BUYERS GUIDE - SOFT-ROADERS
The Forester carries the DNA from the late 20th century Leone and Touring Wagons into the 21st century. The Forester is a great on-road performer, with quite good fire trail capability. It was upgraded in mid-2021.
In September 2018 Subaru launched the new generation of its top-selling Forester All-Wheel Drive wagon, preserving the popular outgoing model’s proportions and appearance, but based
on a new global platform.
The new Subaru Global Platform incorporates 51-percent high-strength steel and is noticeably stiffer than the previous model’s structure, allowing the suspension to function more effectively in both ride and handling.
At the same time, Subaru has improved the standard equipment list and included the brand’s first-ever driver recognition system. Subaru Driver Monitoring has face recognition and not only alerts the driver in the event of inattention or drowsiness, but also sets mirror and seat positions automatically, on recognising different drivers’ faces.
The engine bay looks similar to that in previous Foresters, but the four-cylinder boxer engine is a direct injection iteration that’s 90-percent new. The 2018 engine is noticeably more responsive and efficient, with 136kW (+7.9-percent) and 239Nm (+1.7-percent).
Interestingly, there’s no diesel and no turbo option. The diesel is no loss, considering the issues many small diesel engine makers are having with emissions equipment – particularly troublesome diesel particulate filters. Subaru’s technology sharing with Toyota wouldn’t help in this regard, because Toyota’s HiLux and Prado 2.8-litre diesel is one of the worst for emissions system reliability.
A petrol turbo isn’t offered at this sag, because Subaru is acutely aware of the issues with small, turbocharged direct-injection petrol engines: carbon buildup on the inlet valves and the need for a diesel particulate filter for Eurocompliance.
Subaru says the 2.5-litre shouldn’t hav carbon buildup issues and doesn’t need a DPF to imply with Euro 6 targets.
The company’s LineartronicTM continuously variable transmission (CVT) has been upgraded for more sporty response and has a seven-speed manual mode. It’s coupled with revised X-Mode operation that is said to improve challenging off-road capability.
EyeSight driver assist that employs a pair of forward-facing cameras is now standard across the entire Forester range.
A new infotainment system adds digital radio Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto connectivity.
Electric power steering is standard and action is linked to steering-responsive LED headlights across the entire Forester range. An electric parking brake is also new.
The post-2018 Forester is 15mm longer
(at 4625mm), 20mm wider (1815mm) and has a 30mm longer wheelbase, at 2770mm. However, it has a turning radius of just 5.4 metres.
Highlighting SUV credibility, Forester has an 18.7-degree approach angle, 19.6-degree break-over angle and 24.6-degree departure angle, with 220mm of ground clearance.
For added convenience, loopholes are added to the roof rails of Forester 2.5i-S, enabling ropes and straps to be tied down directly onto the rails.
All Foresters have new-design 17-inch (2.5i and 2.5i-L) and 18-inch wheel patterns (2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S).
Forester pricing starts from $33,490, for the 2.5i, in a range that covers four variants: Forester 2.5i-L AWD, 2.5i Premium AWD, $38,490 and 2.5i-S AWD, $41,490 MLP.
The shape of the rear seat backs and the folding mechanism are redesigned to produce a flatter cargo floor and the power tailgate action is quicker.
The steps at the rear doors feature a wider and flatter non-slip finish, making them more useful when loading roof rails or washing the car roof.The roof rails have slots to make tie-down straps easier to use.
Climate control air conditioning can be operated in conjunction with the DMS and via voice recognition. It can detect front occupants and adjust airflow accordingly, maximising comfort.
Air vents are added to the rear of the centre console in every Forester and the system can also detect whether the back seats are occupied, based on opening and closing of rear doors.
A multi function display (MFD)
is located at the top centre of the instrument panel. Outside temperature and clock are always displayed and the basic screen area can be changed by
using a steering wheel control switch.
A liquid crystal display (LCD) located in the instrument cluster, between the gauges, provides: graphical information for driving and control, and rear view camera display.
In Forester 2.5i-L, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S the MFD covers Vision Assist, DMS Driver Focus, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist.
The display includes Vehicle Dynamics Control (shown by changes in the tyre colour and flashing icons to indicate that the car is being controlled safely with VDC).
The EyeSight screen shows a visual representation of Adaptive Cruise Control operation that varies depending on distance to the vehicle ahead.
In Forester 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S, the factory-fitted navigation system is powered by TomTom, a global leader in navigation.
The post-2018 Forester’s X-Mode has new functions, strengthening off-road and steep hill performance.
