Words by Isaac Bober
When Subaru revealed it was dropping the diesel engine, manual transmission and the turbocharged XT variant from its line-up the internet went into meltdown. But with so few sales of those things, it’s hard to blame Subaru for dropping them. And, given it wants to release a hybrid version of the Forester soon, can you really blame the brand for diverting coin into other areas? Moving on.
In this review, we’re looking at the entry-level Forester 2.5i.
What’s the price and what do you get?
The entry-level Subaru Forester 2.5i is priced at $33,490+ORC and that puts it up against the likes of the Holden Equinox LTZ AWD which is priced from $44,290+ORC and the Hyundai Tucson GO AWD at $35,950+ORC although this model is diesel only; to get a petrol AWD Tucson you’ve got to go for the Elite which is better equipped than this Forester.
Then there’s the Ford Escape Ambiente AWD at an identical $33,490+ORC, and, like Hyundai, you’ve got to consider a diesel-powered Sportage to find an equivalent, and even the Mitsubishi Outlander which starts at $33,790+ORC for the entry-level all-wheel drive misses out on the active safety features this Forester gets as standard; you’ve got to spend $35,290+ORC on the entry-level Outlander to get closer. Even the entry Mazda CX-5 Maxx AWD at $33,690+ORC is pricier than our tester.
Of course, there are plenty of other makes and models that would likely feature on shopping lists but the ones mentioned are the most obvious choices. And they all go to show that the Forester is priced very competitively.
So, just what do you get for your $33,490+ORC? Well, quite a lot... You get Subaru’s latest-generation EyeSight active safety system as standard, although you’ll need to buy the next-up 2.5i-L to get Subaru’s new Driver Monitoring System and automatic reverse braking, but we’ll delve more deeply into safety in that section. Back to what you do get… steering responsive headlights, reversing camera with washer, tyre pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, X-Mode, infotainment with Apple and Android connectivity, Bluetooth and voice control, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, puddle lights on the front doors, cargo blind, charging outlets in the rear, full-size spare, Harmon Kardon sound system, and much more.
So, when you consider it, the Forester is better equipped than any one of its rivals and it’s cheaper than them too.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
It wasn’t that long ago that Subaru’s interiors felt like they were crafted from old lunchboxes. That’s no longer the case. And, even on this entry-level Forester with its cloth interior, there’s a quality to the materials and the fit and finish too that impresses.
The dashboard might be an all-new design for this latest-generation Forester but it will feel familiar to anyone who’s looked at the inside of the new Impreza and XV. The dash itself is simply designed with all the controls easy to read and reach, but it’s the things you don’t notice immediately and might not notice at all that makes this Forester better than the old car.
And that is that it’s bigger on the inside than the old car. Indeed, Subaru’s engineers said, at both the international and local launch that their main concern with the new Forester was that it should be roomier and more comfortable for families.
Being based on the new global platform that we’ve already sampled under Impreza and XV allowed the Forester to be stretched. Indeed, new Forester is 15mm longer (4625mm) than the old car, 20mm wider (1815mm) and has a longer wheelbase at 2770mm. This has allowed the designers to eke out a little more space inside the cabin. Those in the front have been pushed away from each other slightly which has improved elbow room (allowing both people in the front to share the centre console lid as an elbow rest) while there’s a little more width and legroom in the back now too.
Having driven the top-spec Forester at the local launch earlier in the year with a leather interior, I found the seats a little too flat feeling but that was possibly down to the leather. The cloth seats in this entry-level model felt comfortable and with good grip in all the right places; the material too feels like it’ll stand up to family abuse. The seat base is a little longer than some of this car’s competitors which is great for those of us with longer legs. A little extra under-thigh support makes a huge difference to long-distance-driving comfort.
The front seats are manual adjust only but, hey, I can remember a time when you had to wind down your own window and seats in every car were manual-adjust only. The levers are easy to reach and the adjustment levels are good with plenty of forwards and backwards movement and small increments in backrest adjustment. The steering too offers reach and rake adjustment (more than the old car too) making it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel.
There’s excellent vision from the front seat. Thanks to a dashboard that’s low-set but with major controls still within your eye-line (design trickery) and the fact you can see the bonnet edges, thin A-pillars and quarter windows, big rear vision mirrors and a huge rear window the Forester offers class-topping vision right around.
Clamber into the back and the rear doors open wide and with a decent opening too, making it easy for adults to get into and out of the back. The doors are only light which makes them easy to use by kids but there’s a solidity to the way they close that suggests quality.
