SUBARU FORESTER REVIEW
The big news for the 2011 Forester is the debut of an all-new naturally-aspirated engine, the FB25 boxer four.
The new engine is quieter, stronger and more refined. Subaru also promises better fuel efficiency, which we couldn’t replicate, but the new engine makes a good car better - even if only by increments.
- Quality: Cabin plastics are darker for 2011, but essentially the same as those in the 2010 Forester. The XS's cloth upholstery however looks smart, feels durable and is now more water resistant.
The faux red woodgrain trim, on the other hand, looks cheap.
- Comfort: The front seats could use more side bolstering, but are otherwise comfortable. The rear bench is roomy, and there's plenty of leg and headroom.
- Equipment: Standard on the Forester XS is a seven-speaker stereo with USB and 3.5mm audio inputs, cruise control, climate control, foglights, 17-inch alloys, privacy glass and a reversing camera.
- Storage: With the rear seat-back raised there's 460 litres of luggage space. With rear seats folded (which can be done via two electric switches in the boot), 1610 litres becomes available.
ON THE ROAD
- Driveability: The extra mid-range torque from the new boxer engine gives the Forester XS a little more urge in hills and when loaded up.
The standard five-speed manual is ok. It’s easy to live with, with a light clutch and defined shift-gate. It's just one ratio short of being ideal - a six-speed would better allow the engine to stay within the meat of its powerband.
- Refinement: There were some trim rattles when travelling over corrugated gravel roads, and the Forester's boxy shape generates a fair amount of wind noise.
NVH levels however have been significantly cut; the ‘thrum’ of the boxer engine is a lot more muted.
- Suspension: The XS's suspension is noticeably better-controlled than the softly-damped Forester X. With a self-levelling rear suspension, the Forester XS has good body control and a comfortable ride over lumpy country roads.
The AWD system gives good traction on gravel, but grip from the all-purpose tyres could be better on tarmac.
- Braking: Small changes to braking hardware improve efficiency but don't change braking power. The brakes feel strong on tarmac, and the ABS calibration works well on gravel.
- Off-road: Manual Forester models get a dual-range transfer case, and the Forester's ride height gives it enough ground clearance for light-duty off roading.
- On-road: Despite being a 'compact' SUV, the Forester is still quite a large car. However, the XS' reversing camera and large wing mirrors make it easy to park.
- ANCAP rating: 5-Stars
- Safety features: Six airbags (front, front side and curtain), three-point seatbelts on all seats, front anti-whiplash headrests, ABS, EBD, stability control and traction control are standard across the Forester range.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
- Warranty: 3 year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
- Service costs: Maintenance costs for the 2011 Subaru Forester XS are not immediately available. Contact your local Subaru dealer for service pricing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
- Nissan X-Trail ST ($32,490) - The X-Trail has a more functional, utilitarian interior than the Forester, but also a slightly smaller cabin.
With the mid-spec ST-L no longer available with a manual transmission, the ST manual lacks equipment compared to the Forester XS manual. (see X-Trail reviews)
- Toyota RAV4 Cruiser ($36,990) - With Toyota's reputation for reliability and solid build on its side, the RAV4 is a popular choice in the segment. Its 2.4 litre petrol four is bested by the Forester's new powerplant, and the Subaru enjoys a slightly higher spec. (see RAV4 reviews)
- Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban ($31,990) - Easily the most capable off-roader here, the Grand Vitara Urban is a bargain buy.
It's the least powerful and misses out on fancy equipment like reversing cameras, but it's well suited to families who like getting away from it all. (see Grand Vitara reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Forester's new engine isn't a dramatic leap forward from the powerplant it replaces, but it is improved where it matters. With more torque - especially useful off-road or for load-carrying - and more refined, it makes a stronger case for the Forester.
The rest of the package is very familiar, and, aside from the underwhelming cabin design, the Forester XS makes a good, comfortable family wagon.