TURBOCHARGED PETROL VERSIONS OF THE SUBARU FORESTER HAVE GATHERED A SMALL BUT LOYAL FOLLOWING OVER THE YEARS, and this limited edition tS is one for the fans.
Based on the Forester XT Premium, the Subaru Forester tS adds styling and chassis goodies from the Subaru Technica International (STI) division and is priced from $54,990 plus on-road costs.
That’s a hefty $7000 above its donor car, although, on Subaru calculations, it comes with $12,000 in extras.
Subaru markets it as “the only true sports SUV under $80,000”. Hmm; let’s put that claim to the test…
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $54,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 177kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo-petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.5 l/100km | Tested: 11.6 l/100km
Externally, the Subaru Forester tS scores black mirrors, a black rear-spoiler and black grille with 'Cherry Red' stripe (and a matching one on the rear bumper), in addition to wire-mesh 19-inch alloy wheels, up from the 18s fitted to the Forester XT.
Behind the wheels lie mighty Brembo brakes, which sit beneath STI-tuned dampers and 15mm-lower coil spring package. To tighten up the handling are the additions of front stabiliser bushings and flexible tower bar, and rear subframe bushings and bracing.
There are no less than six STI badges on the outside of the car and five inside, including on the new red leather-trimmed sports seats, gearshifter, steering wheel and starter button. Otherwise, it’s all Forester XT right down to the 177kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder and automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
- 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
- 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 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system
- Cargo volume: 422 litres minimum, 1481 litres maximum
As with the exterior, the cabin of this flagship Forester exudes a JDM – or Japanese Domestic Market – coolness that the regular models (and other medium SUV models) simply don’t possess. It may not be a proper STI, but it has the sporting character.
Although the interior doesn’t feel as tacky as the application of STI badges and red trim might suggest, it also doesn’t quite match the $55k-plus price.
Sure, it is loaded with gear, right down the beaut-sounding Harman Kardon stereo system and heated front seats, but they’re both standard in the $7K-cheaper Forester XT Premium.
In fact, the Forester tS misses out on the panoramic sunroof standard in that model.
Subaru’s touchscreen operates intuitively and its voice control system – for entering addresses into the sat-nav, for example – remains among the best of any new car, while the Pandora internet music streaming facility is a finishing treat.
The dashboard design is based on the 2012-era Impreza hatchback, which is about to be replaced, and the mish-mash of screens and mixture of plastics certainly indicate that the Forester is ageing against fresher competition.
The front seats are flat and lack bolstering, but, as with all Foresters, all-round vision is absolutely best-in-class whether looking ahead or over your shoulder.
Further behind and the rear bench is also flat and a lack of rear air-vents grates especially at this price. But there’s very good legroom and bountiful headroom. It’s just a shame that even further behind, the boot is so small.
Although claimed boot volume of 422 litres appears reasonable, the loading space is long but very shallow and affected by a high loading lip to accommodate the full-size spare wheel and all-wheel-drive components underneath.
Particularly for families using prams, it’s best to size up the Forester before buying.
A Subaru salesperson may actually guide such a family towards the recently released Levorg wagon, which in flagship GT-S Spec B trim costs $2200 less than this tS, teaming similar STI-derived kit with a 486 litre boot.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine/transmission: 177kW/350Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol, CVT Automatic
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear Brembo disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.6m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 750kg unbraked, 1800kg braked
This Forester tS gets a 177kW version of the same engine found in the cheaper, 197kW Levorg.
That wagon, recently released in Australia, is lighter and lower and wipes nine-tenths off this SUV’s 7.5-second 0-100km/h claim.
But, that sibling rivalry aside, in isolation the tS drives superbly and is certainly the most dynamic Forester available. The fettled suspension tightens the medium SUV significantly compared to the XT Premium on which it’s based.
Around town the suspension is very firm and lumpy, but it never turns harsh. Like the best sports cars, this Subaru has a remarkable ability to feel battle-hardened without bruising driver or passengers.
Also, get it up to speed, and the Forester tS just gets better.
Its steering is direct and fluent, guiding a front-end that sits flat and feels sharp. Yet over even the bumpiest country roads this medium SUV refuses to be bullied off the intended line, absorbing big hits with easy aplomb.
It’s the touring-focused Bridgestone Turanza tyres that start to squirm before the chassis does. Even then, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system allows the driver to add throttle early on corner exit to neutralise understeer.
The Forester tS mixes all this handling prowess with great safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning, although the latter can be very intrusive on narrow roads.
If there’s a slight disappointment, it’s with the engine. Subaru could easily have bumped power to 197kW for this model (as with WRX and Levorg) rather than pinning outputs to 177kW and 350Nm.
The portly 1657kg Forester tS feels dutifully brisk but isn’t ‘hot hatch’ quick. It will whistle up a winding road, or overtake rapidly, but doesn’t have the straining-at-the-leash edge its STI badging may suggest.
It’s also very quiet – we’d like a nice sporty burble thanks Subaru – although some engine character could be drowned out by the increase in road noise thrown up predominantly by the larger wheel and tyre package.
Lesser Foresters are quieter on coarse-chip roads in particular.
Subaru’s automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a smooth unit; it is cleverly intuitive and offers eight gear ‘presets’ whether in Sport# mode or if the paddleshifters are used in manual mode.
It feels better suited to this SUV than with its more powerful sedan and wagon Subaru stablemates. It just seems less-stressed than in the WRX and Levorg, and it’s all for the better.
That said, this drivetrain in this heavy model can work up a thirst – 11.6 litres per 100 kilometres over a mix of urban, freeway and country driving. That’s well up on the 8.5 l/100km claim and this Subaru demands costlier premium unleaded.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this 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
Subaru is right – there is no single rival to the Forester tS. A Commodore SS Sportwagon would spank it for space and dynamics, but it lacks all-wheel-drive and a high driving position.
A V6-engined Cherokee is powerful but is behind for dynamics, while the opposite is true for a CX-5 – it’s a sharp steer but slower, even with the punchy diesel. That leaves range sibling the Levorg wagon as possibly the closest rival.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
By the width of an STI badge the Subaru Forester tS just makes it into four-star territory in this test. Just…
It isn’t cheap, it isn’t lavish inside, it can get thirsty, its boot is small and most sportswagons will see it off for performance and dynamics. However, it handles very nicely – and not just for an SUV – while its performance is strong and its equipment list is long.
As a genuinely sporty SUV, it sits in isolation, and it will worm its way into your affections.
There’s real character to this limited edition, and the application of STI-picked parts has been in done in a way that genuinely enhances dynamics while looking ‘JDM cool’.
Whether it’s worth the premium over a Forester XT Premium is debatable, but be in no doubt that the Forester tS is a significantly better drive.
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