Forester 2.5i-S has two switchable modes and when D.SNOW/MUD is selected, ECU torque control allows the engine to generate maximum torque more quickly, producing moderate wheel slip, making it easier to unstick the vehicle, in deep snow or mud.
In Forester 2.5i, 2.5i-L and 2.5i Premium, when X-Mode is activated the Traction Control System (TCS) is switched off – simply by switching the dial to TCS OFF.
In Forester 2.5i-S with two-mode X-Mode, incline angles, plus left and right roll angle are displayed in detail on the MFD.
EyeSight status and warnings are
displayed on the windscreen. The driver can gain a quicker understanding of the current situation – and take steps to avoid dangers – because warnings/displays can be recognised without taking eyes off the surrounding road environment.
When the 2018 Forester is turning, Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) applies brakes to the inner wheels, diverting more power to the outer wheels – producing better turning and more stable driving.
The operation range of Pre-collision Braking is expanded, allowing earlier object recognition. Impact avoidance performance is improved through better control.
The speed difference criteria for collision with a vehicle in front is expanded from a maximum of 30km/h to a maximum of 50km/h, for enhanced collision prevention.
The suite of Vision Assist features uses images from side and front view cameras to check for approaching vehicles or pedestrians.
Reverse automatic braking (RAB) is standard on Forester 2.5i-L, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S. Four sonar sensors installed on the rear bumper detect obstructions when reversing.
If there is the risk of an impact, the system alerts the driver. If the driver does not apply the brakes or take any other evasive action, the system applies the brakes automatically, helping avoid or reduce the severity of a collision.
Upper speed limit for operation is approximately 15km/h or less and Impact avoidance target speed is approximately 8km/h or less.
All Foresters feature are pressure monitoring (TPMS), with information available on the MID. The system identifies individual tyres with low pressure, from the ABS wheel speed counter and RF transmission frequency.
A new speed limiter function controls torque or applies the brakes if the driver is about to exceed a previously-set speed, reducing driver burden.
The Forester range was upgraded in mid-2021, with subtle exterior changes to headlight, fog light, front bumper and grille treatment.
Added to Forester’s suite of EyeSight features are Lane Centring Function; Lane Departure Prevention and Autonomous Emergency Steering.
Retuned front suspension coil springs and dampers are designed to improve ride comfort, steering responsiveness and handling. A new engine mount bracket is said to reduce vibration and noise.
X-Mode is revised, with the ability to automatically re-engage once the vehicle speed drops to 35km/h and revised Hill Descent Control is said to improve vehicle speed control.
Forester variants equipped with the Driver Monitoring System also gain gesture-controlled temperature adjustment for the air-conditioning.
For improved driver vision in all variants other than Forester 2.5i, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) is updated to an array head lamp system.
Eight-inch touchscreens are now standard across the range – previously, Forester 2.5i, 2.5i-L and Hybrid L had 6.5-inch screens.
Ground clearance upgrade
Ironman came up with All Terrain Suspension upgrades for Subaru models in early 2021: said to be the only 50mm long-travel suspension kits available for Subarus.
Each ATS kit comes with pre-assembled coil springs and longer, strut-dampers. Also provided are parts for re-aligning subframes, anti-sway bars and exhaust hangers.
The Nitro Gas shock absorbers are claimed to offer improved travel and control over the stock suspension. The damper bodies are 54mm in diameter and nitrogen-pressurised 35mm pistons are fitted to the inner tubes.
At launch, pricing for the ATS kits started at $1847, plus fitting.
First drive in the post-2018 models
Subaru put on a launch drive program around the spectacular Grampian Mountains in Victoria. The steep tracks were closed for winter, but some of the easier gravel roads were open.
The press launch drive gave us an insight into the new Forester’s behaviour on main and secondary bitumen, and on gravel roads with mild corrugations.
Immediately obvious was the much stiffer monocoque construction provided by the new SGP. There was no noticeable body distortion, even when we ran the vehicle through a steep roadside gutter and at speed there was no body shake or rattling.
The more stable chassis allowed the new suspension to do its bit and handling was very flat. Big bumps and potholes didn’t worry the springs and dampers.
The new bodywork features a level waistline along the doors and across the dashboard, so forward-sector visibility was excellent. The relatively high-set driving position augurs well for off-road excursions, where a good view of the track ahead is important.
We also tried out the autonomous forward and reverse braking systems, using a blow-up plastic effigy of a Forester as the ‘target’. Both systems worked very effectively, pulling up the vehicle we were driving before it hit the balloon.
The reverse anti-collision function was very aggressive and Subaru’s experts pointed out that it’s necessary to stop the vehicle in a very short distance, if there’s another vehicle or somebody behind it.
