24 Dec 2018

Subaru Forester 2.5i-L 2018 new car review

New Forester stands out for all the right reasons
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It might be tough to believe that the 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i-L is part of a range that celebrates its 21st birthday this year, just as it switches to an all-new fifth generation model.

What was once the definition of compact SUV has become a fully-fledged medium SUV, and after more than two decades the market has fallen dramatically in its favour – the segment it plays in has ended the reign of small cars as the most popular class of vehicle in Australia.

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Subaru has, commendably, kept the new range nice and tidy. With all-wheel drive standard – of course – there’s one engine and four model grades, but they only span $8000 between entry-level and flagship. On paper it not only makes for one of the most affordable options, but also among the roomiest, the most generously equipped and technologically advanced.

It all sounds highly competitive in terms of facts and figures, but do they translate inside and on the road? And can this middle-model-grade Forester 2.5i-L give the nameplate a birthday gift of class leadership?

Vehicle Style: Medium SUV

Price: $35,490 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 136kW/239Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl | automatic continuously-variable transmission

Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.4 l/100km Tested: 9.3 l/100km

OVERVIEW

Nothing touches the entry-level, $33,490 plus on-road costs Forester 2.5i for standard equipment. This includes 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, automatic on/off wipers and LED headlights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and electric-fold door mirrors, dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and a digital radio.

And, perhaps more impressively, adaptive cruise control, forward autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert are standard across the range too. Not only is this a best-in-class effort, but the as-tested $35,490 (plus orc) Forester 2.5i-L further adds reverse-gear AEB, auto up/down high-beam, a front- and side-view camera, plus an interior camera with facial recognition that remembers individual-driver settings and detects if eyes aren’t on the road.

By comparison, the class-leading $37,870 (plus orc) Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport matches the Subaru with a 2.5-litre engine and all-wheel drive, but while it gets forward/reverse AEB, a blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise and rear cross-traffic alert, this costlier model grade misses out on front- and side-cameras and keyless auto-entry – though it does add an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and satellite navigation absent here.

Meanwhile, a $38,850 (plus orc) Hyundai Tucson Elite can match the Forester with everything except for additional cameras, while adding leather trim, though it’s pricier and still front-wheel drive – another $3000 is required for the all-wheel drive standard here. Another alternative from South Korea is the $37,690 (plus orc) Kia Sportage Si Premium, which gets AEB, auto high-beam and lane-keep (but no adaptive cruise, blind-spot or rear cross-traffic alert), while it throws in a very strong diesel engine with all-wheel drive, too.

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 4.5/5

Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start and electric-folding door mirrors, automatic on/off wipers and LED headlights, auto up/down high-beam, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and power windows and mirrors.

Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and eight speakers.

Options Fitted: None.

Cargo Volume: 498 litres.

Notice how the above rivals just manage to match the Forester 2.5i-L for safety equipment, while charging $37,000 to $39,000 plus on-road costs? Well, it should be noted that by this point Subaru is jogging off into the distance, because its next-step-up Forester 2.5i Premium only asks $38,490 (plus orc).

Naturally, it bundles in the benchmark safety gear of this 2.5i-L, while further adding an electric tailgate, electrically adjustable front seats, integrated satellite navigation on a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen plus a second front USB port, as well as larger 18-inch wheels outside. The flagship $41,490 (plus orc) Forester 2.5i-S is then leather- and sunroof-equipped, while further adding nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio, but by this point it’s challenging medium SUVs with far more powerful turbocharged engines – such as that in CX-5 and Tucson.

So let’s focus back on this second model grade, because there is plenty to like right here.

The interior of this new-generation Forester feels semi-premium even without the toys and trinkets of the top model grades, with a consistency of finish only matched by the Hyundai and Mazda.

From the plush armrests for each passenger and the centre console storage lid, to the smooth but occasionally dimpled soft-touch plastics that flow from the tops of the doors to the dash, it is staggering to think this is all available for either $33.5K (2.5i) or $35.5K (this 2.5i-L).

The 6.5-inch touchscreen in both might be on the small side, but it’s quick to respond and the application of smartphone mirroring bests any integrated nav these days anyway – especially as Apple now permits the usage of Google Maps and speed camera-detecting Waze apps, too.

Anyway, it’s complemented by a colour trip computer display ahead of the driver, complete with digital speedometer, plus a high-mounted widescreen with additional information, all surrounded by matte-silver and gloss-black inserts, plus intuitive buttons and controls.

The glovebox is large, as is the centre storage bin, there are console cupholders matched by a duo in the fold-down rear armrest, bottle holders in each door, rear air vents, twin-rear USB fast-charge ports and a reclining rear backrest. All that’s missing are rear map-reading lights.

Now 20mm wider and 15mm longer than before, the new Forester is also the roomiest it has ever been, with the most headroom front and rear of any medium SUV, plus among the most rear legroom – there’s genuine stretched-leg space, three-across.

