Suzuki Vitara VS Subaru Forester
- Good interior space
- Reasonably priced
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Lack of advanced safety
- Range-wide AEB and active cruise
- Lots of kit for your $$$
- Real-world practicality
- Derivative styling
- Engine missing turbo mid-range
- Engine line-up has gone from 4-1
Suzuki's much-loved Vitara returned in 2015 and it was a happy day for people over a certain age. Over the years, Suzuki has tweaked and trimmed the range, ditching the diesel (much to the chagrin of towing fans) and leaving us with three Vitaras with the subtly updated 2019 model - the entry-level, the Turbo and the Turbo Allgrip.
The entry-level Vitara is a lot of car for the money but there is a small catch - instead of the excellent 1.4-litre turbo engine of the other two, it ships with a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine that has significantly less power than anything else in the segment.
That doesn't seem to bother the target market, though - the base Vitara is by far the biggest seller in the range.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
If you haven't seen Clint Eastwood's son, Scott, you should Google him - he's a dead ringer for his Dad. But while he might be following in his father's Hollywood footprints, he's of a completely new generation.
A similar story applies with the new fifth-generation Forester. It looks a lot like the model before it, but everything you see is actually new.
That's hardly a new phenomenon, with most previous Foresters representing a blur of evolutionary design. Subaru does this across the board, actually, to protect existing owners from feeling like they're yesterday's news, and to take advantage of feelings of fond familiarity when those owners look to update their cars.
This precludes a lot of the excitement of new design, but Subarus have rarely been about visual appeal (the fourth-gen Liberty is one big exception), rather a quirkiness that stands aside from a lot of the same-same from other mainstream brands, which is paired with the relative USP of all wheel drive.
So there's method to the mimicry, and every conceivable element has been improved. Matt Campbell was impressed after his limited experience at the Forester's international launch in July, but this week's Australian launch gave us the full picture of this latest version of Subaru's mid-size SUV.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It's frustrating that the Vitara is a good car fitted with such a weak engine. It's got great interior space for less money than a Qashqai, a big boot and some nice touches.
The ledger for the base model Vitara is more balanced than the higher grades. While the turbo-engined machines get along very nicely, the ride and handling are great and all the Vitara's strengths are magnified, the entry-level struggles against similarly-priced competition.
The Vitara Turbo is the one to get if you can stretch to it. The Vitara isn't ruined by this engine, but it is compromised.
Is engine power a big deal for you? Or is the Vitara's lack of pace and refinement secondary to its undeniable charms? Let us know in the comments below.
It remains to be seen whether Scott Eastwood is able to match the cinematic legend of his father, but it's clear that the new Forester is better in every way than the model it replaces. If you were a fan of the old one, you'll love this one, and it's pretty tough to argue against if you're in the market for a mid-size SUV.
If you can live without leather seats, the 2.5i-Premium is probably the sweet spot of the range, given it brings all the safety gear, the bigger multimedia screen and the power tailgate for a list price of under $40,000. Having said that, the top 2.5i-S is also a pretty good deal for just $3000 more.
Would the new Forester tempt you away from a CX-5? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Also check out Matt Campbell's review video from the Forester's international launch:
Not everyone is a fan of the new Vitara's looks, but I am. Most of the colours are fairly vivid and everyone seems to buy it in metallic green, so it was nice to have it in this grey/silver (optional) colour.
The chrome grille can be a little bit much, but I really like the purposeful, chunky profile. Wasn't sure about the new rear lights at first, but as I said in the Allgrip review, they had already grown on me.
The Vitara's interior isn't going to win any materials quality awards, but it seems like it will last a long time. There's nothing amazing about it apart from the fact it's roomy and everything looks and feels honest.
My first experience with the new Forester actually came the week before the launch, when I overtook one of the launch cars being run-in in country NSW.
It wasn't until I was within two car-lengths that I realised it was the new model, and this was approaching it from its most distinguished angle. The tail-lights are the biggest giveaway, with the slash of body colour eating into each light - as inspired by Subaru's recent Viziv concepts.
Many will probably need to see them parked side by side to pick the exterior from the old one, but the fundamental newness starts with its adoption of the latest Subaru Global Platform, as already seen with the Impreza and XV.
The body is now 53 per cent high-tensile steel, which makes for a stronger chassis that's lighter than it would be otherwise. Despite its growth and expanded list of features, the new Forester is just 26kg heavier as the base 2.5i, and 15kg as the top spec 2.5i-S.
In terms of size and dimensions, the key growth area has been an extra 30mm of wheelbase, which accounts for the lion's share of the extra 33mm between the front and rear seats that represents the biggest gain for interior dimensions.
