New car review: Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport MY21
Orange may be the new black but Sport badge brings no more zest for Subaru’s mid-sized SUV.
Subaru has form when it comes to building affordable performance cars that deliver a genuinely sporty driving experience.
Models like the hotshot WRX and its harder-edged stablemate the STi have earned deserved cult status as bang-for-your-buck champions over the years.
The Japanese car maker has also enjoyed its share of success in global motorsport events, including many storied wins in international and domestic rally championships.
Turbocharging has long been at the heart of Subaru’s rally and performance road car success and, back in the day, Australian customers could buy a feisty, sports-oriented turbo version of the Forester SUV.
Sadly, for fans of the sporty SUV genre, the Forester XT turbo was discontinued in 2018 leaving something of a void for Subaru aficionados wanting a sporty wagon with all-road capability.
But late last year Subaru added a new variant to the Forester range, dubbed the 2.5i Sport, prompting us to wonder if this might be the answer to fans’ prayers?
The new Sport variant joins the four other petrol engine models and two petrol-hybrid variants launched in early 2020, which comprise the fifth-generation Forester range.
Pricewise, it neatly bridges the gap between the $1500 more expensive top-spec 2.5i-S and the $1,550 less expensive 2.5i-Premium.
On the standard equipment front the newcomer matches up closely with the two adjacent models, meaning it’s well-kitted out with creature comforts and the all-important safety and Subaru Eyesight driver assistance features.
There’s even a driver attention alert to help counteract distracted or drowsy driving and a facial scanning and recognition system that can recall and set individual driver preferences for air-conditioning, exterior mirrors, and seat position for up to five drivers.
Major differences between the variants include an electric sunroof that’s standard on the 2.5i-S and the Sport, but missing on the Premium, and a two-mode X-Drive system (snow/dirt and deep snow/mud) versus the Premium’s single-mode system.
The 2.5i-S also gets leather-accented trim where the Premium has, you guessed it, premium cloth, while the Sport gets a new water-repellent grey cloth on its seats and upper sections of the door cards.
Otherwise, the differences are mostly down to cosmetic changes inside and out, with the Sport including a dark metallic (almost black) finish for its 18-inch alloys, black-out treatment for the grille and rear garnish and LED front fogs with black surround.
There’s also distinctive exterior sport badging in orange, along with orange inserts for the roof rail stanchions, front spoiler, rear skirt and side sills, plus orange highlights for the outer air vents and shift-lever surround.
Continuing the orange are Sport cloth tags on the door trims, plus orange stitch detail on the dash, seats, leather steering wheel, console padding and door armrests, and a few minor piano black and chrome-look interior details.
Oh, and there’s also LED interior lamps for the rear tailgate and cargo area.
While Subaru has announced a new Forester Sport turbo for the domestic Japanese market, the version served up here soldiers on with the same naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine and CVT used in the rest of the petrol Forester range.
The horizontally opposed four-cylinder “boxer” engine boasts outputs of 136kW and 239Nm and is responsive enough to satisfy driver’s needs but falls short of delivering a truly sporty drive.
That’s true too, even in the SI-Drive’s more responsive S mode.
On the road, the steering is nicely weighted, the handling secure and capable, and the ride is comfortable. But the Forester Sport’s dynamics, like its performance, are only on a par with the rest of the Forester herd.
Elsewhere you’ll find all the same attributes that have made the Forester such a popular model in Subaru’s range.
This includes decent space for occupants and cargo, a light and airy cabin with comfortable seats and good visibility, a full-size alloy spare wheel and the sort of practicality in packaging and fitout that befits a medium SUV.
All MY21 Foresters feature a revised headlight design with a darkened area around the main beam bulb.
Also standard is auto door lock/unlock and a function that unlocks the doors and tailgate in the event of a collision.
Those who tow will also appreciate the increase in maximum braked towing mass for petrol models, up from 1500kg to 1800kg.
So, while orange is the dominant theme, there’s sadly no extra zest to be found in the new Forester Sport.
While the cosmetics upgrades are a refreshing point of difference to the rest of the range, and it retains all the functionality that has helped make the Forester Subaru’s best seller, it doesn’t really live up to the promise of the Sport badge on its rump.
It appears the prayers of the faithful are yet to be answered.
MLP: $41,990 (auto).
ENGINE: 2.5-litre petrol 4 cyl. boxer.
ANCAP CRASH RATING: Five stars (2019).
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km): 7.4 (168g/km CO₂)
FOR: All the usual Forester attributes and practicality that make it popular, sportier look as a point of difference to other models, increased tow capacity for MY21 (all petrol models).
AGAINST: Doesn’t deliver on the Sport badge promise, no inductive phone charging.