Biggest revelation being its price
Forester loses last vestige of wildness Subaru Forester 2.5XT

THE most interesting feature of the Subaru brand these days is not how niche its products are but how mainstream they have become.

One of the best examples of this has to be the new Forester sport-utility vehicle. This third-generation SUV is spacious, refined and conventional-looking. But when the first-generation Forester first arrived on the scene a decade ago, it couldn’t have been more different.

It was a quirky-looking hatchback with a tall greenhouse for a cabin and a back-thumping 250 hp turbocharged engine. Its cabin was as utilitarian as a light goods vehicle and the only indulgence was a huge electric sunroof.

But it was so fast and so stable that driving at 200 kmh felt no different from driving at half that speed.

Subaru toned it down somewhat for the second-generation Forester, which was less hardcore than the original while retaining some of the exterior styling. But in the latest car, any last vestige of wildness that may have remained has been run over.

The new car is bigger and heavier than the one it replaces. The previous models were based on the Impreza sedan, but this new SUV uses the bigger Legacy saloon’s platform. As a result, the wider cabin offers better elbow room, while head room is much improved. The car’s ground clearance is also 10 per cent better.

The interior has been modernised, with a pleasantly styled dashboard and nicer-looking plastics and meters. The ergonomics have also improved because the steering wheel is now telescopic in addition to being height adjustable.

Subaru’s trademark horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine remains under the hood, along with the all-wheel-drive performance. There are two engine options – 2.0-litre naturally aspirated and 2.5-litre turbocharged. As usual, the turbo model has a scoop on the bonnet and from the driver’s seat, it looks sensuously curvaceous. Very different from the messy lines of the old car’s add-on scoop.

More importantly, the new Forester 2.5XT is uncharacteristically refined. The 230 hp engine is carried over from the outgoing car, but because of increased insulation it sounds more muted. It also feels less enthusiastic than in the old car, probably because of the increased weight, which also requires the brakes to work harder.

Still, the turbocharged engine offers good low-end torque and there is hardly a sluggish moment. Although the automatic transmission is only a four-speeder, it has well-chosen ratios. Quick manual downshifts are also more naturally effected because of the Sportshift mode’s new gate, while the all-wheel drive provides reassuringly stable handling.

The ride is also more comfortable. However, this means that there is slight body roll in corners, which is acceptable, and a rhythmically bouncy ride on certain irregular road surfaces, which is less acceptable but is not as unpleasant as it sounds. And because the doors are not frame-less any more, the high-speed wind noise and continuous rattling have disappeared.

But the biggest revelation has to be the new Forester’s price. The 2.5XT costs just $89,000 ($79,000 for the 2.0X) and comes with six airbags as standard. What an interesting proposition for something that’s no longer rough around the edges.

SPECS

Subaru Forester 2.5XT

Engine: 2,457 cc flat-4 turbocharged

Gearbox: 4-speed tiptronic transmission

Max power: 230 hp @ 5,200 rpm

Max torque: 320 Nm @ 2,800 rpm

0-100 kmh: 7.9 secs

Top speed: 207 kmh

Price: $89,000 (with COE)

Distributor: Motor Image Enterprises 6417-0300