Although Subaru is best known for its hell-raising WRX and STI models, the Forester SUV is the Japanese brand’s mainstay and accounts for nearly 60 percent of Subaru sales in South Africa.
The fourth-generation version has just gone on sale here fresh from its international debut in November. Selling in five derivatives which all come standard with all-wheel drive and a three-year/75 000km maintenance plan and three-year/100 000km warranty, Subaru’s versatile all-terrainer has been tweaked with improved safety, refinement, practicality and offroad ability. Or smarter, safer, further, according to Subaru’s advertising tagline.
The permanent all-wheel drive now comes with an X Mode which, at the press of a button, changes the throttle, transmission and stability control to more offroad-friendly settings and activates a hill descent control. This, together with a generous 220mm ground clearance, gives the Forester better-than-average bundu bashing skills for a softroader.
The airbag count has increased to seven, including one for the driver’s knees, which earned this Subaru a maximum five star score in EuroNCAP safety tests.
Available in X, XS and XS Premium trim levels, the Forester comes with a multi-function display with reversing camera standard across the line up, while higher models get items like a powered rear tailgate and electrically-adjustable leather seats.
As before, flat-four boxer engines are used to lower the Forester’s centre of gravity for improved handling. What stood out for me more at this week’s media launch was the car’s very cushioning ride on both tar and dirt.
The bulk of the range is powered by a normally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol carried over from the previous Forester. Its power and torque outputs stay the same at 126kW and 235Nm but there’s a claimed fuel consumption improvement.
At the top end of the range, the old 2.5 petrol turbo engine’s been replaced by a 2-litre turbo with a major cut in kilowatts (193 down to 177) but a slight improvement in torque (347 up to 350Nm).
A new baseline 2-litre petrol, with 110kW and 198Nm, serves duty as the entry-level Forester.
It’s the only one of the five derivatives coupled to a manual gearbox, with all the others employing a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which Subaru calls Lineartronic.
On the media launch in Gauteng this week the 2.5 version felt somewhat muzzled at high altitude with over two tons of SUV to lug around, and delivered mild-mannered cruising pace without threatening to be exciting.
When pushed harder the car would drone away at high engine revs in the typical CVT fashion, an irritation that can be overcome in the more expensive Forester derivatives by a manual override that simulates the gearshifts of a traditional auto gearbox.
The turbocharged flagship had distinctly more get-up-and-go than the 2.5, with a claimed 0-100km/h sprint in 7.5 seconds and a 210km/h top speed.
Subaru has employed CVT gearboxes – which are reputedly more economical and have lower emissions – as part of a quest to reduce fuel consumption in the new Forester, along with measures such as a new start-stop system and a more aerodynamic body.
The 2.0 baseliner is factory rated at 7.2 litres per 100km, the 2.5 turbo at 8.1 litres and the 2.0 turbo flagship at 8.5, but the cars I drove on the launch displayed noticeably thirstier numbers on their onboard computers. -Drive Times
2.0 X manual - R329 000
2.5 X Lineartronic - R359 000
2.5 XS Lineartronic - R389 000
2.5 XS Premium Lineartronic - R429 000
2.0 XT turbo Lineartronic - R529 000