The rear seat offers a noticeable amount of extra room. Even with the driver’s seat set-up to suit me I found I still had acres of legroom. And the high-set front seats mean there’s excellent foot wiggle room. There’s very good headroom in the back of the Forester too.
The middle seat lacks the shape of the two outboard seats but there’s only minimal transition between the seats and a near flat floor in the back means that an adult can comfortably use the middle seat for shorter trips.
There are also directional air vents and twin USB outlets and both those things are almost unheard of on an entry-level vehicle. A personal favourite of mine is the separation of the seat-back pouches into multiple compartments which allows separate storage of items.
The boot is now bigger than it was in the old car (by 78L) up to 498 litres which grows to 1768 litres when you fold down the back seat. There’s almost no load lip which makes loading and unloading easy, and there are multiple tie-down points and bag hooks as well as a 12V outlet. Under the boot floor is a full-size alloy spare wheel.
What are the controls and infotainment like?
The entry-level Forester gets a small 6.5-inch screen but the display is clear and crisp although the shiny finish on the screen means it can be hard to see in full sun. There’s no native sat-nav on this entry model but you do get Apple and Android connectivity, so, if you need mapping you’ll need to use your phone. The infotainment system is basic but easy to use and I had no problems with it connecting to my phone.
All the major controls are easy to read and reach on the fly. There are on-off switches for many of the active safety features and the one you’ll most likely turn off when out in the country is the lane keep assist which becomes way too busy, reacting to phantom lines and making for an annoying drive experience as it constantly tries to counter-steer.
Subaru’s X-Mode system is activated by a dial down on the centre console and it couldn’t be easier to use. The entry-level car gets a single model controller while the top-spec variant gets a dual-mode controller. Don’t be tricked, though. With the single-mode controller you’ll need to manually “turn off” traction control (what it really does is desensitise it to allow a little more wheel spin to try and force the tyres down through slop and into a firmer, more grippy surface) when driving through deep mud and snow whereas in the dual-mode controller the second stage which is designed for deep mud and snow automatically desensitises traction control. There’s no difference in capability between the two.
What’s the performance like?
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is so close to being all-new that it’s basically, despite having the same displacement, a different engine than the one in the old car. Subaru says its 90 per cent all-new.
Power and torque are both up slightly on the old car to 136kW at 5800rpm and 239Nm at 4400rpm (up from 126kW and 235Nm). There’s only one transmission available across the range and that is a CVT; it’s essentially the same CVT as the one in the WRX with its simulated ‘stepped’ shifts when in manual mode.
Most people tend to moan about CVTs but Subaru’s been making them for some time now and makes some of the best on the market. The one in the Forester is clean and responsive in its action with none of the drone or stretchiness you used to get from early CVTs. Indeed, most people would be hard pressed to pick it as a CVT and not a conventional automatic transmission and I’ll accept no moaning about it…
Across the Practical Motoring road loop which covers a variety of terrain from highway to country back road and just about every surface and corner type you could imagine, the Forester performed well. Maintaining a set speed on the long, steep hills of the loop was a doddle with excellent throttle adjustability and refinement.
That said, slam the throttle into the floor from a standing start and the revs will flare and the engine note will become a little raucous. But that’s all. Once it’s up and running the engine quietens down to the point where it can barely be heard inside the cabin.
With the whole family on-board and luggage loaded for a weekend away the Forester was quiet and comfortable with enough grunt to make overtaking, even on hills, a simple affair.
Across our rough-road section the engine and CVT worked well with the super-adjustable throttle to make it a cinch to crawl the thing across broken ground at a walking pace.
What’s the ride and handling like?
Subaru’s new global platform is a stiffer platform than the one under the old car and in the same way the new platform has improved the ride and handling of both the Impreza and XV so it has with the new Forester. It’s worth mentioning too that while Subaru Australia doesn’t crow about it, it’s engineers could test-and-suggest ride, handling and steering tweaks to ensure the Forester would suit Australian tastes and roads.
This means the cars we get hear ride and handling a little differently to the cars destined for both Japan and the US. Indeed, the Aussie-influenced tune will be the one the Europeans get. Even just a quick drive around the block is enough to tell you the suspension tune is set up for comfort which is exactly what SUV buyers want, but there’s enough of a spring in the Forester’s step that it won’t go to pieces when shown a corner.
