“Pretender SUVs move over,” says Subaru New Zealand, the new Forester is here! According to Subaru, too many SUVs are just 2WDs dressed up as a 4WD. With the Forester, you get a ‘real’ full-time AWD. Having owned Subaru AWDs previously and actually using them on unsealed roads daily in the Far North, I was keen to see how the 2015 Forester stacked up.
Unfortunately, we no longer live in the Far North – and while I would have loved to have taken the Forester up there for a real test drive, time just didn’t allow.
According to Subaru, a third of roads in New Zealand are unsealed, and I’ve seen that figure before in other stats. While us city dwellers seem to use SUVs for towing the boat or going to the mountain, there are many others who have an AWD because they need to. The metal roads in the Far North for example would rattle a ‘normal’ car to pieces in 12 months. You need the strength of an AWD and the way they are built to be able to cope.
One thing that has also changed is the pricing, but in a good way. More standard equipment but cheaper prices? You got it. Prices have been cut in the range of $3000 and $5000 on the previous model. The entry level 2.5i is priced at $39,990, a reduction of $5000, the same price decrease as the 2.5i Premium which is now $49,990. The mid-range 2.5i Sport has come down $3000 to $44,990.
The Forester 2.0 Diesel, now with Lineartronic transmission is $46,990, a $3000 reduction on the outgoing manual gearbox Forester Diesel, and the turbocharged 2.0 XT Premium is now $54,990, a drop of $5000.
Launched in 1997, the Forester has been with us for a while now, and this is the 4th generation. A thought I had and a comment others made when seeing it, is that all of a sudden it’s all grown up. While not much larger than the previous model, it seems to have a Big Boy look to it now. I’m still on the fence with the Forester styling. I almost couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realised it doesn’t really look different from others in this segment. Not boring or ugly, just the same. I was discussing the Forester with a car enthusiast and he nailed it. “Subaru have lost their flair,” he said. For years, they were the underdog. The car that had that funny motor and were different. Now though, they are more mainstream.
Back to the car! Standard features now includes the same new infotainment system (with a 7” screen) as the recently launched Outback. Both Premium models add Satellite Navigation.
Add in Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive, Subaru’s Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive), a good 220mm of ground clearance, one touch electric folding rear seats, front fog lights, USB port, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls for audio/phone, a reversing camera, auto stop-start, X-Mode AWD, and a 5-Star ANCAP safety rating.
Our test car was the 2.5i-Premium, which added things like a large electric sunroof, 18” alloys, self-levelling headlights, auto lights and wipers, heated mirrors, dual zone air con, heated front seats, leather steering wheel, leather seating, 8-way power driver’s seat, and electric tailgate open/close. Interestingly our test car had a power passenger’s seat as well, but that’s not listed as standard on the Premium model, and is only supposed to be on the Turbo model.
The Premium model also adds keyless entry/start, and EyeSight technology to control things like lane departure and adaptive cruise control (more on that later).
All three 2.5 models of the Forester share the same 2.5-litre, horizontally-opposed 4 cylinder petrol engine, in true Subaru fashion. The XT model is a 2-litre turbo and the diesel is a 2.0-litre as well, with a decent 350Nm of torque. That 2.5 engine puts out 126Kw of power at 5800rpm and an average for the class 235Nm of torque at 4100rpm.
The ‘Lineartronic’ CVT auto is fitted to all three 2.5-litre models, with only the base 2.5i not being fitted with steering wheel paddles.
It’s great to see the Forester with a full-size spare, but boy does it eat into the boot space. It’s quite shallow back there – still usable, but when you lift the floor up you can see how much depth is sucked up by the spare.
Some nice 18” alloys on this Premium model; I didn’t spot a Forester with the 17” alloys but this size suits it well. Our test car had a Big Ass sunroof. But as with lots of sun roofs, after a while the novelty wears off and you just leave it closed.
The electric tailgate is handy, especially when your hands are full, and there is a memory button by the driver’s seat just in case you always park in a low garage somewhere.
I was impressed by the reversing camera quality – super crisp and clear, and so much better than my daily driver.
What’s it like to live with?