Fuel consumption was difficult to gauge from our brief driving stint, but we saw 9L/100km after some spirited action, so a cruising figure below that should be easily achieved.
Subaru’s fourth generation Forester made its debut in February 2013 and received technical and electronic equipment upgrades in April 2015 and substantial upgrades in March 2016.
The 2016 Forester had some styling changes, a quieter, more comfortable cabin and upgraded instruments.
Suspension upgrades aid stability and there were noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) improvements that reduced cabin noise by around five percent.
Forester 2016 models, excluding 2.0XT, scored a new front bumper, grille, headlights and LED tail lights.
Forester 2.5i-S and 2.0XT variants had steering-responsive headlights.
Interior details included driver’s seat memory function in premium variants and Siri compatibility across the range. Trim changes gave a fresh look and leather-seat models had additional seat padding.
The headlights in Forester 2.0i-S, XT and XT Premium were LED projector units and there were integrated daytime running lights (DRLs).
The multi-function display switch moved from the steering wheel to the centre dashboard panel for easy operation from both driver and passenger seat.
On Forester 2.5i-S and 2.0XT variants, the optical axes of the headlamps moved left or right according to steering wheel movement through corners.
In Forester 2.0XT and XT Premium, control functions of each SI-Drive mode were changed for more responsive driving. Auto-stepped speed control was adopted in I and S modes.
Control logic was added to the electric power steering system (EPS), ensuring retained steering control if the engine was accidentally turned off while driving. A new steering box reduced steering wheel lock to lock turns, vibration and improved feel.
Driving stability and ride comfort were improved in Forester 2.0XT Premium. When understeer was detected during turning, vehicle dynamic control (VDC)
applied the brakes on the inner front and rear wheels, while delivering a relative increase in driving power to the outer side, improving turn performance. Active torque vectoring also improved cornering accuracy.
Spring rates front and rear accross the range were changed, damper friction was reduced and front suspension cross member and rear suspension bush stiffness increased. Wheel track, camber and toe-in dimensions also changed.
RRPs at launch in March 2016 were: Forester 2.0i-L manual $29,990; 2.5i-L auto $32,990; 2.5i-S auto $39,490;
2.0D-L manual $33,490; 2.0D-L auto $35,490; 2.0D-S manual $39,490; 2.0D-S auto $41,490; 2.0XT auto $40,990 and 2.0XT Premium auto $47,990.
Technical innovations in 2013 included X-Mode for autos, providing additional control on poor surfaces and hills.
X-Mode centralized control of the engine, All-Wheel Drive, brakes and other critical components to help ensure safer driving, even on poor surfaces.
Also new on some models were EyeSight adaptive cruise control; Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT); a new six-speed manual; Stop-Start on all normally-aspirated petrol models; a multi-function display; SI-Drive, matching performance to driving style in normally aspirated automatic models; push button start on 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S; Active Torque Split for auto Foresters and an automatic tailgate on 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S.
2.0i and 2.0i-L models matched a six-speed manual to a new generation 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed Boxer engine. Normally aspirated automatic 2.5i, 2.5i-L and 2.5i-S models featured the new generation 2.5-litre engine.
The 2013 diesel variants came with only the six-speed manual transmission, but in 2015 the Lineartronic CVT became available.
Forester’s towing abilities were enhanced through a Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system with Towing Stability Control. Capacity increased to 1500kg for petrols and 1800kg for diesel models. Foresters with Lineartronic CVT also scored an air-radiator oil cooler.
The 2013 Forester’s bodywork was larger, but the rear section was narrower, for improved aerodynamics and fuel efficiency and all normally aspirated and diesel models gained rear spoilers. An aluminium bonnet helped reduce weight.
New front seats had greater support and lumbar support was enhanced by strengthening materials inside the urethane. Rear seat recline was operated using a simple strap and the rear seat centre armrest featured dual cup-holders.
Child seat tether points were located on the seat back, causing no intrusion into the cargo area.
Forester 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S scored heated front seats.
A new instrument cluster featured Liquid Crystal Display (LCD); steering wheels were tilt and telescopic adjustable, with the
tilt range increased to 42 mm.
Dual-zone air conditioning was standard on 2.5i, 2.0i-L, 2.5i-L, 2.5i-S and diesel variants and fully-automatic single-zone featured on entry-level 2.0i.
Side sills were lowered 50mm and front doors opened an extra 135mm.
A hook was positioned on the cargo door lower trim, making it possible to hang objects with the door opened and grocery bag hooks were located on each side of the cargo area, in addition to four metal cargo restraints.
