2013 SUBARU FORESTER REVIEW
Vehicle type: Medium SUV
Price: TBA – launching February 1
|2.0 litre boxer 4 petrol||110kW/198Nm||7.2l/100km|
|2.5 litre boxer 4 petrol||126kW/235Nm||8.1l/100km|
|2.0 litre boxer 4 turbodiesel||108kW/350Nm||5.9l/100km|
Whats Hot: Improved efficiency, interior space, safety and convenience features.
What's Not: Auto only on 2.5. Some features not available with all drivetrains.
X Factor: Typical Forester balance of versatility and all-surface ruggedness.
Subaru’s fourth-generation Forester SUV is set to hit the local market in February, packing expanded drivetrain options, improved interior space, a host of new features, and improved efficiency across the board.
Now 15 years since the original Forester’s debut, it is Subaru Australia’s best selling model, maintaining a marginal lead over the recently launched 2012 Impreza and XV ranges (YTD October 31).
In 2011 however, the Forester fell from its pedestal as top-seller in the Medium SUV segment (a position it had held for four years), to fourth-ranked (YTD October 31), behind Nissan’s X-Trail, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota’s RAV4.
The 2013 Forester’s all-new body is longer and taller by (35mm) than the model it replaces, but uses high strength steel and an aluminium bonnet to keep weight-gain to a minimal five kilograms. Styling is a continuation of the themes introduced with the Liberty and Impreza/XV models.
The 2.5 litre petrol and 2.0 litre turbodiesel boxer engines continue, with unchanged outputs aside from the diesel’s maximum torque arriving 200rpm earlier at 1600rpm.
A 2.0 litre base petrol option returns to the range for the first time since 2003, producing 110kW/198Nm.
Like the 2012 XV/Impreza ranges, petrol Foresters adopt the i, i-L, and i-S (2.5 only) trim level designations, while turbodiesel models are available in equivalent D, D-L, and D-S levels.
The range-topping turbocharged XT model will also drop to 2.0 litres, and auto-only.
Mechanically, the biggest news is the addition of Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) as the auto choice, replacing the outdated four-speed (five-speed on S-EDITION) torque-converter unit used currently.
Significantly, only 2.5 litre and 2.0 turbocharged petrol XT models will be available with an automatic transmission. The 2.0 litre base petrol will be available with six-speed manual only, and the 2.0 turbodiesel continues with the six-speed used currently.
Fuel consumption is lower for all models, assisted by the introduction of stop/start function.
The thirstiest 2.5 litre petrol engine now returns 8.1 l/100km, turbodiesel models 5.9 l/100km, and new 2.0 litre petrol variants return 7.2 l/100km.
These figures compare well with Forester’s immediate competition. The 2.5 litre models sit comfortably ahead of all key automatic all-wheel drive petrol alternatives, aside from the CX-5’s 6.9 l/100km figure (but with a smaller 2.0 litre engine).
Subaru Australia managed to get their hands on a selection of 2.5 litre and turbodiesel models (i-L, i-S and D-L grades) two months ahead of launch, and invited TMR to be among the first to sample the new model on and off the roads around Canberra.
Cabin presentation is contemporary Subaru, with dark colours predominating. The design is less adventurous than the current model, following a trend to more austere lines (set by the likes of the CX-5).
All models feature a multifunction in-dash display for the first time (but it's very small at just four-inches long). There are more soft-touch plastics on touch points, and an overall sense that cabin materials are family-proof.
Up front, the new Forester feels much like the old one in terms of space. The cabin is slightly larger in all key dimensions, but the only apparent difference is the 32mm-higher driving position.
This benefits the driver’s field-of-vision, an area also improved thanks to repositioned wing mirrors. Now separated from the A-pillars, the driver can see between the two when negotiating turns.
The rear seats are also 36mm higher, for the obvious benefit of smaller passengers.
Also in the rear, all but 2.0mm of the Forester’s 25mm longer wheelbase can be found in the rear passenger footwell, resulting in rear leg room that will embarrass many larger SUVs.
While lacking the cabin width of a large SUV, this leg room is ideal for two-child families to grow into.
Child seat anchorage points are now located on the rear seatbacks, eliminating the compromise to rearward vision of the current model.