As you'll see in the video and interior images, the inside is an evolution of the design used in the Impreza and the XV. The dashboard actually appears to be a direct lift from these, and is therefore dominated by vertical vents either side of the multimedia (6.5 inch on the lower two trim levels, 8.0 inch on the upper two) screen. There's a 6.3-inch multifunction display (MFD) atop the dash for monitoring vehicle functions, which is joined by a third screen in the instrument binnacle.
In the upper 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S variants (the ones we drove on test, at least), this means a good variety of materials and textures, although the soft golf ball-like surface on the centre console is hard on the door trims. It's also surprising to see leather trim limited to the top 2.5i-S.
Regardless, it all feels like a typical Subaru; good, resilient quality.
Passenger space in the Vitara is excellent for a compact SUV. Part of the reason back seat occupants do so well is because the roof is high, the doors aren't very thick and the seat is a long way off the floor, meaning the distance between the front and rear seats isn't made smaller by angled legs. It's comfortable, too.
Which is lucky because you won't have anywhere to put your drinks or phones or your inboard elbows, which is a shame.
Front seat passengers have somewhere to put their elbows and there are two cupholders. All four doors have a bottle holder.
The boot has a false floor under which you can hide a decent amount of stuff, including small bags. Its volume starts at a decent 375 litres (beaten only by Honda's HR-V and Nissan's Qashqai). Drop the rear seats and space increases to 1120 litres.
Real-world practicality has always been a Forester hallmark, and the new model pushes the envelope even further.
Starting up the front, driver visibility has been improved by increasing the gap between the A-pillar and the rear-view mirrors, meaning you can see more through the quarter windows when turning corners or when judging parking situations.
As you'd expect, there are a couple of cup holders in the centre console, plus a 12V charge point in the lidded bin, and another in the centre stack, while the lower two trim levels get one USB port, and the upper two get two. All trim levels get a sunglass holder in the overhead console.
The backseat scores the aforementioned extra 33mm between the front and rear seats, which extrapolates to an extra 65mm of net rear legroom. Shoulder room is up by 20mm and hip room by 15mm, which is well in excess of what's needed for my 172cm frame.
The flat beltline allows big windows to maximise child visibility. All versions get a backseat armrest with two cupholders and two ISOFIX points. Without a sliding rear seat, though, it'll be worth trial-fitting a rear-facing child seat, if that's part of your life, to ensure there's enough room left for front-seat occupants.
The back of the centre console now comes with directional air vents, which sit above two quick-charge USB points.
There are bottle holders in each door, and as a nod to the many Foresters you see wearing roof racks, the rear door sill has been broadened and grip has been added to improve its function as a step ladder when loading something onto the roof.
The upper two trim levels come with a power tailgate that now operates nearly twice as quickly as before (hallelujah!) and locks the rest of the car automatically once it's closed.
The rear opening is nicely squared off and measures 1300mm across, or sufficient dimensions to load a set of golf clubs, width-wise. The boot size is 76 litres bigger with the seats up, now measuring 498 litres, which expands to a luggage capacity or maximum storage space of 1481 litres with the 60/40 rear seatback folded. The top two variants also now score a one-touch electric folding function for the rear seat.
Unless you've suffered the inconvenience of a flat tyre with just a space saver or inflation kit as backup, you won't fully appreciate the fact that the new Forester still packs a full size spare wheel across the line-up. Most of its rivals do not.
The boot area is also adorned with tie-down points, cargo hooks and a third 12V charge point.
If you're looking to tow, all four versions of the new Forester carry a maximum braked towing capacity of 1500kg, with a maximum towball weight of 150kg - which is about average for its class. We're aiming to bring one to a towing review in the near future.
Price and features
Engine aside, there is much to like about the base model Vitara - in fact any Vitara - and this one is a pretty decent $24,990.
That lands you, all the way from (somewhat unexpectedly) Hungary, 17-inch alloys, climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, sat nav, leather steering wheel, cloth trim, power windows, four-speaker stereo and a space-saver spare.
That four-speaker stereo is run from the same touchscreen found in pretty much every Suzuki. The basic software is okay but the hardware itself is a bit iffy. Cleverly (and unlike Toyota), Suzuki knew an easy fix for that is to throw in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sorted.
If you're stretching the budget to reach for a Forester, you'll be disappointed to read that the cost of entry has risen by $3250 to $33,490 (MSRP) for the new entry-level 2.5i variant. This is because the previous price-leading 2.0-litre petrol engine has been dropped, in addition to the 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.0-litre turbo petrol performance option in favour of an all 2.5-litre petrol line-up.
The absence of the two turbo engines also means the Forester range now tops out $6,250 earlier (for now), and consolidates your options down to just four trim levels. The price list moves from the 2.5i up to the $35,490 2.5i-L, then the $38,490 2.5i-Premium, before the $41,490 2.5i-S at the top of the range.