The bump absorption and recovery is particularly impressive and on even the roughest section of road and track I drove across the Forester remained comfortable. There’s one section of road we put all our test cars over that’s particularly gnarled and pock-marked and while some SUVs we driven across it become noisy and upset, the Forester smothered all the bumps and potholes without skipping or bouncing once.
But, as mentioned, this comfort doesn’t upset its balance when cornering. Often you can have a car that’s comfortable or a car that corners but not both. Well, the Forester does both. Sure, it’s not a sports car but despite offering more ground clearance than anyone of its competitors, the Forester tucks into corners with excellent body control and none of the roll you might expect from such a high-riding SUV (220mm of ground clearance).
The same goes when you dial the speed back on a rough dirt road where rather than bouncing off an obstacle, the Forester does its best to keep its wheels pressed into the ground. And even when it does lift a wheel off the deck and then collapses back down it remains controlled and comfortable.
The Forester, out of the box, is more capable than any of the other rough-road SUVs it’s up against. It’s permanent all-wheel drive and X-Mode system are miles ahead of on-demand all-wheel drive systems. Sure, you’ll never get as far as a vehicle with low-range 4x4 but you’ll get a lot further off the beaten track than anything else you might cross-shop the Forester with.
X-Mode is a simple system that once activated recalibrates engine mapping to soften the throttle which makes it easier to drive on slippery roads, meaning you’re less likely to over-rev the thing and break traction. That said, you can slam the throttle into the carpet and it will give you full power, like if you need to build and maintain momentum to climb up a slippery slope.
X-Mode also speeds up the locking between front and rear axles by about 25% to improve grip in bumpy terrain, and the traction control acts faster to prevent wheelspin too. When you’re driving through sloppy mud you can “turn off” traction control to allow for more wheelspin…it doesn’t deactivate traction control entirely, rather it desensitises it so that the wheels are allowed to spin a little more and try and push through the slippery surface (mud or snow) into the grippier surface beneath.
And X-Mode works brilliantly. We drove the thing through a series of sloppy mud ruts and even on road-oriented rubber the thing cruised through without breaking a sweat. It really is impossible to over-state the Forester’s capability compared with its competitors.
Does it have a spare?
Yes, a full-size alloy beneath the boot floor.
Can you tow with it?
Yes, the maximum braked towing weight is 1500kg with a 150kg towball download.
What about ownership?
Subaru is lagging key competitors with its three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty but it does offer capped price servicing for those three years (12 months or 12,500km) with prices running from $346 to $584 with a free, one-month health check.
What about safety?
Forester doesn’t have an ANCAP rating yet, but the vehicle has realised the highest rating in Japanese NCAP tests and Subaru Australia said it fully expected the vehicle to realise five-stars in Australia too. To that end, it’s equipped, as standard with Subaru’s EyeSight system which includes autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. Move up from our entry-level tester and EyeSight adds reverse automatic braking and both front and side view monitors and also the new Driver Monitoring System.
All variants feature torque vectoring which works to brake the inner wheels when cornering to effectively push the vehicle back in towards the corner. There’s also a reversing camera and parking sensors, permanent all-wheel drive and X-Mode, manual speed limiter, and dual front, side, driver’s knee and curtain airbags. The seatbelt is also able to determine the size of the driver and passengers to adapt the “energy absorption load” for the seatbelt, and all seatbelts except the middle rear belt get a locking tongue which helps to spread load more evenly through the belt in a collision. This is a simple and clever piece of engineering that more car makers should be using.
So, what do we think?
The new Forester might not look a whole lot different to the old car but it is. It’s better to drive on and off the bitumen, is roomier inside and with more creature comforts, like rear air vents and USB charging. It also offers a full-size spare when many of its competitors feature only a space-saver. In terms of pricing and equipment it’s probably the best buy in the segment. Now, if Subaru would just bump up its three-year warranty to five years…
2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i Specifications
Price From $33,490+ORC Warranty three-years unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 12 months or 12,500km Safety N/A Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 136kW at 5800rpm Torque239Nm at 4400rpm Transmission CVT Drive all-wheel drive Dimensions 4625mm long, 1815mm wide, 1730mm high, 2770mm wheelbase Angles 18.7-degrees approach, 19.6-degrees breakover, 24.6-degrees departure Ground Clearance 220mm Turning Circle 10.8m Seats five Boot Space 498-1060L Towing 1500kg; 150kg towball download Spare full-size Fuel Tank 63L Thirst 7.4L/100km claimed combined