Subaru Forester car review

RACV RoyalAuto Magazine

You’ve got to respect vehicles such as Subaru Forester. It’s the Japanese brand’s best-selling model in Australia, and with five wins in seven years, it was one of the legends of the first decade of our annual vehicle awards Australia’s Best Cars, from 2000-2009.

Then other vehicles began doing more and there was almost an explosion of alternative medium SUVs. So in 2013 a redeveloped Forester was presented to buyers, and it took out the AWD SUV under $45k category in Australia’s Best Cars that year and again in 2014.

But this is a market segment that does not sit still, and so the time has come for a mid-life update for this fourth-generation Forester. The key equipment updates include a 7-inch touch screen across the range, with satellite navigation in the higher-spec models, new climate control switches and vents and a ‘shark fin’ antenna. However, while these updates add value across the range, the real stories are large price reductions and the much-needed addition of a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to the diesel range.

All Subarus are built in Japan and, as is the case with other manufacturers, Subaru has benefitted from that country’s free trade agreement with Australia. For a start, the price of every Forester fell by $1000 at the start of the year, and now prices have dropped again – by up to $3500 – with this updated model. The previous entry-level car has been discontinued and the mid-spec 2.0i-L petrol manual now starts the range at $29,990 plus on-road costs.

But the car the market has been wanting for some time is the first diesel automatic Forester, so we’ve tested the 2.0D-L with the CVT, which is $35,490.

Subaru arguably produces some of the sweetest-driving CVTs on the market and this is no different for the high-torque unit they’ve put behind the 2.0L diesel engine in Forester. When driving in a casual manner, this CVT operates as you’d expect, varying the gear ratios in order to keep the engine in an optimum rev range. However, when the driver presses the accelerator by more than 65%, the gearbox will behave more like a regular automatic with stepped changes. Although this may not take full advantage of the characteristics of a CVT, it does give the driver a more agreeable experience and prevents the intrusive engine roar other CVT vehicles produce.

The 2.0L diesel engine puts out 108kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm across 1600-2400rpm. These figures don’t seem too impressive but as we’ve seen in other Subarus the CVT does an impressive job of using the available performance and rarely leaves you wanting for more.

We took our Forester on a long trip through the Victorian High Country and, being mostly highway driving, we managed overall fuel consumption of 7.2L/100km. With city driving, fuel consumption was closer to 8.0L/100km.

Subaru has managed to avoid some of the ride and handling compromises typically found in other SUVs. The renowned horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engine and symmetrical AWD system help to keep the weight low in the body to offer better handling characteristics than in many SUVs. These advantages allow for a slightly softer suspension setup which improves ride quality, although it is still firm. Forester has a composed nature and is the sort of car that would feel perfectly at home on outback gravel roads all day long. It also carries a full-size alloy spare wheel to reduce concerns about driving in the country.

Forester has retained its excellent passenger access and seating comfort. The interior presentation is more refined and slightly more modern due mostly to the new infotainment system. The 7-inch touch screen works well and provides all the connectivity and audio functions we’ve come to expect. The system can also control the Pandora music streaming app if it is installed on a connected device. Cabin refinements also include improved sound deadening which helps to reduce the noise from the CVT and engine, although the boxer diesel still sounds a bit rattly when cold.

Subaru has had a strong focus on safety for a long time and the updated Forester continues this with seven airbags and a reversing camera. The five-star ANCAP safety rating has been maintained under tougher requirements. It is disappointing, however, that Subaru’s Eyesight system could not be introduced in the diesel or lower-spec petrol models as Subaru has recently done with the new Liberty and Outback. Eyesight includes advanced safety features such as auto­nomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.

The verdict

Subaru Forester has traditionally been an impressive, well-rounded SUV and this update solidifies it as one of the leading players in the market. However, Subaru hasn’t really pushed the boundaries with the updated Forester but simply maintained its standing in the class with substantial price reductions and an automatic for the diesel.

Written by Blake Harris
July 01, 2015