Surprisingly, size really does matter...
What exactly is it? A much larger, much more refined and much more sophisticated generation of Subaru’s Forester crossover wagon.
Powertrain: 2.0-litre petrol four producing 110kW/196Nm, 2.5-litre petrol four producing 126kW/235Nm, 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four producing 176kW/350Nm (XT only) and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel producing 108kW/350Nm. Lineartronic continuously variable transmission or six-speed manual (2.0i and diesel only). Combined fuel consumption 7.8/8.3/8.6/5.9 litres per 100km (2.0i manual/2.5/2.0 XT/2.0 diesel manual).
Anything interesting in the equipment list? We have to wait until next month for the final word but expect all Forester models to be generously equipped with automatic air-conditioning, reversing camera, stop-start and cruise control. The top Premium models (including our XT test car) will have the Subaru EyeSight twin-camera safety system, satellite navigation, leather upholstery and power tailgate operation with adjustable height.
Price: From $39,990 (2.0i manual) to $64,990 (XT Premium).
There are many things that might surprise you about the all-new Subaru Forester.
Here’s the thing that surprised me most: during my first weekend with the Forester XT, I tried to wash the car and I couldn’t reach the roof. Forester used to be the most compact of crossovers but no longer. It has grown up in so many ways.
Ordinarily, I would simply tell you that the new Forester is 35mm longer, 20mm wider and 15mm taller than the car it replaces. Such arbitrary (but accurate) figures are usually the main means of illustration for motoring writers.
But in this case, it seems so much more useful to tell you that you’re going to need a stepladder to clean your new Forester.
Sizing up the new Forester
Whether a substantial increase in exterior dimension is a problem is a moot point. Compactness is a virtue for some but buyers of crossover vehicles are seldom shy about driving a sizeable vehicle. More road presence will no doubt be a welcome thing for many buyers.
In terms of mettle for your money, build quality and equipment, the new Forester offers a lot more than its predecessor.
It’s genuinely an all-new car, although you will have to excuse me if I do not go into the fine details at this stage because the car has not been officially launched yet. I was granted a week in the flagship XT Premium model ahead of the big event in February but little else in the way of hard information.
However, Subaru New Zealand managing director Wally Dumper did share the XT Premium’s $64,990 pricetag without too much prompting, and somebody from the company did (in error, I assume) leave a specification sheet covering the basic Forester lineup and prices under the seat of my test car.
Sorry chaps, but I regard that as fair acquisition of advance information. The most important points are published in the panel on this page.
View from the top
In truth, the XT is not entirely representative of the Forester range. It’s the fastest (the only turbo-petrol version) and most expensive model by some margin and it doesn’t even look the same: that striking face comes courtesy of a unique front bumper, with larger air intakes and bright running lights.
The XT is also loaded with lavish equipment, including leather upholstery and a Harmon Kardon eight-speaker sound system. So, in some respects, it’s slightly at odds with the crossover-heartland that Subaru is aiming at with the rest of the Forester range.
But still, the basics are there. Even with the XT’s vastly uprated performance, it’s clear the new Forester concentrates on good manners. The days of boom-and-bust performance from Subaru are disappearing and, even with a turbocharger, this car delivers its power in an incredibly linear way.
That’s partly due to engine management and partly due to Subaru’s favourite new gearbox, Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). This system reaches its third generation in Forester and, while I am not a fan of CVT, I’m also not keen to keep going on about it all the time because it’s a fact of life for so many Japanese brands.
Lineartronic is arguably the best of the CVT bunch and the Forester introduces a new feature called X-Mode: push a button and the powertrain recalibrates to cope with off-tarmac driving, neatly answering my potential complaint that CVT is theoretically not suited to a crossover type vehicle when the going gets tough(er).
The lasting impression I have of the Forester is an impressively refined and relaxed vehicle. Not as nimble and engaging as the old but still a smart-handling car in best Subaru tradition.
I don’t think Subaru has made any attempt to hide the Forester’s growth spurt. In fact, the car’s styling and interior ambience embraces it, perhaps for the benefit of the American market.
The grille is positioned very high, making the car look even more imposing. Cabin space is generous, the quality of materials generations ahead of the old model: you get the feeling this new Forester could easily be a seven-seater, although it’s not. The driving position is upright, the view commanding.
Forester is not pretending to be a small car.
XT marks the spot
There is another reason why the flagship Forester, though not necessarily locked into the mainstream Forester range, is an interesting and relevant car. It’s a pseudo-performance model based on the new Impreza platform, it has a turbo version of Subaru’s boxer-four engine with an excess of power and of course it’s all-wheel drive.
In short, somewhere underneath there is the next-generation WRX, a car which Subaru has already confirmed will be nothing like the previous rally-inspired model.
Why should it be, when the Japanese maker withdrew from the World Rally Championship five years ago? The WRX won’t even be called an Impreza and will have a very different design ethos from anything else in the Subaru lineup. It will be more refined and more sophisticated all-round.
Much like the new Forester, should you compare it with the old. In truth, I miss some of the rugged functionality, unpretentious character and – yes – compactness of the old car.
But I am also amazed how far Forester has come in terms of quality and the way it presents a polished overall package.
Moving half a class up in size will do no harm at all to its image or sales potential. After all, this is a growing segment in so many ways. Nor will the addition of more luxury and safety equipment, or its superior ease-of-use.
If my XT preview is any indication, Forester has moved on and moved up.