The only reason this 2.5i-L doesn’t get full marks in this section owes to its seats and boot. Front and rear occupants will all enjoy cushioning that’s not-too-soft and none-too-firm, with a pleasing middle ground achieved – but all positions also lack some degree of side support.

The 498-litre boot, meanwhile, bests the CX-5 (442L) and Tucson/Sportage (466L), but it also can’t quite match the 522L-rated CR-V or 615L-claiming Tiguan. That said, the Subaru has a full-sized alloy spare wheel underfloor, which is very impressive indeed.

ON THE ROAD | RATING: 3.5/5

Engine: 136kW/239Nm 2.5-litre petrol 4cyl.

Transmission: Automatic continuously-variable transmission, AWD.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes.

Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering.

It is clear within moments why Subaru has bundled up its four-model-grade range in a nice and tight pricing fashion. Quite simply, the extensively revised 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) are most competitive for the cost of a 2.5i and this 2.5i-L, rather than the 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S.

A claimed 0-100km/h of 9.5 seconds feels about right. The throttle tip-in is so sharp that it requires a sensitive right foot, though it also suggests strong performance. That fades to an extent, though general refinement is decent and the CVT helps the needle slip up the tachometer to deliver solid response for a non-turbocharged engine in a heavy-ish SUV.

Not that this medium SUV is too heavy, at 1525kg, and certainly not given its substantial interior space. Excellent forward- and rear-view visibility – long a Forester trademark – also helps ‘place’ the 2.5i-L easily on the road, or when parking, and the initially quite soothing suspension tune further boosts the impression of polish and sophistication.

However, as with its Impreza small car sibling, though to a much lesser extent, there is still the impression with this larger vehicle that the springs and dampers could use a little extra fine tuning.

The Forester 2.5i-L feels pillowy and serene over slightly patchy or wavy surfaces, ignoring little lumps and bumps to a greater degree than a CX-5 and Tucson, which lead the class for suspension finesse.

But while the extension stroke of the damper is slow, leading to that insouciant absorption, the rebound stroke feels overly fast and therefore too-often jerky. The former creates a lot of occupant head-toss through big road hits, while the latter causes jarring over potholes.

Frankly, it isn’t as bad as that sounds, but where the Mazda and Hyundai step up with a beautifully lush and level ride, the Subaru can manage only a decent compromise.

The ‘bones’ of this new Forester are clearly right, though. Backed by terrific Bridgestone Dueller HP Sport tyres – and it’s an important distinction, because the non-Sport variation of previous generations have been poor – the chassis itself feels of a wide-track, planted nature.

It makes for stable, grippy handling, while the steering – although a little too muddy around town – reveals itself to be direct and linear, helping the 2.5i-L to handle more like a compact wagon than medium SUV. Again, it isn’t quite a match for CX-5, but it’s close.

It’s also quiet even on coarse-chip surfaces, and both the blind-spot monitor and adaptive cruise are among the best-calibrated of any vehicle tested – with an instant return to set speed when a vehicle moves out of the way on the freeway. The facial recognition is a bit gimmicky, though, and the side camera faces the front wheel and not the rear, which makes it a bit useless when reverse parking – a 360-degree camera is preferable, for sure.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: Not tested.

Safety Features: Seven airbags, ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), forward/reverse autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assistance, blind-spot monitor, front- side- and reverse-view camera, and rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Three years/unlimited km

Servicing: With annual or 12,500km intervals, Subaru’s capped-price servicing plan costs $346, $584 and $386 for each check-up respectively, until three years or 37,500km.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Tucson Elite still lacks some equipment, so this is a rare case where it’s worth spending $46,500 (plus orc) on the Tucson Highlander with turbo power, all-wheel drive and every bit of luxury and safety equipment imaginable – it’s a great option, but for a price.

If you want to stick to sub-$38K, the Sportage Si Premium doesn’t have the interior quality or ride comfort of its Hyundai stablemate, but a highly efficient diesel, all-wheel drive and standard AEB/lane-keep makes for among the best-value contenders in this class.

But it’s the CX-5 Maxx Sport that is the ultimate all-rounder, with similar performance and (high) interior quality to this Forester, teamed with superior ride and handling – all for only a little more than this comparably-equipped 2.5i-L.

 

Hyundai Tucson Elite

Kia Sportage Si Premium

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5

Subaru has done a brilliant job with the new Forester, which is so incredibly anti-elitist that rivals should take note. The base model grade is the clear pick, with all the comfort and ambience of this middle-model-grade for $2000 less. Add another half-star for the 2.5i, then.

Some of the extra camera tech isn’t worth the extra with this 2.5i-L, but that’s only in isolation. Against every other competitor in this class, it’s supreme value.

What either does is package superb interior ambience and space, with benchmark convenience and safety equipment, the assurance of standard all-wheel drive and a full-sized spare, a punchy yet refined engine, plus good steering and handling. With a little extra suspension finesse, another half-star could topple in.

For $37K-plus, the CX-5 still takes class honours. But for anything less, this is the new go-to. Happy birthday, Forester.

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