Subaru Forester 2.5i-S road test and review
FOR well on two decades the Subaru Forester had the run of the land, leading and innovating the medium SUV market and trouncing all pretenders by keeping the ear of buyers.
Until Mazda's CX-5 that is.
The ascendency of a new leader buoyed the challenge of other young, energetic contenders and it wasn't long before the Forester was in the middle of a cunning cat fight.
Of course, Subaru buyers are a loyal lot and the Forester has a great many bows in its quiver. Yet, even Robin Hood needed a helping hand. And that is, in essence, what this mid-cycle update is all about, equipping the Forrester with added firepower so it can not only hold off the increasingly determined charge but also bolster its forces by appealing to new buyers.
We took the Forester 2.5i-S, expected to be the volume seller, home for the week.
It is clear the interior of this updated Forester has been pepped up with the increased use of soft-touch textured materials as well as brushed chrome and piano-black gloss highlights to complete the look.
The combination offers a suitably more premium feel, one that buyers will no doubt appreciate, but the overall feel remains one of restraint rather than heady excitement. The driving position is excellent, helped of course by the improved all-round visibility, while the seats themselves quickly mould to the body offering support in the right places. Instrumentation is easy to read and well lit at night with the uncluttered dash easy enough to navigate without taking your eyes off the road.
A slightly longer wheelbase offers rear seat passengers extra comfort, not that they were lacking before, and there is plenty of headroom back there too even for taller occupants.
On the road
The 2.5-litre petrol boxer that powered our test car is well used across the Subaru range and for good reason, quickly showing itself to be a neat, competent performer. There is some hesitation from standstill with a bit of urging required for quick overtaking but that is easy to get used to with the Forester delivering a smooth efficient drive irrespective of the terrain.
The CVT, as is its wont, can be noisily annoying and despite being modified it can drone on a bit. Thankfully work to improve the NVH levels, including the use of new door seals and thicker glass, manages to drown out a fair bit of that noise.
An improved suspension is the big news for this updated SUV with changes to the springs, dampers, bushes and a new stabiliser bar, making for a vehicle that is compliant on all surfaces despite a firmer ride, shows no signs of body roll even when hustled.
Off the bitumen, this SUV is assured of its ability with excellent traction and the nous to keep you out of trouble. X Mode, activated by pressing a button on the dash, ensures you get maximum traction on muddy and steep roads by coercing the engine, transmission, brakes, all-wheel-driving system and hill descent control into a coordinated approach.
What do you get?
Our mid-range 2.5i-S gets 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and reverse camera, Bluetooth handsfree with audio streaming and voice recognition, powered front seats, cornering headlights, powered tailgate and heated front seats amongst others.
This Forester also sports Subaru's Eyesight system which features radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, sway warning and anti-fatigue alerts.
Subaru claims 8.1l/100km while our week, in mixed conditions over varying distances was close to 9.4l/100km. Warranty is three years unlimited kilometres.
This medium SUV market is nothing if not crowded and the Forester has to contend with the Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport (35,790), Toyota RAV4 GXL (from $36,990), Nissan X-Trail ST-L (from $39,490), Mitsubishi Outlander LS (from $33,490), Kia Sportage SLi (from $33,490) and Hyundai Tucson Elite T-GDi (from $38,240).
One of the charms of the Forester that it can be many things to different buyers and easily at that. It is a great family car, better for two kids although we have friends who make it work with three, with a nice high driving position and a generous boot.
Its rugged makeup and ability on all surfaces allows it to be as useful in a rural setting as it is in an urban one, and it has excellent comforts and connectivity. We found the lane keep assist a touch too sensitive and also bemoaned the lack of features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
The Forester has always marched to the sound of its own drummer and this update is no different, with the SUV getting a new grille, freshened up bumpers, redesigned LED tail lights, adaptive cornering lights and daytime running lights. It is far from the cutting edge design employed by some rivals but the Forester seems happy in its skin.
It is pleasing when mid-cycle changes add real value and this one does that by ensuring an already capable, efficient and loved SUV has been made better. It rides better, feels better and is more generously equipped, but whether it will be enough for the Forester to hold firm against younger, trendier rivals, will be the real test.
What matters most
What we liked: Driving dynamics, improved visibility, confidence in ability.
What we'd like to see: Trendier looks, adjustable rear air vents, increased safety suite.
Warranty: 3 year unlimited kilometres.
Model: Subaru Forester 2.5i-S.
Details: Five-door four-wheel-drive medium SUV.
Engine: 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed Boxer four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 126kW @ 5800rpm and peak torque of 235Nm @ 4100rpm.
Transmission: CVT auto.
Consumption: 8.1 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on roads: From $39,490.
Driving experience 17/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 18/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 17/20