Subaru Forester VS Volkswagen Golf
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Ride comfort
- Conservative styling
- Diesel engines' noise levels
- Premium unleaded only
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|
The Volkswagen Golf. More than 33 million produced over 40 years and seven generations. It's not quite more popular than blue jeans, or the iPhone, but it's close.
Actually, make that seven and a half generations, because this is Golf 7.5; as the name implies, a substantial mid-life upgrade of the current model.
So, to raise the stakes and, it's hoping, sales, VW has injected new life into its hugely respected marquee player with a range of design tweaks and tech upgrades.
|Engine Type||1.4L 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 Golf 7.5 is a great package from top to bottom. Volkswagen has hit all the right marks to bring its already excellent offering up to the pointy end of the intensely competitive small-car segment. And we think the entry-point 110TSI offers the best value of all. With high-end safety tech, amazing dynamics, a snappy drivetrain and sharp (introductory) drive-away pricing it will give the market leaders something to think about. And buyers as well.
Has Volkswagen done enough with this upgrade to put the Golf on your small car shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Unveiled late last year at the Paris Motor Show, the new Golf is available in three flavours – the familiar hatch, and a compact wagon, with the latter forming the basis of an all-wheel-drive, Alltrack variant.
From a design point of view you'll be hard-pressed to pick the Golf 7.5, with exterior changes focused on new headlights, revised front guards, and a restyled bumper. Think of it as an almost unnoticeable haircut.
At the back, the bumper has also been refreshed, and LED tail-lights are now standard across the range.
The wagon is a handsome alternative to the ubiquitous compact SUV, with the lines of the roof and glasshouse (identical to the hatch from nose to C-pillar) flowing seamlessly into a gently tapering and neatly composed rear end.
Inside, there's a new 8.0-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support standard on all models (as well as a 'Mirror Link' function for full Wi-Fi connection of tablet or mobile devices).
It's surprising how much of a difference the sleek new screen makes to the interior. Suddenly, the Golf's already premium character has been lifted to a different level.
The cool and classy cabin layout is otherwise largely unchanged, highlighted with dark accents on the volume models, and 'piano black' inserts on the Highline. The quality and attention to design detail are obvious.
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.
At just under 4.3 metres long the Golf hatch is small, but by no means cramped. There's tonnes of room and storage space up front with two cupholders, door pockets with bottle holders, and plenty of oddments space including a decent glovebox and a lidded bin between the seats.
All but the entry model pick-up another pair of cupholders in the rear, with adjustable air conditioning vents and flow control in the back of the front centre console, too.
Speaking of the back, there's heaps of room in there. I'm 183cm tall, and sitting behind my own driving position, I enjoyed surprisingly generous head and legroom.
Volkswagen claims 380 litres of cargo volume with the 60/40 split folding rear seats up, and a generous 1270 litres with them tipped forward.
Pushing towards 4.6 metres in length, the Golf wagon only nudges up 15mm in the wheelbase, so passenger accommodation is virtually identical to the hatch. And not surprisingly, it's in the luggage department where things start to diverge.
Even with the 60/40 split folding rear seats up the wagon boasts a hefty 605 litres of load space, growing to a cavernous 1620 litres with the second-row seats folded.
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.
Headline news is an aggressive introductory drive-away pricing strategy, designed to challenge the traditionally cheaper segment leaders, with the standard features list growing appreciably at the same time.
The previous entry-level 92TSI hatch has departed the building, with pricing now set across an $18.5k band from $23,990 drive-away (MSRP $23,990) for the 110TSI, to the all-wheel-drive Alltrack 135TDI Premium at $42,490 drive-away (MSRP $40,990).
The hatch offers a choice of four grades - base, Trendline, Comfortline, and Highline - with the current 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine powering all of them. A 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 110TDI version is available in the top-shelf Highline spec.
For that shrinking pool of people familiar with three pedals across the driver's footwell, a six-speed manual gearbox is available in the base and Trendline models, with Volkswagen's excellent 'DSG' dual-clutch auto offered across the line-up.
The wagon range comprises the top three grades, with diesel again an option on the primo Highline. The DSG dual-clutch is the only transmission available.
The Alltrack is a two-grade affair – base and Premium - with the choice of a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol, or higher output 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, with any gearbox you like, as long as it's a DSG (six-speed for the petrol, and seven for the diesel).
The entry-level 110TSI hatch is anything but a 'bait and switch' price-leader. It's loaded with everything from cruise control (with speed limit function) to seven airbags and driver-fatigue detection.
In fact, on top of the new multimedia screen and its connected functionality, all Golfs are now also fitted with auto emergency braking (AEB), alloy wheels (of various sizes), air-con, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, and a rear-view camera as standard.
