieces while the two separate cupholders and bottle holders in the doors will free up your hands and knees from holding the beverages. The rear cupholders are in the doors because there isn't an armrest but also means there are no bottle holders.
The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back but it's also gloomy as the glass sweeps up to meet the roof. Legroom is not bad for me at 180cm when seated behind where I drive and the seat itself is comfortable. The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model.
You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up and 1112 litres with them down, which is competitive if not outstanding in the segment.
You also have three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points for the very young folk.
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.
For some reason, Toyota thought the model designation "GXL" would fit the C-HR despite being far more at home on a Land Cruiser, which is a car with a very 1980s vibe versus the C-HR's 21st century zeitgeist feel. The main changes for the 2021 model year are added to the safety column, but GXL buyers pick up keyless entry and start.
Apart from that, things are more or less as they were before – you can still choose from 2WD ($30,915 plus on-roads) or AWD ($32,915). Remembering, of course, that this is the entry-level machine that used to be known as plain old C-HR and is now about $750 more than the MY20. The manual version is long gone, if you're wondering.
You get 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam, folding heated electric mirrors, power windows and a space-saver spare.
Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to again improve the touchscreen, which went up to 8.0-inches last year along with a big improvement in the media system software. It still looks washed-out and stretched but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The hardware really needs to be higher-resolution and the system itself really doesn't reflect Toyota's might in the industry. Better than it used to be, though and, with smartphone integration, less of a problem.
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 GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with just 85kW and 185Nm available to drag the 1440kg 2WD GXL around (heavier if it's AWD). Power goes through either the front or all four wheels via continuously variable transmission (CVT).
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.
Toyota claims a 5.7L/100km official combined cycle figure of 6.6L/100km and requires premium unleaded to run at its best. In my week with the car which was mostly suburban running with a little freeway dalliance returned an indicated 8.3L/100km. That's not a terrible distance away from the combined cycle and given I work C-HRs hard when I have them, that's not bad.
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 only real complaint I have about the C-HR is the drivetrain. There's not anything wrong with it – far from it – it's just that everything else in the class has more power and torque and which helps haul their weight along – the C-HR's is considerable at more than 1400kg. My long-term loan Suzuki Vitara Turbo weighs 300kg less and has a stack more power and torque for about the same money.
Added to that, the C-HR's economy-focussed continuously variable transmission (my second least favourite transmission after "community") means progress is fairly leisurely and can get a bit loud when you put your foot down.
Which I do a fair bit. While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota – it just doesn't have the horses and twist to pull the C-HR along as quickly as even Hyundai's 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the Kona, or the CVT-equipped Seltos. But that's okay – it's not a criticism, it's not like it's dangerously slow, it's just slower than most of its rivals and feels it. The Hybrid, which can only be specced with front-wheel drive and the Koba spec, is a little more peppy and the electric motor covers up some of the CVT's lax approach to acceleration.
It's also mildly frustrating because, hot damn, the chassis under the C-HR is really good. I'm going to mention TNGA again because it's such a good platform and I haven't driven a TNGA-based car that I didn't like. It's more than that, obviously – Toyota's engineers have built a driving experience around it that encourages yobbos like me to enjoy the way it corners while your passenger will enjoy the ride, which is excellent on all but the worst surfaces.
The C-HR is also pretty keen when it comes to cornering, with a nice progressive steering feel and weight. It's not particularly chatty, but again, it's a lot of fun and more fun than a few of its rivals. The roundabout raceway is a good laugh in this car.
The lack of go does come back to you on single carriageways when you want to overtake. While the C-HR cruises quietly and comfortably, a floored throttle for an overtake produces rather more bark than bite, so you'll find yourself settling comfortably behind whatever is slowing you down until you've got a long line of sight. Given the C-HR's likely citybound life, this is probably not going to be a big problem. If it is, again, the hybrid has a bit more go.
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 extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety.
On board the GXL are seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, high- and low-speed AEB with pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclists (day only), forward collision warning, trailer sway control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane trace assist (this keeps the car in the centre of the lane with gentle steering help), speed sign recognition (which can also change the cruise control speed if you want it to) and reverse cross traffic alert.
Added to that impressive lot is the intersection assist function, which warns you something is coming from the left or right at an intersection that you may not otherwise have clocked. That might seems a bit silly for the C-HR's stubby bonnet, but when your street is parked out and you can't see either way, it's extremely useful.
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).
Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with a further two years on the drivetrain if you service with Toyota.
Servicing with Toyota seems eminently sensible because for the first four years or four services (intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km) you won't pay more than $200 per service, which is a dead-set bargain.