All told, the range represents pretty stunning value with no shortage of gadgets, and as of this week you'll be able to buy a Forester directly from Subaru online at a drive-away price.
All versions are now equipped with AEB via the EyeSight system, but more on that under Safety.
Apple CarPlay (for iPhone users), Android Auto (for pretty much everyone else), and digital radio (DAB) are also available, and fitted standard across the range for the first time, and if you're not the smartphone-mirroring type, the built-in satellite navigation (GPS) fitted to the top two models is a new TomTom system.
The top three models also come with the new Driver Focus driver-monitoring system which detects drowsiness, but can also recognise the driver's face and adjusts to your preferences when you sit in the driver's seat. Each Forester so equipped enables more preferences to be remembered depending on how much you spend, but the system will remember up to five drivers. In practice, it's pretty amazing technology; the moment you sit down and look forward it gets to work and your settings are restored before you can think about it.
Key standard features for the base 2.5i include a 6.5-inch multimedia touch screen, Harman Kardon sound system with six speakers, dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, leather steering wheel and gearknob, active cruise control, tinted windows at the rear, rain sensing wipers, automatic active LED headlights, daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, front and rear foglights, heated folding door mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, hill start assist, the basic version of the off-road focused X-Mode drive mode, hill descent control, Bluetooth and 17-inch alloys.
The 2.5i-L brings Driver Focus in its most basic form, which includes distraction and drowsiness warnings and will remember your previous climate control settings, along with how you left the dash top and driver instrument screens.
The second-tier model also adds a third camera beyond the EyeSight system, mounted in the grille, which enables the Vision Assist suite of safety features. This is comprised of Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. More sensors in the back of the car enables Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB).
The 2.5i-Premium brings dashes of extra chrome to the outside, upgraded cloth seats and dash and door trim, alloy pedals, 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in navigation system, eight-way power front seats with memory settings, auto folding door mirrors with dipping passenger mirror, power folding rear seats, power tailgate, and 18-inch rims.
The Driver Focus system also adds driver's seat and door mirror setting recollection.
The top-spec 2.5i-S brings even more exterior and interior garnishes, including leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio plus a subwoofer, and the X-Mode off-road drive program scores two modes to choose from, tailored for either snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
Engine & trans
The 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the base Vitara wheezes up just 86kW and 156Nm, easily the least-powerful in its class, and by some margin.
I often joke that it's almost like there is legislation about how much power a compact SUV must have. The Vitara is proof there isn't. The $29,990 Turbo has 102kW/220Nm, for comparison.
As with the turbo cars, the 1.6 has a proper six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. You can also get a five-speed manual for $23,990. Luckily it weighs bugger-all at 1180kg.
The Vitara offers 1200kg towing for braked trailers and 400kg unbraked.
Rather than the four engine choices and manual transmission option of the Forester it replaces, the new model is available with just one of each. That means no turbo diesel and no turbocharged petrol. The 2.5-litre auto was by far the most popular option before, so it's not all fire and brimstone.
This is the first application of the 2.5 motor with direct injection, which is 90 per cent new according to Subaru. The most measurable specifications gain is an extra 10kW and 4Nm, which now totals a decent 136kW/239Nm for this engine size without a turbo.
Max horsepower is developed at the same 5800rpm as before, while max torque now arrives 300rpm later at 4400rpm. Impressively, these numbers are still possible with Regular 91 RON unleaded.
Unlike the Subarus of old, the 2.5 uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt, which is designed to last the life of the engine. The CVT automatic transmission has also been revised, now with a greater spread of ratios, and the manual mode now has seven stages.
Like all Subarus aside from the BRZ, the new Forester drives all four wheels (front wheel drive is not an option) through the tried and tested Symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Therefore, it's the only mainstream mid-size SUV without price-leading front-wheel-drive variants.
The non-turbo Vitara clocks up an official combined cycle fuel consumption rating of 6.0L/100km, 0.1L/100km worse than the Turbo.
My week with the car saw an indicated 9.2L/100km which is almost a litre worse than the Turbo Allgrip I last tested, and a whole lot less fun.
With one engine and transmission across the board, there's just one fuel economy figure to note. The new Forester's official combined petrol consumption figure of 7.4L/100km is 0.7 better than the previous 2.5 auto, and is line-ball with the CX-5 2.5's mileage. It's also within cooee of the diesel fuel consumption figure of 6.4 in the outgoing model.
As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the Forester manages this on Regular 91 RON unleaded fuel, where a lot of its rivals demand more expensive Premium 95 RON to generate decent figures.
The fuel tank size is a generous 63 litres, which suggests a theoretical range of 851km is possible between fills.
As has been the case since the Vitara's re-emergence a few years ago, it's a good car to drive. Light steering, supple ride and good body control mean progress is smooth and, if you're going downhill, fun.