Step into to the Trendline from $25,490 drive-away (MSRP $24,990), and things like rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, parking sensors, different 16-inch alloys, and a rear centre armrest (with cupholders) come your way.
Then the Comfortline from $29,990 drive-away (MSRP $28,990) adds 17-inch rims, dual-zone climate control air, 'Comfort' front seats, chrome interior and exterior highlights (including the wagon's roof rails), and a storage drawer under the front passenger seat.
Stump up for the Highline from $35,990 (MSRP $34,490) and the fruit starts to tumble in, with the highlights including 'leather-appointed' trim, 'Comfort Sport' front seats with electric adjustment and memory function for the driver, keyless entry and start, interior ambient lighting, LED headlights and a panoramic electric glass sunroof.
Three option packs are offered – 'Infotainment' ($2300), available on Comfortline and Highline, brings the excellent 'Active Info' configurable instrument display. It also adds 'Discover Pro' multimedia, delivered through a larger 9.2-inch screen, managing sat nav and other functions via gesture, touch, and voice control, as well as a top-shelf Dynaudio sound system.
'Park Assist', taking over the wheel for perpendicular or parallel parking manoeuvrers, is the star of the 'Driver Assistance' package ($1500), and the R-Line pack ($2500) brings the look, and some of the feel, of the GTI and Golf R, with a bodykit, bigger rims, and tuned suspension.
The entry-level Alltrack 132TSI at $35,990 drive-away (MSRP $34,490) is close to the hatch and wagon's Highline spec, although you'll need to opt for the flagship Premium version from $39,990 (MSRP $38,490) to pick up the partial leather trim, heated front seats and LED headlights.
Alltrack option packs are 'Driver Assistance' ($1800), 'Infotainment' ($2300), and 'Sport Luxury' ($2900), which includes 18-inch alloys, the electric seat adjustment, panoramic roof, and more.
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 Golf hatch and wagon range is in large part powered by the EA211 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, a stalwart of the Australian Golf range since the seventh-generation version arrived here in 2013.
Featuring 16 valves, direct-injection, and a single turbocharger, in Golf 7.5 guise it produces 110kW from 5000-6000rpm, and 250Nm across a broad plateau from just 1500-3500rpm.
Base and Trendline models are available with a six-speed manual, while VW's excellent (and ever-improving) 'DSG' dual-clutch auto spans the line-up.
If diesel's more your thing, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit is available on the Highline model, producing an identical 110kW at 3500-4000rpm, with torque stepping up to 340Nm from 1750-3000rpm.
The diesel's a manual-free zone, with the seven-speed DSG the only option, but no matter what type of transmission you choose, drive goes exclusively to the front wheels.
Climbing (modest) mountains and fording (gentle) streams is the Alltrack's department, with power coming courtesy of a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four, delivering 132kW from 4500-6200rpm and 280Nm from 1350-4500rpm.
Alternately, a higher output version of the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four is an option on the high-spec Alltrack Premium, delivering 135kW from 3500-4000rpm, and an even gruntier 380Nm, the peak arriving at 1750rpm and hanging around until 3000rpm.
Petrol Alltracks are fitted with a six-speed dual clutch auto, while the diesel features an extra ratio, both sending drive to all four wheels via the '4Motion' permanent all-wheel drive system.
Built around an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch pack, 4Motion uses an ECU integrated with the car's ESC set-up to continuously vary the torque split between front and rear axles.
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.
Gone are the days where a manual gearbox would outperform an auto transmission in the battle of the bowser.
Volkswagen claims the base (petrol, manual) Golf will consume 5.7L/100km on the combined (urban/extra urban) cycle, emitting 133g/km of CO2 in the process.
But swap out the manual for a dual-clutch, and that figure drops to 5.4L/100km for the hatch (128g/km) and 5.6 for the wagon (131g/km).
Tick the diesel option for the top-shelf Highline and your wallet will be even happier; the hatch consuming just 4.9L/100km (129g/km), and the wagon a round 5.0 (132g/km).
Step up to the Alltrack petrol and you're looking at 6.8L/100km (160g/km), with the high-output diesel sipping only 5.4 (142g/km).
The fuel tank in the hatch and wagon holds 50 litres, while the Alltrack's grows to 55 litres. And it's worth noting the petrol units are tuned for minimum 95RON premium unleaded.
The Subaru Forester is a smooth and decent family SUV, one that doesn't necessarily do anything exceptionally well, but nor is it terrible at anything when it comes to on-road driving.
In fact, my biggest complaint is the noise intrusion - there's quite a bit of tyre roar through even normal road surfaces, and coarse chip roads are louder again. There's also wind noise up around the windscreen and mirrors, and the engine is noisy under acceleration because of the CVT automatic transmission, and it doesn't sound overly delightful, either.