Safety wise, the new model adds a knee airbag across all models - improving what is already a 5-Star ANCAP model - while Subaru’s EyeSight collision avoidance system makes its first appearance on the 2.5i-S model (optional in 2.5i-L).
Also new to Forester is an automated tailgate on 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S models, with a memory height setting for those with low-ceiling car spaces.
ON THE ROAD
Subaru’s drive program included a combination of urban and motorway cruising and sealed rural backroads.
Given the 2.5 litre petrol and 2.0 litre turbodiesel engines are largely carryover items, there were no surprises in their performance.
The diesel model still lacks the off-idle torque delivery of many other 2.0 litre alternatives, despite its maximum torque now arriving at 1600rpm. Once on the move though, it can haul the 1550kg Forester along pretty comfortably.
Likewise with the 2.5 litre CVT drivetrain. It provides comfortable performance whatever the terrain - the CVT keeps the engine in the 'sweet spot' more effectively than a traditional auto.
For refinement it's mostly fine, but under heavy throttle (and higher engine revs), the typical CVT buzz remains evident.
Handling-wise, the new Forester feels relatively light and nimble, with no obvious bodyroll disadvantage despite the 35mm taller body.
Now wearing 18-inch wheels, the 2.5i-L and i-S models on test proved comfortable over the rough bitumen and unsealed backroads of the test - likely helped by the 55-series tyres.
Wind noise is notably minimal, and an obvious side-benefit of the improved aerodynamics.
The overall feel is very Subaru - with a touch of ruggedness and utility - a feel that has won Subaru many loyal customers over the years.
Subaru purists are likely to be alarmed by the omission of a dual-range transfer case across the Forester range for the first time.
Subaru explains that this is due to consumer tastes, and expects 80 percent of new model sales to be 2.5 litre CVT models (dual range is currently only offered with manual).
Those who use their Forester off the beaten track have not been ignored though, as all 2.5 litre CVT Foresters will be equipped with a new feature called X-Mode.
The console switch-activated X-Mode combines an off road-specific traction/stability control and ABS settings, with hill descent control - both firsts for the Forester.
We tested out both uphill and downhill behaviour on a steep section of gravel fire trail (with and without X-Mode activated), and can attest that in such situations, X-Mode not only makes off-road driving safer and easier for the driver, but certainly extends the Forester’s capabilities.
Travelling uphill or when climbing obstacles, X-Mode has been tailored to brake a spinning wheel to send power to the opposing wheel, but this braking application is done in such a way that it doesn’t impede momentum.
When heading downhill, the hill descent control function is wholly intuitive to use, with the brake and accelerator controlling speed settings (brake to reduce 'set' speed, accelerate to increase 'set' speed).
This method is far more elementary than other systems that use cruise control toggles or transmission selector to adjust the set descent speed.
The Forester also maintains its class-leading 220mm ground clearance, still 5.0mm greater than X-Trail and Outlander, and an impressive 70mm higher than CX-5.
Off-road or remote users will also appreciate the full-size spare wheel on all models.
On higher speed loose dirt, the Subaru-trademark continuous AWD provides very assured grip (better than 'on-demand' systems).
Manual models continue with Subaru's viscous centre differential system, but the 2.5 litre CVT employs a new active torque-split set-up.
This uses a multi-plate transfer coupling to divide engine torque 60:40 front-rear, and works more harmoniously with the various stability control sensors to direct power away from slipping wheels.
The front-biased torque distribution is intended to reduce the understeer often experienced with a viscous coupling system.
Based on the roads on test, the new system better maintains the ‘four wheels clawing’ feeling through dynamic changes like corners and braking.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The 2013 Forester looks set to continue the Subaru tradition of balancing ruggedness and versatility, with superior balanced handling whatever the surface.
But until pricing is announced however, it is not possible to give a definitive judgement (and we also look forward to spending more time at the wheel).
But it certainly looks promising. Besides improved style and quality feel, the range plays host to new safety and efficiency features not common to the Forester’s segment rivals.
It's unfortunate however that automatic transmission will not be available with 2.0 litre petrol and diesel engines.
Similarly, the EyeSight collision avoidance system and automatic tailgate is only available on limited models.
We look forward to telling you the full story of the 2013 Forester, nearer to its February on-sale date.