In line with Forester’s credentials, every variant had a full-size spare wheel.
Forester came with a six-speaker audio system, roof-mounted AM/FM antenna and 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S added factory-fitted satellite navigation.
When in X-Mode, at 40km/h or less the ECU made the throttle open slowly to avoid sudden torque changes and AWD clutch pressure increased by around 25 percent, controlling differential rotation between front and rear wheels.
Also, LSD control counteracted differential rotation between left and right wheels by accelerating brake boosting speed and delaying reduction of brake pressure when wheel rotation returned to normal.
At 20km/h or less Hill Descent Control (HDC) intervened, based on speed data, not hill angle. Therefore a constant speed could be maintained when the vehicle began a descent from the flat.
All 2013 Forester variants had new-generation, four-cylinder, horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engines. Entry-level 2.0i had 110kW at 6200rpm and 198Nm at 4200rpm.
Normally aspirated 2.5-litre models produced 126kW at 5800 rpm and 235Nm at 4100 rpm. The turbocharged diesel produced 108kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm at 1600-2400rpm.
SI-Drive in 2.0i-L, 2.5i-L and –S made it possible for drivers to select engine and automatic transmission characteristics to suit various driving styles, preferences and conditions.
A pinion assist-type electric power steering system featured in all 2013 Foresters.
The 2.0i, 2.5i, 2.0i-L, 2.5i-L and 2.0D diesel variants had 17-inch wheels, and 2.5i-S and 2.0D-S variants had 18-inch alloy wheels. Those with 17-inch wheels had Yokohama 225/60 R17 99H tyres and those with 18-inch wheels had Bridgestone 225/55 R18 98H tyres.
Optional Eyesight used stereo cameras with 3-D image processing to assess a wide variety of situations. Key features were:
Pre-Collision Braking that applied the brakes when a vehicle ahead was detected slowing or stopping suddenly;
Pre-Collision Brake Assist provided 1G maximum deceleration to help reduce impact or damage;
Pre-Collision Throttle Management inhibited the throttle opening, helping minimize or avoid impact;
Adaptive Cruise Control maintained a safe distance from the ‘target’ car in front irrespective of the varying speed of that vehicle;
Lane Departure Warning alerted the driver if the system determined that the car was drifting across clearly marked lanes;
Vehicle Sway Warning alerted the driver if the car started to sway from one side of the road to another, which could occur with fatigue;
Lead Vehicle Start Alert gave an audible reminder that the vehicle in front had moved.
EyeSightTM could also recognize pedestrians, motorcycles and cyclists within its field of vision.
Every Forester featured seven airbags – dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee.
Forester 2.0i and 2.0i-L came with: reversing camera; steering wheel controls; auto Stop-Start; Bluetooth connectivity; cargo security blind; cruise control – steering wheel buttons; 60/40 split/fold rear seat; three 12V/120W power outlets; 17-inch steel wheels; roof rails and three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
The 2.5i spec’ added: dual zone climate control air conditioning and X-Mode.
The 2.5i-L spec’ added: front fog lights; leather steering wheel and gearshift; paddleshift; privacy glass; SI-Drive; sliding centre console and 17-inch aluminium wheels.
The 2.5i-S spec’ added: automatic cargo door; eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat; electric sunroof; EyeSight; front wiper de-icer; heated fronts seats and door mirrors; leather trim; rain sensing wipers; satellite navigation; self-levelling dusk-sensing Xenon headlights with pop-up washers; push button start and 18-inch aluminium wheels
The 2.0D spec’ had: dual zone climate control air conditioning and 17-inch aluminium wheels;
The 2.0D-L spec’ added: front fog lights; leather steering wheel and gear shift; and privacy glass.
The 2.0D-S spec’ added: automatic cargo door; electric sunroof; front wiper de-icer; heated front seats and door mirror; leather trim; powered driver and front passenger seat; rain sensing front wipers; satellite navigation; self-levelling dusk-sensing Xenon headlights with pop-up washers; push button start and 18-inch aluminium wheels.
The 2015 lineup enjoyed RRP reductions, thanks to a recently-signed Free Trade Agreement with Japan (all Subarus were 100-percent Japanese-manufactured).
An all-new infotainment system was incorporated and diesel models could be ordered with the CVT transmission.
The boxer diesel engine was upgraded for 2015, to meet strict Euro 6 emissions standards. The ample power and torque figures remained unchanged, but the block was redesigned; a new timing chain replaced gears to drive a higher-pressure injection pump; a new exhaust gas recirculation system was employed; new injectors; new variable-nozzle turbo; new radiator and oil cooler; new particulate filter and a variable-charge battery system.
