Subaru has been constantly improving its products, polishing them to a high sheen that can truly be felt when you sit behind the wheel.
Thinking back to its models of a decade ago, areas of perceived quality ranked second to performance. But things have taken an about-turn since then, with performance now somewhat on the periphery, while comfort and quality have been racked up a few notches.
Some of the styling has been inspired by US tastes as the company expands its presence in that market. Gone are the Eurocentric designs of a decade ago, which means that some models may not appeal to all South African tastes.
I recently spent the holiday season at the helm of the updated Forester, whose upgraded exterior now includes chrome detailing on the lower front valance, adaptive Xenon headlights in the XS Premium specification model, and a new, polished wheel design — all of which translates to a more upmarket look.
The cabin has an infotainment system with a touchscreen facility replete with audio streaming and Bluetooth connectivity, while a few materials have been given a much softer feel, something we experienced in the Legacy a few months ago.
The overall refinement has been markedly improved, with the ride quality particularly smooth and the occupants more cosseted and isolated from most road imperfections. The engine has a more refined character and is only marred somewhat by the standard continuously variable transmission gearbox when asked to gallop. Keep throttle inputs steady and the dreaded engine drone is firmly kept at bay.
Space is generous, but it means the Forester has lost much of its wagon design of yore in favour of SUV-like proportions — headroom and passenger and luggage space is among the best in the segment. This proved to be perfect for my house move, and cumbersome items such as a stepladder were easily swallowed up by reclining the rear seatbacks. Refuse bags full of clothing and all other paraphernalia were easily gobbled up by the vehicle.
Engine performance is good, if not particularly great, and it is a shame Subaru has discontinued its superb 2.0l boxer turbodiesel, saying markets such as SA, Europe and Australia are too small to justify its existence. China and the US, the manufacturer’s biggest markets, are vehemently averse to oil-burners.
That said, the 2.5l, four-cylinder motor is relatively frugal, returning 9.0l/100km over the test period, which is a far cry from this engine’s predecessor, which easily quaffed in the region of 13l/100km without even provoking the pedal.
The high ground clearance allied to the four-wheel-drive system was particularly appreciated during inclement Gauteng weather over the holidays. Traversing muddy gravel roads and puddles of rain water proved more fun than otherwise, with the vehicle tackling everything in its stride.
Dynamically, the vehicle is nowhere near its predecessors, which did not mind being flung around at times. The new model has gone completely in the other direction, offering a softer suspension set-up and greater body roll, the latter not helped by the higher roof line. This, once again, proves the change of focus — the US market, in particular, prefers a much softer ride.
In isolation, the Forester is truly impressive. But once you bring in some rivals in the segment — the cheaper but more stylish and well-appointed Volkswagen Tiguan, for instance — the Scooby does not look like value for money. Then there is the matter of a relatively short maintenance plan, which is at odds with those of its rivals.
That aside, the Forester is great for the adventurous family, although a diesel option would have sweetened the deal. – Lerato Matebese
Fast Facts: Subaru Forester 2.5 XS Premium
Engine: 2498cc flat-four petrol
Power: 126kW at 5800rpm
Torque: 235Nm at 4100rpm
0-100km/h: 9.9-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 196km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.1l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 187g/km (claimed)
Price: From R536 000