For a modern car, it's a featherweight, but without the bounciness of some other cars of this weight. It's also quite maneuverable and is unexpectedly slim, meaning you can thread it around easily and it's not a bother in car parks or tight city streets.
It's good on urban streets, too, because it soaks up bumps and lumps very well.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - the Vitara is a good car. But in this spec, it's a good car with a deeply ordinary engine.
It's noisy, which wouldn't matter except to get anything like decent movement, you have to rev it. If you use anything more than quarter throttle - and you really have to - the transmission kicks down to try and find the scraps of torque on offer. It might be light, but the torque figure just isn't enough to move the Vitara with any urgency.
The base Vitara is slow and noisy and from that perspective is no match for its similarly-priced competition. Compounded by a lack of refinement from both engine and transmission, it highlights what a good engine is the 1.4-litre turbo.
The Vitara is slow and noisy, and from that perspective is no match for its similarly-priced competition.
Matt's number-one question mark over the new Forester from its international launch was how it would handle rough Australian roads, given he only drove it on a billiard table-smooth, road-cycling track in Japan. Matt's concern is underpinned by the fact that the Liberty and Outback's latest suspension revisions lack the poise of the versions they replaced.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of dirt roads for the Australian launch, which was held around the Grampian Mountains in Victoria. I can report that the new Forester is still a dirt-road expert, its off road capability helped by decent suspension travel, body control and the same ground clearance mm (220mm) as before, along with unpainted plastic around its perimeter to mitigate stone damage.
The stability control is well calibrated for dirt, too, although its intervention is rarely required given the all-wheel-drive system's ability to maintain composure and put power to the ground via the front and rear. We didn't get the chance to test its off-road capability properly on launch, but keep an eye out for our Adventure review in the near future.
It offers similar performance on the road, still feeling compact and nimble (10.8m turning circle) for its class, despite the new model's growth, and the steering feel is good for a car of its type.
The 2.5-litre engine will indeed suit most buyers, but it doesn't have the easy low-rev urge or outright refinement of a smaller turbo unit used by the likes of the CR-V, Tiguan or Escape. The Mazda CX-5 is about the same as the Forester in these areas, which doesn't appear to hurt its popularity.
The previous model's automatic transmission was already one of, if not the best, CVT in the business, and it continues to work well, with the characteristic drone only overcoming road noise in the cabin under sustained full-throttle acceleration. Speaking of which, the new model carries a decent 9.5 second 0-100 acceleration claim.
So all told, the new Forester continues its tradition as a nice all-round drive.
Subaru is known to be one of the leaders when it comes to safety, and the new Forester's credentials don't disappoint.
The standard fitment of EyeSight across the range is a key step, as it brings AEB that will automatically detect potential collisions and bring the car to a full emergency stop at speeds up to 40km/h. The system continues to apply lesser drgrees of braking intervention right up to 145km/h.
EyeSight also brings rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning and lane change assist across the board, but the active safety list continues on the 2.5i-L with the Vision Assist system.
Using a third camera mounted in the grille, Vision Assist brings a Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. Clever parking sensors in the rear bring Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB), which we'd describe as rear AEB.
These active safety features are backed up by dual front and side airbags, curtain airbags covering the front and rear, a driver's knee bag, and stability control (or ESP).
Another noteworthy new feature is the washer that sprays the reverse camera whenever the rear windscreen wiper is activated.
As mentioned above, the rear seat is equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the outboard positions, while the centre position makes do with just a top tether baby car seat mount.
The new Forester is expected to match the existing model's maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating - and based on more stringent 2018 standards - but this result is yet to be confirmed. Our safety score is based on the assumption it will score five stars, so please double check.
Suzuki offers a three year/100,000km warranty, but there's a small catch. If you continue to service it at Suzuki dealer every six months/10,000km, you're extended to five years/100,000km. That seems like a decent deal.
Somehow, the 1.6 costs more to service than the more complex 1.4-litre turbo, working out at an average $516 per year over the first 60 months.
The Forester is covered by Subaru's regular three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which now lags behind the five-year terms offered by most mainstream brands. Subaru has occasionally offered a five-year extended warranty as a limited offer, but is investigating a permanent extension. Watch this space.
The Forester's service intervals have now been brought into line with the Impreza and XV, doubling the scheduled time between services to 12 months, but retaining the same 12,500km distance.
Capped-price servicing is available for the first three intervals, which amount to $346,39, $584.45 and $346.39 respectively, resulting in a total service cost of $1,277.23 over the first three years. Several other brands offer capped pricing beyond the warranty period, and Subaru's scheme is still on the pricey side, but the doubling of the time interval has resulted in a net maintenance cost value improvement over the previous model.
Being an all-new model, the new Forester starts with a clean reliability slate, but any common problems, durability or reliability issues, complaints, faults will likely be revealed in time on our Subaru Forester problems page.