The line-up started with the 2.0i-L petrol model that came with ISOFIX child seat mountings; reverse camera; ABS/EBD and Brake Assist, 17-inch aluminium wheels and vehicle Dynamics control. Interior equipment included an 18cm touchscreen; multi-function display; rear privacy glass; auto stop-start; cruise control; dual-zone climate control; tilt-telescopic steering column; steering wheel controls; height-adjustable driver’s seat; split-fold and recline rear seat; two USB sockets and three 12v outlets.
The 2.5i-L model added paddle-shift CVT control; X-Mode and sliding centre console lid.
The 2.5i-S added automatic tailgate; powered, heated driver’s and front passenger’s seats; sunroof; EyeSight; xenon auto headlights; auto wipers; leather trim; satnav; push-button start and 18-inch wheels.
The 2.0XT lost EyeSight and auto stop-start, but scored a turbocharged two-litre with figures of 177kW at 5600rpm and 350Nm at 2400-3600rpm. The Premium version added auto tailgate; auto headlights and wipers; powered, heated front seats and mirrors; EyeSight; eight speakers; leather trim and push-button start.
The diesel 2.0D-L was similar to the petrol version and the 2.0D-S added auto tailgate; sunroof; powered, heated front seats; xenon auto headlights; leather trim; push-button start; auto wipers; satnav and 18-inch wheels.
On and off road in 2013 and 2015 models
Our 2013 test Forester was a 2.5i petrol model, fitted with CVT transmission, towbar and electric trailer brake controller. We coupled it to a Cub Daintree camper trailer for a towing test and then took the part-loaded solo vehicle on our fire trail test course.
From the outset we were impressed with the road manners of the petrol Forester. It was a quiet, refined performer that handled well on bitumen and dirt surfaces.
The CVT had no vices, just smooth power delivery to the four wheels and there was no lag or hesitation under sudden power demands. When cruising the CVT sat under the 2000rpm mark when possible, but let the engine spin up quickly when acceleration was required.
The Forester was docile under normal driving conditions, but had a sporting bent if the driver was in the mood for a little brisk cornering. Handling was flat and controlled, and the only issue we had was steering that felt too light in action and with too little feedback.
When coupled to the 800kg Cub trailer the Forester barely noticed the additional freight in performance terms, but fuel consumption suffered, of course.
We averaged 9.4 litres/100km when running solo and that went up by 30 percent with the trailer in tow.
Flicking the lever into ‘L’ sector of the gear selector quadrant provided instant rev increases and that translated into strong engine braking when running downhill with the trailer behind.
Interestingly, the Stop-Start function was disabled when we coupled the electric-braked trailer to the Forester – doubtless to ensure constant alternator power supply to the trailer brakes.
Dirt and gravel roads didn’t worry the Forester and its stability control system allowed a moderate amount of drift before intervening. There was no pitching or swaying on undulating surfaces and the Forester didn’t mind mild corrugations.
On our fire trail circuit the Forester proved very capable and should go where most owners expect it to.
It was a pleasant change to have steel wheels on an SUV and not to be worried about scarring or cracking fragile aluminium ones.
X-Mode made a difference in creeping situations, limiting wheelspin and preventing throttle ‘surge’, and the hill descent control function proved to be quite effective at low speeds.
Subaru’s ‘boxer’ petrol engines aren’t economy leaders, however, and for those who do high mileages or want to tow or go bush we reckon the diesel is the better choice.
Diesel auto test
We joined Subaru’s 2015 press release in the Apple Isle and drove on secondary and gravel roads from Hobart to Launceston. We concentrated on the diesel-CVT models throughout and weren’t disappointed, in economy and performance terms.
The boxer diesel was matched perfectly to the Lineartronic CVT transmission. It operated in two driving modes; as a stepless, continuoulsy-variable transmission and as a seven-step unit, depending on driver action. If the driver pressed further than 65-percent of accelerator pedal travel the box operated as a seven-step transmission, similar in behaviour to a traditional auto. If the driver had a gentler foot, the transmission acted as a stepless
We found that driving the torquey diesel with the CVT operating in stepless mode kept the engine in its optimum operating range and economy was excellent, sitting in the 6-7L/100km band.
In June 2015 we checked out the 2015 Forester off road, using a diesel ‘S’ model. Off-road performance mirrored what we found with the earlier petrol model, but engine braking was slightly better.
Anyone in the soft-roader market should have a close look at the Subaru Forester. It’s our favourite Subaru model and the one that best carries the Subaru SUV heritage forward.