My first thought when jumping in the driver’s seat was, “look at that steering wheel!” No less than 18 (!) buttons adorn the steering wheel, not including the shifter paddles. That’s a lot of buttons. Guess what…it works. A few months ago I tested the Toyota Landcruiser Prado, which used Toyota’s now-standard cruise control stalk, and I didn’t like it. I ended that paragraph with, “there must be a better way”. Subaru has done well here. While some of the buttons are quite small, you get used to the layout very quickly and it works brilliantly. The cruise control takes 5 buttons on its own, and you can still control it while driving and not looking at them. Excellent stuff, Subaru. It may seem trivial but when you are using these buttons a lot, having them work well is important.
This Forester is a highly–equipped car, and much of that equipment is electronic. While I am a Gadget Man, I have previously shunned or ignored some electronic things out of – dare I admit it – fear. For example, while Adaptive Cruise Control is still a high-end feature, but becoming more prevalent. I’ve never felt like trusting it. However this time, since the Forester is loaded with electronics, I decided to give it a crack. What a revelation. In a traffic jam leaving Wellington, I set it to 80Km/h even though I was stuck in traffic crawling at speeds between 10 and 80km/h, I just steered the car and let it do the rest. It was brilliant! Sure there were some freak-out moments. Luckily no one else was in the car to hear me yell, “Gah! Gah!” as the Sub approached traffic that was stopped – but sure enough it just slowed down to match the speed of the other traffic. Awesome.
If you don’t like the adaptive cruise control you can easily switch it to ‘normal’ cruise, which works as it should. But I am now a convert and will never go back. In a traffic jam situation like that you can rely on the car from stopping you rear-ending someone and just concentrate on steering.
The Forester is fitted with auto stop-start for city traffic. I had a bit of fun with this. Most cars just stop when you get to the lights etc, but the Subaru seemed to turn off its engine maybe 1 time in 5 of when it was supposed to turn off. On a single trip, it would turn itself off at one set of lights, but not any others. Not a biggie, but I expected this to work seamlessly, as it does in other cars.
Another electronic safety feature is Collision Avoidance. I’m not sure about the other reviewers, but I have tried many times to test this out on new cars, since it’s quite a common safety feature now. Get close to a truck or car and just keep your foot off the brake and….nah. I always chicken out at the last moment. However this time, it wasn’t a test. Picture a narrow city street with a bus stopped at the lights in the lane coming towards me. Then add a guy who steps out from behind the bus, without looking my way. By the time I started to move my foot from the gas to the brake, the display said something like “obstacle avoidance”, there was a beep and then the car braked for me. Hard. But it saved this guy’s legs/life. I had no chance of stopping in time; even though I was driving slowly due to the traffic, this guy just appeared right in front of me. Needless to say I wanted something strong to drink after that, and I expect the guy needed clean underwear. It was bloody close – but electronic safety saved his ass.
Subaru’s EyeSight system is a key component to the adaptive cruise and collision avoidance systems. In fact it does all of this:
- Brake Light Recognition
- Pre-Collision Steering Assist
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Lane Departure Warning
- Lane Sway Warning
- Lead Vehicle Start Alert
- Pre-Collision Braking System
- Pre-Collision Brake Assist
- Pre-Collision Throttle Management
Lead Vehicle Start Alert lets you know if the traffic in front has started to move, but you haven’t. Saves getting tooted at.
While the EyeSight system only comes on the Premium and 2.0 turbo models, after experiencing it, I would buy one of those models in a heartbeat over the others. Keep in mind that this system uses ‘stereo’ cameras (that’s two to you and me) and is not a radar-type of system. This does mean there is the potential for a dirty windscreen or other environmental factors to alter the system’s efficiency.
The 2.5 litre engine is good one, quiet and torquey, and well suited to all types of driving I put it through. It is mostly quiet (except when cold when it’s pretty noisy!) and if you push it harder, it still retains at least a little of that Subaru throb that we’ve come to know and love. Just a nice power unit.
The ‘Lineartronic’ CVT transmission and I had a love/hate relationship. Most of the time it is a gem, and you can barely tell it’s a CVT. Other times, especially when under hard acceleration, it seemed to revert to that type of CVT habit of just revving its guts out, without seeming to move forward very quickly. It’s a bit weird because according to Subaru, if you use more than 65% of the accelerator, then the transmission reverts to a 7-speed stepped shift – which sounds great. But this wasn’t my experience with the transmission during testing. Overall though in everyday driving it is one of the better CVTs I have tested recently.
