|Subaru’s renowned Symmetrical AWD (since 1972) feeds the power to all 4 wheels, and the system is unique because the propeller shaft and rear differential are placed in a straight line behind the Boxer engine.|
I was like your typical Citizen when first presented with the opportunity to review the Subaru Forester 2.0XT. My initial skepticism about SUVs in general was a result of years of being bombarded by mainstream SUV offerings below RM250,000 that failed to pique my interest in anything with a chassis that was higher than a regular sedan. Adding fuel to the fire was my limited knowledge of only two good vehicles that came out of the Subaru stables; the ubiquitous, racy Rex (Impreza WRX), and the even racier STI versions of the same. You can’t blame me or a large portion of the domestic motoring masses, as the brand was never much involved in building a name for themselves across the causeway, due in large to a restrictive automotive environment.
For our Southern neighbors across the causeway, the “Scooby” has enjoyed much success over the years, and the “Rex” is quite commonplace on the island. Owners have praised the Impreza for its strong engine and excellent handling characteristics, underpinned by the successful participation of the brand in WRC (World Rally Championships) under the management of Prodrive until their eventual withdrawal in 2008. Through the years of involvement in the WRC, Petter Solberg’s 2003 Championship year featured the last of the very best of Subaru’s core variant. Still, the legacy of Subarus in rallying has made a lasting impact on many, and the technologies that have trickled down to their mass production vehicles bear testament to that legacy. Put simply, when you see an Impreza WRX coming up behind you on the highway, you move to the left. Nuff’ said.
Subaru Forester: Rally-bred Engineering
Unlike your typical soccer mom SUV, the Forester 2.0XT is bequeathed with a host of Subaru’s finest and latest engineering and tech, and herein lies the difference between a Scooby and most other mainstream brands. The DNA of the marque is pretty much intact even when it comes to SUVs. In the engine bay there’s a very potent turbocharged 2.0-liter Boxer flat-four complete with dual overhead cams and 16 valves, good for 240PS@5,600rpm and turbodiesel-like torque of 350Nm@2,400-2,600rpm. These figures even manage to surpass the previous Forester 2.5 XT AWD (All Wheel Drive) with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine (230PS@5,200rpm and 320Nm@2,800rpm). Boxer engines have two main advantages over conventional ones; minimal vibration even at redline, and a flat and low engine profile that lowers the center of gravity for better handling. Said minimal vibration rivals that of V-mounted engines, and if Subaru is to be believed, surpasses them for vibration suppression.
All this potency is transmitted to the 4 wheels via a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with 6 virtual ratios in place of a conventional 4-speed gearbox of the previous generation. The seamless nature of a CVT takes full advantage of available torque at all rpms, adding further to the punchy power delivery of the Forester which clears the century sprint in 7.5 seconds. Kudos to Subaru for going the CVT route, as it is uncommon for a vehicle with high torque application to run on CVT. The buttery smooth driving experience in a vehicle with a CVT can best be appreciated in the flesh; you don’t have to take my word for it.
Subaru’s renowned Symmetrical AWD (since 1972) feeds the power to all 4 wheels, and the system is unique because the propeller shaft and rear differential are placed in a straight line behind the Boxer engine. This translates to proper balance and superior stability in a range of driving conditions. Front and rear torque distribution is handled automatically, so it will make bad drivers look good, and good drivers excellent. During testing, I drove the Forester in mixed conditions including a thunderstorm, and I can vouch for the superiority of this mechanical arrangement; I never lost traction at any time, even when barreling down a highway above 140km/h in heavy rain!
The chassis of the Forester uses ring-shaped Reinforcement Frames to strengthen key areas of the vehicle; torsional rigidity is improved without adding more weight to the overall package. The Boxer engine and transmission are designed to break away from the cabin in the event of a frontal collision; these, together with 2 SRS airbags up front, 2 front-sides, curtain airbags and driver’s knee airbag work in tandem with pre-tensioner seat belts to ensure utmost passenger safety. All-round visibility in the Forester is also something that needs mention. Partition windows in the front doors greatly improve visibility, especially for difficult parking maneuvers. There are also large partition windows along the C-pillar to aid visibility, an important criteria for SUVs. And not forgetting also, the multi-function display acts as a reverse camera as well.
Subaru Forester: Large enough cabin for all-round spaciousness
For a compact SUV, the Forester is rather spacious. Legroom and headroom are generous, and you will find that 5 full-sized adults will fit comfortably inside. The leather-clad seats offer good support and even the rear seats are rather comfortable and pliant. In some SUVs, even premium branded ones, the rear seats can feel a little stiff, but not so with the Forester. The overall seating experience can be summed up as being just supple but firm enough to not feel spongy. Both front seats are electrically adjustable, adding to the premium feel, though I would have liked the option of memory recall for the driver’s seat. There’s also a powered rear door which can be activated by a button on the dash, as well as from the outside on the door itself, which can be rather helpful if you’ve got both hands full with groceries. The powered closing door is also rather useful when you’ve just returned from a muddy adventure and you don’t want to soil your hands. It’s also a nice talking point for those who haven’t seen one in action on an Alphard or Estima.
