2013 SUBARU FORESTER XT REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Engine: 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol | Power/Torque: 177kW/350Nm
Fuel Consumption listed: 8.5 l/100km | tested: 10.1 l/100km
The Forester XT has grown up. In Subaru Australia’s own words, it’s been “to finishing school”.
Now in its fourth generation, the turbocharged petrol version of Subaru’s popular Forester soft-roader has ditched its bonnet scoop and traded it for more mature styling, improved comfort and better refinement.
Critics of the previous XT will be happy to note that cabin materials have been greatly improved, while the design is cleaner, more functional and certainly more universally appealing.
But the option of a manual transmission has disappeared. However, with only 16 percent of XT sales in the last generation being for manual-equipped cars, Subaru Australia doesn’t think buyers will care.
What they will notice is the impressive array of luxury and safety equipment in the XT range, which consists of a base XT model ($43,490) and the up-market XT Premium ($50,490).
And there are vast improvements in driveability and refinement.
Much effort has been made to improve suppression of noise and vibration, and the suspension has been comprehensively tweaked to boost road-holding and comfort.
That’s not all: under the scoop-less bonnet is a turbocharged version of Subaru’s new 2.0 litre FB20 boxer four.
It may be 500cc smaller than the motor it replaces, but thanks to a high compression ratio and direct-injection it produces both more power and more torque than the outgoing EJ25.
How big an improvement is it over the previous model? We went along to the 2013 Forester XT’s local launch to check out its deportment.
Yep, there are big changes in here. The old model was burdened with a cheap-looking hard plastic dash with a design borrowed from the Impreza of the time.
It looked and felt cheap; the interior of the new car however feels vastly different.
There’s greater use of soft-touch surfacing, and the quality of switchgear and instrumentation has been improved.
Drivers who prefer a taller seating position will appreciate the raised front seats - lifted 32mm for a more commanding view of the surrounding environment.
Plus, with repositioned wing mirrors, an A-pillar that’s moved 200mm forward and the absence of a bonnet scoop, forward vision is now markedly better.
Thanks to a wheelbase stretch of 25mm, back seat passengers get an extra 23mm of legroom. Cabin width has also been increased, resulting in 15mm more elbow and shoulder room.
And there’s plenty of equipment on offer; the base XT gets dual-zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB audio input and a huge electric glass sunroof all as standard.
Move up into the XT Premium, and you get electrically-adjustable heated front seats, leather upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, heated door mirrors and de-icing front wipers.
There's also a Harmon Kardon sound system, sat nav, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ active safety system and a powered tailgate.
Luggage space has risen by 55 litres, although the high-grade XT Premium gets only a 38L increase due to the space taken up by its tailgate mechanism.
If we had a complaint with the new Forester XT’s interior, it would be the front seats. Flat and poorly bolstered, they’re uncomfortable over longer-distances. Nor do they do a good job of keeping the driver in place while cornering hard.
ON THE ROAD
Displacement is down, but power and torque are up.
The Forester XT’s 2.0 litre turbocharged flat-four puts out a handy 177kW of power and 350Nm of torque, which is an increase of 8kW and 30Nm compared to the previous-gen 2.5 litre turbo four.
Fuel consumption is also improved, with a listed average figure of 8.5 l/100km.
But what most intrigued us about the new XT was how its new CVT gearbox would fare - particularly as there’s now no manual transmission on offer.
We were surprised by the CVT. Not only does it do a good job of picking the right ‘ratio’ for any given situation, but in Sport Sharp mode its eight virtual ratios do a convincing impersonation of a conventional hydraulic auto.
It doesn’t ‘hang’ on gears during manual gearshifts, nor does it automatically upshift when in manual mode. As far as CVTs go, the Forester XT’s is the only one we’ve experienced in recent times that does a decent job as a performance transmission.
The turbo four/CVT combo works incredibly well out on the open road. The Forester XT smoothly pulls itself to triple digit speeds without any fuss whatsoever, and the manual mode is perfect for keeping engine revs high while linking corner after corner.
As far as CVTs go, the Forester XT’s is the only one we’ve experienced in recent times that does a decent job as a performance transmission.
There’s plenty of torque available down low, and during normal driving the CVT prefers to keep engine speed down. For more spirited jaunts though, the engine is definitely at its happiest above 5000rpm.
The new engine is also deceptively refined. Subaru brought along a previous-gen XT for comparison, and the difference between the two in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) was stark.
The new XT’s engine is almost whisper-quiet, with only a slight whistling from the turbocharger during acceleration. The CVT is also near-silent, although there is a small amount of chain whine at very high RPM.
The old XT was about coarse and as a sawmill. The new model is like the inside of a library.
The suspension has also come a long way. Stiffer springs and dampers plus thicker anti-sway bars have quelled body-roll significantly. The XT now corners a lot flatter than before.
There is still a safe preference to understeer, but the threshold of grip is certainly higher and the car can be quite enjoyable to hustle through a series of bends.
The steering however, while fine when cornering, is a little lifeless around dead-centre.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Subaru’s new Forester XT - fresh out of “finishing school” - is a vast improvement over the old model.
Quieter, more refined, and with an improved drivetrain and handling, it’s a more grown-up car - not surprising then that it’s targeted at more grown-up buyers.
While early generations of the Forester XT/GT found favour with younger drivers who wanted a jacked-up WRX, the 2013 Forester XT is nothing like any of the models that came before it.
Rather, it’s a family-sized SUV that happens to be fairly quick, if not overwhelmingly exciting.
With that simple act of deleting the bonnet scoop, it’s almost as if the Forester has taken off its backwards baseball cap and given itself a side-part.
It might now be wearing a ‘cardy’ (instead of a hoodie), but we very much like the Forester XT’s new-found maturity.
The 2013 Forester range goes on sale in Australia from early February.
- Forester 2.0i manual - $30,990
- Forester 2.5i auto - $32,990
- Forester 2.0i-L manual - $33,490
- Forester 2.5i-L auto - $35,990
- Forester 2.5i-S auto - $43,990
- Forester 2.0D manual - $35,490
- Forester 2.0D-L manual - $37,490
- Forester 2.0D-S manual - $43,990
- Forester 2.0XT auto - $43,490
- Forester 2.0XT Premium auto - $50,490
- Option: EyeSight™ on Forester 2.5i-L - $1500
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.