Subaru’s Intelligent Drive is fitted, which to you and I means ‘normal’ and ‘sport’ modes. Sport mode is quite addictive – it really does give better throttle response and ‘gear changes’ are quicker, and it holds the gears (even though it’s CVT) longer. Loved it, but for normal use, Intelligent Drive is totally fine.
The ride is a little on the firm side, but no more than other SUVs in this class and probably better, if anything.
I took the car on my favourite, windy Test Road. The AWD came into its own here, and even though this is quite a tall wagon, the grip was excellent and only started to let go when I pushed it…well, too far. Grip and road holding is excellent. Sure when you go a bit harder body roll is there and understeer is prevalent, but at most speeds the Forester is really well behaved on the twisty stuff.
I did try out the ‘X-Mode’ button a few times. Essentially it’s a button to push if you want to veer off the beaten track a bit. X-Mode electronically distributes torque to the wheel that needs it, or can use it without spinning. It’s a great mode for mud and snow – just hit the button and you should get traction. Where I was using it wasn’t really the best test, but hey – Subaru has been making AWD cars for decades, so I have to believe it works well when really needed. It turns off at about 40km/h so may not be ideal for metal roads.
The 7” touchscreen display is simple to use and very clear. The physical buttons for Maps, Phone etc were large and easy to use when driving. Pairing up a phone was a one-minute job, and sound quality from the 6-speaker audio was excellent.
Above the touchscreen up the top of the dash is another dual display. One side shows the time and temperature, while the other shows a range of info items like which wheels the drive is being sent to, fuel economy etc. Other makers do this as well, but often it’s in between the speedo and rev counter. This way, you passengers get to comment on your good (or bad) fuel economy.
Rear legroom was excellent too – there is ample room in the rear seat, and I think you’ll find kids will not be complaining back there. And if they do you can always open the sunroof.
What it’s up against
|Price Highest to Lowest
|Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium CVT AWD
|2.5L Boxer 4-cyl
|Kia Sorento LX AWD
|2.4L 4-cyl DOHC with VVT
|Holden Captiva 7-LT AWD
|2.4L 4-cyl DOHC with VVT
|Hyundai iX35 Elite AWD
|2.4L 4-cyl DOHC with VVT
|Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD
|2.5L 4-cyl DOHC with VVT
|Mazda CX5 2.5 GSX 6-sp auto AWD
|2.5L 4-cyl DOHC with VVT
The good and the bad
Styling a bit non-descript
It’s lost that lovin’ feeling
What do we think?
This is a really crowded market segment. I don’t think I’ve included all the competitors in the table above. In the past, Subaru had that almost novelty appeal. It was a bit different, and people liked that. Now it feels mainstream. I’m sure this is great for the bottom line – more potential buyers if it’s seen as just a ‘normal’ car – but for me it’s lost something. I just don’t see any differentiator for the Forester.
The price? About the same as the others. The boxer engine, while still being different, puts out the same power and torque as similarly-sized inline four cylinder engines.
I’m not saying the Forester is bad – far from it. Easy to drive, good visibility, excellent grip, great rear legroom, good ground clearance. Most people would be happy to own a Forester, including me. But it’s just that it feels like you could be driving any car.
I’ve owned Subarus in the past, and loved them. We used them (and I mean, really used them) off-road, so I was looking forward to seeing how far they have come. And a long way they have come. The electronic safety devices are amazing, and I was glad to be able to test one of them out in a real world situation. Then again, other manufacturers have exactly the same systems.
I enjoyed my time with the Forester and would have been happy to keep driving it. But I’m not sure how it would fare when in direct comparison to the other AWD SUVs in our table.
Read more about the Subaru Forester on the Subaru New Zealand’s website.
|AWD 5-door SUV
|2.5-litre, 4-cylinder, horizontally opposed engine with DOHC & VVT
|0 – 100 kph
|Length x Width x Height
|NCAP Safety Ratings
|3-years, unlimited kilometres