WHO WOULD EVER HAVE EXPECTED THE 2016 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5i-S WOULD BECOME THE BEST-VALUE MEDIUM SUV ON THE MARKET?
The Subaru Forester has become many things over the past 20 years and four generations - durable, rugged, a proper ‘off roader’ in the face of softer soft roaders - but only recently has Subaru given it such a value hit, that it overtakes the likes of Kia and Hyundai.
As the flagship of the 'regular' Forester range, sitting below the XT-badged turbocharged versions, the 2.5i-S costs $39,490 plus on-road costs yet is loaded with more features than rivals costing $45k and beyond.
It is one heck of a good buy at the moment. So is this the perfect family truckster?
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $39,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 126kW/235Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.1 l/100km | Tested: 11.6 l/100km
The 2016 Subaru Forester isn’t the biggest medium SUV in the land, and nor is it the most powerful. These days it stretches 4.6 metres long, and, in this 2.5i-S model grade gets a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
Buyers can choose a 2.0-litre version dubbed the 2.0-L from $29,990 (plus on-road costs) with a manual transmission, but it’s slow and under-equipped. Optioning the automatic adds $3000 but buys the bigger engine as well, and in the process it becomes the 2.5i-L grade from $32,990 (plus on-road costs).
Then it is a decent $6500 jump to this 2.5-S - but just check out the loaded list of features below. For a further $2000 buyers can also option a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, priced at $41,490 (plus on-road costs), which is a compelling choice.
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim with electrically adjustable heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, auto on/off headlights and wipers, keyless auto-entry with push button start, auto tailgate
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, CD player, Pandora internet app connectivity, satellite navigation and 6-speaker audio system
Inside, the Forester 2.5i-S feels like it could cost well into the mid-forty-thousand bracket.
Both front seats are leather trimmed, electrically adjustable and score heating, and there’s a big sunroof above occupant heads. The touchscreen is bright and clear, with nav and Pandora internet radio.
For the freeway there’s standard active cruise control and lane departure warning, and on arrival at a destination the electric tailgate can open automatically (albeit painfully slowly).
For context, buyers need to spend $47,410 (plus on-roads) on a Mazda CX-5 Akera - which gets an identically sized 2.5-litre petrol engine - to score active cruise, LED headlights and lane departure warning standard on the sub-$40k Forester.
Even the $45,490 (plus on-roads) Hyundai Tucson Highlander lacks active cruise, while the Subaru matches both the above rivals everywhere else except alloy wheel diameter (19-inch versus 18-inch) and lack of front and rear parking sensors (although they all get a reverse-view camera).
Of course it isn’t all about equipment in a family car, but the Forester also happens to boast the best forward and over-shoulder visibility of any medium SUV. It is a breeze to park even without the sensors, while a tall roofline provides among the best headroom front and rear.
The Impreza-derived dashboard is starting to date in terms of its general design, but recent piano-black and metallic silver trim additions lift the ambience significantly. As is expected from a Japanese-built Subaru, quality is excellent up front, although the boot’s cargo-cover rattled annoyingly over bumps whether raised or lowered - it’s something for the brand to investigate.
The front seats are comfortable, but the rear bench prioritises comfort for three passengers rather than the outboard two. It means that side support is lacking on both the squab and backrest, although the latter can be reclined for added comfort.
As with the CX-5 there are no rear air-vents provided; a disappointing omission when Hyundai provides them on Elite and Highlander versions of the Tucson.
However, the biggest issue by far with the Forester is its relative lack of boot space. However, in a nod to its rural buyer-base, a full-sized spare wheel is standard where its competitors offer only a temporary space-saver spare.
This raises the boot floor to the point where luggage space becomes quite vertically challenged and the 422-litre claimed volume is barely larger than that of a Holden Cruze hatchback (413 litres).
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 126kW/235Nm 2.5 litre four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: CVT automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering, turning circle: 10.6m
- Towing Capacity: 750kg unbraked, 1500kg braked
In the partially wet conditions of our test drive, the Forester’s all-wheel-drive raised the odd eyebrow. Despite being a vehicle renowned for better-than-average off-road performance, the ‘on demand’ system would occasionally on a hill allow the front wheels to slip first before sending drive to the rear boots.
Subaru has an ‘X Mode’ button on the lower dashboard that can be pressed to activate an off-road-focused mode, but we reckon an all-drive Subaru should rarely - if ever - allow its front wheels to slip, whatever the mode.
We mention this because the whole all-wheel-drive system does add weight to the Forester - as it does with any medium SUV. Tipping the scales at 1571kg, the 2.5i-S is not a light vehicle, and the non-turbocharged petrol engine works hard.
However, the standard automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) works brilliantly, and far more smoothly than it does in some of Subaru’s performance applications such as the WRX sedan and Levorg wagon. With less power to deal with, than these road rockets, it simply doesn’t get stressed.
That said, Subaru needs to ditch its gimmicky ‘SI-Drive’ buttons on the steering wheel that alter auto and throttle response.
The Intelligent mode the Forester defaults to on start up is at times painfully sluggish. Pressing Sport is a must, particularly as it allows the CVT to respond instantly rather than slowly (why would any driver want that?).
The Forester’s performance is adequate but far from outstanding, and it pales in comparison to the CX-5 with its six-speed automatic and the Tucson with its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine.
It also fared poorly for on-test consumption, working up such a thirst that its 11.8L/100km matched the 2.0-litre turbo Forester tS driven a few weeks ago (and tested here).
There’s a firm discipline to the Forester’s body movements that makes it feel butch and rugged, yet the steering is precise, ride quality never uncomfortable and the handling secure.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - ths model scored 35.64 out of 37 possible points
Safety Features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera, lane departure warning, pre-collision braking with autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Kia Sportage Platinum feels sportier, the Hyundai Tucson Highlander cushier, and both offer greater performance for the money.
Meanwhile the Mazda CX-5 Akera offers a blend of the above two attributes, but it is expensive.
The Toyota RAV4 Cruiser is simply massive inside, and the latest model is massively improved to drive. But none, neither the RAV4 nor any of the above, can match the Forester’s value equation.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Some family buyers may not get past the boot space issue of the Forester 2.5i-S, so we’d recommend packing in prams and bags at the dealership first.
Others will struggle with the performance of this petrol version, and especially given its below-par economy we would recommend spending the extra $2000 on the torquey yet economical turbo-diesel version.
Beyond those aspects, though, there is little to dislike about Subaru’s medium SUV.
Its general dynamics are excellent and it is smooth and roomy inside. It also promises (in X-Mode) to do well off-road, is absolutely loaded with higher-end features and has a great reputation for reliability and resale value.
Price excluded, the above competitors offer a stronger skill-set in parts. But price is absolutely part of the buying equation and we would find it difficult to look beyond the great-value 2.5i-S.
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