“Subaru says it’ll do the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.9 seconds, but this feels faster than that.”
I know I’m stating the obvious here, but there really is no such thing as the perfect multi-purpose car.
Finding a vehicle that adequately addresses the contradictory demands of a family-size load lugger, a sports car and an off-roader is simply nigh-on impossible, but that doesn’t mean manufacturers don’t try to build 'em.
Case in point: Subaru’s Forester. With permanent all-wheel-drive, a rugged and spacious wagon body and generous ground clearance, the Forester line is squarely targeted at those who want to get a little closer to nature – so long as they can return to civilization by nightfall.
Throw in the turbocharged EJ25 flat-four motor from the WRX, and you’ve got the Forester XT (nee GT), a sports-oriented version of the surprisingly large soft-roader.
So, with the XT, has Subaru managed to come up with a package that can deliver sporty performance and solid off-road ability that’s still comfortable enough with a full load of children and shopping on board? We got our hands on the 2008 Forester XT Premium to find out.
Important things first: performance. The Forester’s 2.5-litre boxer four generates 169kW and 320Nm of torque, exactly the same output as its smaller brother, the WRX. It’s a smooth powerplant and one that’s willing to rev. Power delivery is fairly linear, although you still get that characteristic push in the back as it comes on boost around 3000rpm.
Ours was fitted with a four-speed automatic with Subaru’s Sportshift tiptronic system (note: photos show manual version), which blunts performance somewhat but makes it a doddle to manoeuvre in traffic.
Even with the auto fitted, the Forester XT is surprisingly quick. Subaru says it’ll do the 0-100kph sprint in 7.9 seconds, but this feels faster than that. My advice though?
Leave the selector in ‘Drive’, as the tiptronic system is more of a frustration than a performance aid. Besides, the plus-minus gate is the wrong way around, with rearward tugs of the gearlever producing a downshift rather than an upshift, and, though it's not alone with this set-up, it’s just plain wrong (right, Mike?).
However, while the Forester’s straight line performance may be impressive, it quickly falls flat once you introduce it to a corner or two.
Spring-rates are fine, but it’s terribly under-damped. Mid-corner bumps and undulations unsettle the Subaru easily, and off-camber corners are especially tricky to negotiate at speed in the tall Forester.
Thicker swaybars and harder damper settings would no doubt help the 1525kg Forester’s cornering ability, but to add these would likely damage its ride quality, which really is quite good during more sensible suburban driving. Bumps and potholes are dispatched with a muffled thump and manoeuvrability is good, while steering is nicely weighted too.
The cabin gets a little noisy at speed thanks to that boxer motor up front and the large empty cargo space out back, but it’s certainly nothing that’ll burst your eardrums on a long drive.
We managed to record an average fuel consumption figure of 11.7l/110km, slightly higher than Subaru’s quoted 10.5l/100km, but still not bad for such a large, rectangular wagon.
Of course, had we driven it with greater regard for things like fuel economy, then no doubt a better figure would have been attained.
A short off-road foray showed that the Forester’s all-paw system definitely had the ability to take itself further off the beaten track than most soft-roaders, while its 225mm of ground clearance (same as a 200-series Landcruiser) should see it over most minor obstacles.
However, the weakest point in the Forester’s off-roadability was its Impreza-based suspension system, which limits wheel travel and thus hampers the Forester’s capacity for more serious rock-crawling.
So then, perhaps mud-bogging isn’t quite the Forester’s cup of tea. But what of the daily grind? The school run? The quick dash to the shops? After living with the Forester for a few days, it was obvious that this is where it truly shines.
Interior space is huge for a car built off the Impreza platform, and it comes as no surprise that this generation of Forester is by far the largest ever built. Rear legroom is generous and there’s plenty of headroom all around, while cargo capacity is a handy 450 litres with the seats up and a sizable 1610 litres with them folded down.
Those who like to pamper their passengers may also wish to note that the rear seats are reclinable, if only by a few degrees.
There’s ample storage in the form of various bins, trays and cubby holes littered throughout the Forester’s interior, and the strategically-placed hooks in the boot were great for keeping the shopping in the one place during the drive home.
Being the premium model, our car was also fitted with a huge panoramic sunroof which let in copious light and air when fully opened, while the leather seats, steering wheel and gearknob provided some tactile pleasures.
Our tester also came fitted with a seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav/CD/radio/DVD unit, which functioned well and delivered great sound.
We did have a few complaints about the interior, however. The front cupholders were inexplicably rectangular in shape, meaning any bottle, can or cup placed in them would wobble and slide around, threatening to spill their contents onto your pants.
The storage tray under the centre armrest was also far too small for anything other than a mobile phone or an iPod and the rear cupholders were mounted in the centre seat cushion, meaning that if there was a fifth passenger the rear occupants would have to hold their drinks the old-fashioned way.
Minor quibbles, really, but ones that may annoy picky buyers.
All in all though, it was hard not to be impressed by the Forester XT. Despite its powerful turbocharged engine and off-roading aspirations, it’s neither a proper sports wagon nor a great 4WD - but to expect it to deliver in both those areas would be to miss the point entirely.
The Forester is a great family car, a fantastic wagon and a terrific option for those who like to take the family on the odd camping trip. No more, but certainly no less.
Grunty WRX engine, huge load area, enormous sunroof
Terrible tiptronic system, roly-poly handling, “bling” chrome grille, square cupholders (seriously; what the?)
Tony’s big statement
“The Forester XT Premium manages to blend good power, a dash of luxury and a whole heap of utility into the one package. It’s just a pity it doesn’t go around corners particularly well.”
|Engine type||Horizontally-opposed 4-cyclinder, 4 stroke petrol engine|
|Bore x Stroke||99.5 x 79.0|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Max Power||169kW @ 5200 RPM|
|Max Torque||320Nm @ 2800 RPM|
|Type of injection||Multi-point injection (MPI)|
|Transmission||Electronic 4-speed SPORTSHIFT|
|Front suspension||McPherson strut type, independent suspension|
|Rear suspension||Self- levelling Double wishbone type, independent suspension|
|Wheels||7.0 J 17|
|Brakes front||Ventilated discs|
|Fuel tank capacity||60L|
|Unladen kerb weight||1,525|
|Luggage compartment volume||450L rear seats up, 1,610L rear seats down.|