The Subaru Forester. What comes to mind? That’s right, it’s the infamous family road racer of the 90s, screaming down your rear view mirror on highways with its sinister like, low slung wagon design. It became an absolute hit when Subaru fitted the massively exhilarating turbocharged boxer from the Impreza and had the skunkworks from Subaru Technica International (STI) have it tuned up for the enthusiasts. So when some of the Impreza boys began to start a family, they could quickly switch over to the Forester and keep themselves aroused and exhilarated on the drive.
Sadly however – the STI badge was dropped after the second generation and the Forester became a much softer; go-anywhere vehicle. Is that such a bad thing though? Yes and no. Whilst the avid boxer enthusiasts would begin to despise the Forester’s loss of ‘character’, this opened up the market for the Forester to go head-to-head with soft roaders like the rad VW Tiguan.
Generally, Subaru makes excellent cars but in Malaysia its a tough call for the brand. It doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves, blinded by its rather exorbitant maintenance price and small selection of models. The first model people think of when they think of Subaru, is the Impreza. So what’s to root for with the all-new fourth generation Forester 2.0XT?
For starters, let’s talk performance. Signature to all Scoobies, the Forester is fitted with a 2.0-litre Direct Injection Turbo boxer engine that churns out a sweet revving 240bhp and 350nm at its disposal. With all the power channeled through Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system, it will sprint from Zerotohundred in just 7.5 seconds.. pretty darn quick for an SUV and the power will keep you entertained all the way to a top speed of 220km/h as tested. How about the drive?
At the wheel – the Forester doesn’t feel super brisk. This is of course a lot to do with the sheer size of the bulk but be mistaken easily once you look into the speedometer and you’re already breaking the law. What is more surprising however is the way the car handles. Let’s just say, it would take ridiculously massive speeds and man-handling to seriously get the car into trouble around corners. The Forester grips so well like there were virtual rail tracks laid out around corners.
What disappoints the driving pleasure is the CVT gearbox fitted on the Forester 2.0XT. Many modern day cars are now fitted with this gearbox simply because it can improve fuel efficiency out of the engine; however the down side is the fact that it kills the driving experience. To try and solve this issue, Subaru installed their lineartronic CVT gearbox that comes with 3 different modes to suit different driving styles. Intelligent (I) is programmed for normal, daily driving which adapts for maximum efficiency, Sport (S) is to give a better, sportier response and lastly, Sports Sharp (S#) which is supposedly the cure to the cancer.
When Sports Sharp (S#) mode is engaged, the transmission operates with an eight step shift pattern similar to a conventional automatic transmission to provide a crisper sports driving performance. In a word, yes. It does work. You do feel a little more mechanical on the drive rather than the usual rubber-band like feel; but we reckon a dual-clutch gearbox, or better still, a conventional manual with 3 pedals would give the Forester an ever more engaging experience.
On the whole however – the Forester 2.0XT does drive stupendously good.. especially when pushed hard. Despite carrying a heap load of size and weight, at the wheel it does not remind you of a humdrum SUV, but rather a very well sorted saloon. Yes, there is a bit of body roll but it is not the severe kind that worries the life out of you. Comfortable and easy when you want to have a chilled cruise and day-to-day errands, superb handling when you feel like having a little bit of fun (despite the electric power steering).
And because this is still an SUV – it is practical. The Forester will carry up to 422 litres with the seat up and a whopping 1577 with the seats folded down. At the same time, the cabin is spacious and will easily carry 4 adults with not much complaints on long journeys. The cabin’s party piece we reckon is the rather massive sunroof that provides even more light into the cabin. We’d prefer to keep it close in the day though..
The interior quality is rather utilitarian and quite rugged. The plastics used are not of the highest quality, neither are they very good looking however we are convinced by the idea behind it. This car is likely meant to be used roughly therefore many of the interior bits and bobs are made to last. May not be easy on the eyes, but its purposeful. Yes – there are a few things that we disapprove on the interior though. Particularly the front seats. They’re not very well bolstered, which means upon hard cornering you are not hugged by the seats and usually thrown out. They’re comfortable enough for long drives, but you won’t feel cocooned at the wheel.
Most importantly – Subaru has taken the liberty to fit a banging audio system in the all-new Forester. The kind that comes with an expensive brand that tells you, “yes, they have gone to great lengths to think of a good system”. The Forester 2.0XT comes with a 440 watt Harmon Kardon audio system as standard with 8 speakers all round to keep you entertained. At the same time, because the command screen comes with iPod connectivity and bluetooth ability, you can play your tunes happily in the car.
Conclusion? Well everything that’s brilliant about the Forester seems to be balanced off with things that are not so bright. We really do like the Forester. We love the way it drives and its rugged persona means you can drive it almost anywhere (off-roading in particular) you want without much worries of getting stuck. At the same time, its spacious and comfortable with excellent Harmon Kardon stereo system to keep you easily entertained on journeys.
The elephant in the room are still the unsupportive front seats. May not be a turn-off point for some but we reckon it could be better. Then it all comes down to price. Rm100k? YES! most definitely.. RM150k? Still very very worth it.. but no. The Forester 2.0XT will set you back RM208,500 and well… this matter can be rather subjective. There isn’t any other SUV within this price bracket that can do the things the Forester can, but because of its rugged persona.. it doesn’t feel like a RM200k+ car.
In the end of it all – it boils down to what you want from a car. We really do like the Forester. Its a go-anywhere vehicle and rest assured, it is very well made. But many out there may seek for a more luxurious way of travelling for that price tag, which means they’ll end up looking at BMW X1 or Volkswagen Tiguan. We can’t fault them but perhaps this is the next step that the Forester need to look into…
Car: Subaru Forester 2.0XT
Engine: 2.0 litre Direct Injection Turbo 4-cylinder boxer | 240bhp and 350nm
Zerotohundred: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 220km/h (as tested)
Price: RM 208,500