That said, the 2.5-litre engine's response is pretty good, offering decent and linear power delivery. It's not fast, not overly fun, and the CVT auto does rob it some of the excitement you might want. However, it jumps away from a standstill pretty nicely, and if you can hit the sweet spot when you're accelerating you might be surprised by its brisk response.
There are paddle shifters to take matters into your own hands - though even if you use the SI drive mode selector (Sport or Intelligent drive modes), it's less thrusty than turbocharged competitors (Ford Escape) or even hybrid-powered rivals (Toyota RAV4).
The ride comfort is quite good, there's a nice supple attitude to the suspension and the way it controls itself over bumps, but it is quite soft and that means that there is some noticeable body roll in corners.
Thankfully the seats are really quite nice and offer good support, and while the steering is decently weighted and accurate enough it's hardly the last word in excitement for thrills. I'm also not much of a fan of the lane keeping system and how it affects the steering, as it interrupts the smoothness of your steering a little too much. There's a button you can hit to turn it off, but you have to do it every time.
And that driver-monitoring camera system really does make you realise how much you're not looking at the road ahead. I'm a constant glancer, looking at whatever is driving past or whatever I see parked in people's driveways, and the system really made me realise that.
Because it's a Forester with all-wheel drive, I took it for a brief light off road review expedition, where it lived up to the brand's adventure-focused persona.
The most impressive element was a combination of nice high ground clearance (220mm), plus the way that soft suspension rolled over rocks and bumps allows decent travel to the suspension, and good control to the driver's hands, too.
The drive mode selection system allows you to choose "snow/dirt" or "deep snow/mud", meaning soggy camping trips or drives to the snow should be pretty well catered for. Like most soft-roading vehicles and crossovers, though, the tyres will be your biggest letdown but also your easiest upgrade.
The hill descent control system worked really well, and while I wasn't pushing any boundaries of what to expect a SUV like this to do, it was pretty well sorted of the whole.
The overriding, almost overwhelming first impression in driving any recent Golf is the outstanding ride quality. You'd swear the wheelbase was half as long again, because it rides like a larger, luxury car.
Even the entry-level vehicle is quiet, comfortable, and refined. Steering feel is great, and the petrol 1.4 is smooth and eager; there's simply no way you'd pick it as a turbo.
Volkswagen claims 8.2 seconds for the sprint from 0-100km/h for the base car, whether you're shifting the gears yourself or the tricky dual-clutch is doing it for you.
That's pretty much the Goldilocks performance zone for a car that's likely to do most of its work in the urban jungle, yet needs to retain the ability to confidently stride out onto the open road when required.
The diesel version is only fractionally slower to licence-loss velocity (8.6sec), and while it doesn't feel as revvy and urgent, it packs a satisfying punch of mid-range torque. It is definitely and noticeably noisier, though.
As usual, the Golf is a model of ergonomic efficiency, with the new multimedia screen enhancing ease of use and connectivity, the seats front and rear are comfortable yet supportive, and you're spoiled for choice between the sweet six-speed manual and rapid-fire DSG (with wheel-mounted paddles on upper variants).
The wagon employs the same strut front, four-link rear suspension arrangement as the hatch, and despite its extra length and interior volume it gives nothing away in terms of noise suppression or general refinement.
Moving up the spec pecking order from 16-, through 17-, to optional 18-inch alloy wheels does nothing to compromise overall composure;, body control is exceptional, and the brakes are agreeably progressive.
Response from the Alltrack's more powerful engines is partially offset by an increase in kerb weight (petrol +165kg / diesel +101kg), with the 1.8-litre petrol and high-output 2.0-litre diesel both recording 7.8sec 0-100km/h. But despite its more macho appearance and SUV-focused rubber, the Alltrack is an equally refined drive.
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.
Golfs of all descriptions incorporate an impressive array of standard safety tech, including active features like cruise control (with programmable speed limiter), distance warning display, driver fatigue detection, AEB, ABS, EBD, BA, EDL, multi-collision brake, ASR, tyre-pressure indicator, and a rear-view camera.
And when all that isn't enough to avoid a collision, no less than seven airbags are on board (driver and front passenger head and side, driver's knee and front and rear curtain).
There are three child-restraint top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
As well as the previously mentioned auto-parking feature, the optional driver assistance package includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind spot monitor, and rear traffic alert.
Although the 7.5 upgrade hasn't been specifically tested by ANCAP, the current Golf scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed at launch in early 2013.
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).
Volkswagen Australia's new-vehicle warranty covers three years/unlimited km, with paint covered for the same period, and the main steel body structure is under warranty for no less than 12 years (unlimited km).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, with indicative costs for the first five years/75,000km ranging from a low of $318, to a high of $751, for a total of $2276, and an average of $455 per service.