Up front, the Forester’s dash is a mix of form and function, with just a dash of modernity thrown into the mix to keep it current, just the way I like it. All controls are within easy reach, making the cockpit driver centric enough without having to wrap the dashboard around the driver like in some vehicles. The sporty Subaru signature 3-spoke steering wheel is equipped with myriad controls for audio, Bluetooth, cruise control, SI- Drive and MFD (multi-function display). The MFD lets you scroll through many useful gauges and information about your Forester in real-time. I particularly liked the boost gauge as it tells you specifically how much turbo boost the engine is running at any given condition and throttle position. It is common knowledge that the higher the boost, the higher the consumption, so if you’re a possessed driver you’d do well to watch that gauge. The beauty about the Boxer engine in the Forester, is that it produces decent torque (without boost) even for takeoffs, and quick checks with the boost gauge reveal that in most (sedate) situations I was running without boost at all. This also has to do with the Lineartronic CVT, which provides optimal gearing at all times.
The included Harman/Kardon 8-Speaker audio system is really something. An audiophile company with more than 50 years in the business, Harman/Kardon is also famous as an OE supplier of automotive audio components to numerous car brands including BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru. They also own Mark Levinson, another big name in audiophile circles, and you can find Mark Levinson components in Lexus vehicles. When I caught a glimpse of the Harman/Kardon logo on the door speakers, I had some form of expectations about the audio system in the Forester. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. The sound quality in the Forester was one of the better ones that I’ve heard over the years, with a broad tonal range that was neutral and smooth, with no jarring bumps in any of the main frequencies. Car audio setups can be a real pain, and a car’s interior isn’t the best candidate as far as acoustics is concerned. Female vocals sounded sweet and soothing (Lisa Ekdahl, Astrud Gilberto, Stacey Kent, Renee Olstead), but when called upon to render heavier material from the likes of Linkin Park and Pit Bull, it managed to deliver a clean and dynamic performance without sounding strained. Of course, nothing beats a fully custom setup, but for most, you will find little incentive to upgrade.
Subaru Forester: Point and Shoot
The chassis of the Forester feels reassuringly solid and well screwed together. Suspension-wise, it’s like riding on a flying carpet (almost), with a smooth and pliant ride over most surfaces. Road imperfections are mostly heard, not felt. Calling an SUV a flying carpet sounds slightly far-fetched, without running the risk of calling it boat-like. The Forester is anything but boat-like, for the record. There is a slight forward rocking motion when coming to a complete stop, but that’s about it. At all other times, the Forester feels planted and reassuring with a good damping and rebound rate. For a car this high, you would expect it to roll around corners. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Point it into a corner, the nose follows willingly with the rest of the Forester not far behind. If you expect to get thrown out of your seat, well guess what; ain’t gonna happen. The AWD system, low center of gravity of the Boxer engine and a well-designed suspension work in tandem to create a car-like behavior that is rarely the case with SUVs.
The only other SUV that I’ve tested with similar excellent characteristics (but minus the grunt of a blown engine) is the Mazda CX-5 AWD. Both are similar in proportions and wheelbase lengths, as well as sharing a similar kerb weight with the Mazda being the lighter of the two. The Boxer flat-four coupled to a CVT allows for very brisk overtaking maneuvers; you simply judge the traffic ahead, point, and shoot. There’s no easier way to describe the feeling when you see that boost gauge spooling up to a high-ish 0.9 Bar (most soft turbo applications rarely go above 0.6 Bar), and I’ve even spotted it going above 1 Bar for a split second of overboost. Now because of how a CVT gradually and seamlessly adjusts gear ratios, you won’t get that kick in the pants feeling like you would with an old school turbo engine, but rest assured you are well on your way above AES-legal speeds. I just love it every time a Japanese/Korean D-segment sedan or a young wannabe racer in a Vios or City tries to tailgate me in the understated Forester without a “Turbo” badge. Just apply pedal to the metal for a few seconds and they’ll stop chasing you, just like that. Just goes to show how little most people know about the Forester or any Subarus for that matter…
Subaru Forester: Is It Worth It?
Here’s the thing. The Forester is fully imported from Japan. At RM206,481.70 on the road (private registration), that’s quite a bit of coin in the current economy, but here’s what I think sets the Forester apart: Turbocharged 2-liter Boxer engine, Symmetrical AWD, Lineartronic CVT with Paddle Shifters, 18” Alloy wheels, Driver’s knee airbag, Keyless entry (Touch sensor type) and Immobilizer, Powered Sunroof, 8-Speaker Harman/Kardon premium sound system, Electric Power Steering, Automatic rain-sensing Wipers, HID headlamps with Auto Leveling, 8-Way Power Adjustable Driver and Passenger seats and Powered Rear Door. And finally, 0-100km/h in 7.5 secs in a brawny, un-soccer-mom-like SUV that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. What’s not to like?
Words and images by Greg
Subaru Forester images