The first Forester was launched here in 1997 as a relatively mild looking station wagon but subsequently evolved into a stylish medium SUV with genuine off-road capabilities. Within a year it had become Subaru’s best-seller and has remained so right through until 2018 when it was pipped at the post by its precocious smaller SUV sibling the XV.
Unlike most of its competitors which offer both two and four-wheel drive Forester is exclusively AWD with the added safety and roadholding benefits that it provides.
The latest, fifth generation, Forester, arrived here in September 2018. Like most new models it’s marginally larger all round including a longer wheelbase. Ground clearance has also been increased, to 220 mm, as have the approach angle (18.7 degree), break-over angle (19.6 degrees) and departure angle (24.6 degrees).
These improvements, together with AWD, almost put new Forester into the genuine 4WD class, rather than SUV class.
Four variants are available; 2.5i, 2.5i-L, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S, starting at $33,840, plus on-road costs, with the range-topping 2.5i-S at $41,940.
The styling of Forester over the years has been relatively conservative and that hasn’t changed with the gen-five model. The classic Subaru hexagonal front grille has been updated to fit into changes in the ‘family’ design, the bumpers are bolder with more muscular guards and a wider shoulder line that emphasise the vehicle’s increased height.
The gen-five Forester has the largest interior yet. The longer wheelbase provides extra rear seat legroom and the increased width improves shoulder, hip and leg room all round. Cargo capacity has been increased from 422 to 498 litres.
The additional interior space is highlighted by rounded design, incorporating high quality materials, silver framed displays and controls, while white LED map lights improve night-time visibility and complement the wide-body interior ambience.
The elevated centre console provides plenty of storage space in front of the gear shifter.
Rear-seat occupants are well catered for with two air vents, two power outlets and a drop-down armrest with two drink holders
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The only powertrain on offer is a 2.5-litre direct injection four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine paired to a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission with seven manual overrides.
Power and torque are up marginally to 136 kW (from 126 kW) and 239 Nm (from 235 Nm).
The CVT in pretend manual mode gives out a sportier sound and more response although efficiency is better in full CVT mode.
Wheels are of a new design and come in 17-inches in the 2.5i and 2.5i-L, 18-inch in the 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S.
Forester gets a five-star ANCAP rating, and has had that top score for the past 16 years due to continually building on its safety features.
New to this fifth generation Forester is the Driver Monitoring System – Driver Focus (DMS) which uses an infrared LED and a camera to monitor the driver for signs of inattention or sleepiness and send out a warning where it is deemed necessary. The system can be set to recognise up to five individual drivers and adjust the cabin environment to their preference.
Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system has been around for some time but is now standard across the Forester range. It monitors traffic movement for unanticipated risks and can activate pre-collision throttle management to reduce speed or pre-collision braking where necessary. It also has adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and sway warning.
The 2.5i-L, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S models also get Reverse Automatic Braking to help avoid collisions or reduced impact damage. It detects objects at least one-metre high immediately behind the vehicle when reversing at a low speed
A Multi-Function Display uses a 6.3-inch colour screen located at the top centre of the instrument panel that can be changed by using a steering wheel control switch.
It provides a wealth of information including vehicle dynamics control and fuel efficiency. Embedded navigation is available in 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S models, lower spec models need to use a paired smartphone for directions.
Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto and Digital radio (DAB+) are all now available, while the flagship Forester 2.5i-S gets Harman Kardon premium audio, with eight speakers, plus subwoofer.
There’s also a small liquid crystal display in the instrument cluster, between the gauges that provides driving and graphical information as well as the display for the rear-view camera.
The amount of information available to the driver is as comprehensive as found on many far more expensive vehicles. On the downside, the use of three separate screen displays has the eyes scanning over a large area when maybe they should be concentrating the road ahead.
The older and less pliant we get the greater importance we seem to place on the ability to enter and exit a vehicle with a minimum of bending and head scraping. In this regard we found Forester to be just about the best in its class.
Once inside the front seats are wide without too much of the high bolsters in similar vehicles and overall there’s a spacious, comfortable and modern interior ambience for both driver and passengers. The tall roofline combined with large and upright windows provide excellent all-round vision although the big box that houses the Eyesight gear at the top centre of the windscreen can be a bit distracting.
Engine performance is good, but nothing special. In the past Subaru Australia have brought higher performance versions of the Forester, including an STI, but have no plans to repeat that at this stage.
Ride comfort is nicely balanced between comfort and grip. Noise and vibration levels are kept to the sort of levels that normally are found only in large sedans. Handling is very competent thanks to the all-wheel-drive system.
Towing capacity with a braked trailer is 1500 kg.
Fuel consumption is listed at 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres. We averaged 8.6 L/100 km during our week-long test.
Subaru Australia now provides the five-year unlimited kilometre warranty that is quickly becoming the norm on the Australian market.
Subaru Forester is a tried and proven member of the mid-sized SUV class with a loyal and satisfied clientele over its 22 years on the market.
With AWD across the range Subaru Forester should certainly sit high on your short list if you want to get reasonably serious about driving on unsealed roads.
AT A GLANCE
Forester 2.5i: $33,840
Forester 2.5i-L: $35,890
Forester 2.5i Premium: $38,890
Forester 2.5i-S AWD $41,940
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Subaru dealer for drive-away prices.
SPECIFICATIONS (Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 2.5-litre petrol five-door wagon)
Capacity: 2.498 litres
Configuration: 4-cylinder, horizontally opposed
Maximum Power: 136 kW @ 5800 rpm
Maximum Torque: 239 Nm @ 4400 rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol 91 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 7.4 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 168 g/km
DRIVELINE: Lineartronic CVT with manual mode, AWD
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4625 mm
Wheelbase: 2670 mm
Width: 1815 mm
Height: 1730 mm
Turning Circle: 10.8 metres
Tare weight: 1577 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 63 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Ventilated disc
Five years / unlimited kilometres