Subaru Forester celebrates milestone birthday

The Subaru Forester has notched up 21 years in the Australian market, and, fittingly, the company has marked the milestone with the release of the brand-new fifth-generation SUV.

The new Forester is a clear step forward bringing increased driving pleasure, a new engine, an airier more spacious cabin, added features and practicality, and higher levels of advanced safety features including an innovative driver monitoring and facial recognition system.

The Forester has become the most popular model in the Subaru range, selling nearly 12,500 units last year. That takes Forester’s total local sales since its introduction here in 1997, just a year after Outback, to nearly a quarter of a million cars.

Over the years, it’s become one of the most awarded vehicles in the local market including a string of Australia’s Best Car awards from the nation’s combined motoring clubs.

Back in 2003, it was also the first Japanese-made vehicle and first compact SUV to achieve a five-star safety rating from independent testing authority ANCAP, setting a standard that’s become a hallmark of the brand’s entire model range.

The latest model hasn’t yet been ANCAP rated – testing should occur later in the year – but the company is highly confident that it will easily achieve five stars.

The new Forester becomes the third model, along with XV and Impreza, to adopt Subaru’s latest Global Platform architecture. This new platform is stiffer and stronger, increasing torsional rigidity by 40% while use of high tensile steel in the body and frame increases to 53%.

Combined with a range of steering and suspension changes, the new Forester offers improved dynamics, enhanced ride comfort, and a quieter, smoother cabin.

Exterior dimensions have grown (length +15mm, width +20mm, height +5mm, wheelbase +30mm) and inside it’s the most spacious Forester yet. There’s increased front and rear shoulder, hip and leg room, while the cargo area volume increases by 78 litres to 498.

Rear cargo floor length is increased (+290mm rear seats folded, + 35mm seats upright), it’s wider between the rear wheel arches, and rear opening width is larger. A golf bag will now fit in with its long axis across the load area.

There’s a range of practical improvements, such as roof rails that have had loops added to enable ropes and straps to tie directly to the rail (2.5i-S), rear seat pockets divided for more versatile storage of items such as tablets, smartphones and magazines, use of LED map-lights, and addition of two USB ports for rear occupants.

The power tailgate, on models so fitted, is now smoother and significantly quicker in operation and incorporates a vehicle lock button.

Interior design and finish quality have been significantly upgraded, seat design and comfort improved, while the heating and ventilation/air conditioning is more efficient and quieter.

Rear occupants will be more comfortable with rear console mounted vents added. An electric park brake with auto-hold function is a new addition also. The interior has a light and airy feel thanks to excellent all-round visibility through the glass areas.

The latest generation infotainment is fitted to the newcomer with 6.5” or 8” screen (model dependant) and DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto on all models.

The latest variant is now only offered with the 2.5-litre Boxer four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine, the turbo-diesel and 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engines having been discontinued. But the current 2.5-litre engine is essentially 90% new and now features direct injection.

Outputs have risen to 136kW (+10kW) and 239Nm (+4Nm) while fuel consumption and CO₂ emissions have both diminished, despite some minor vehicle weight gains. Subaru flagged that hybrid models could be expected to join the ranks in 2019.

Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI Drive) is new to Forester in the latest model, on 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S versions. In ‘I’ mode powertrain operation is optimised for fuel efficiency, while ‘S’ mode delivers more responsive performance.

With low buyer uptake, the manual gearbox has gone the way of the Dodo and now, all models drive to the trademark symmetrical all-wheel-drive system through a revised CVT with seven pre-set ratios.

Subaru’s X-Mode off-road control system operation has been revised for simpler functionality on higher spec models also. Forester, unlike many competitor SUVs, retains a full-size spare wheel and Subaru are to be commended for this.

With the cull of engine options, the new model range has shrunk from seven to just four variants. Almost inevitably, with gain there’s some pain, and that means there’s been some price increases.

The entry model 2.5i at $33,490 is $3,250 dearer than the previous generations entry model, the manual 2.0i-L. Next in the range is the 2.5i-L with MLP of $35,490, an increase of $2,250 on the previous equivalent. Another rung up is the 2.5i-Premium listing at $38,490, followed by the top-of-the-range 2.5i-S at $41,490 ($1,750 dearer than the previous version).

True to the brand’s commitment to building safer vehicles though, all models are well equipped with standard safety features including the latest third-generation Eyesight driver assistance system now with emergency lane keep assist and steering responsive LED headlights.

Forester 2.5i-L, 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S include front and side view monitor camera system, reverse automatic braking, and driver focus driver monitoring system (DMS) in their standard features list. DMS uses an infra-red LED camera mounted in the visor of the multi-function display to constantly monitor the driver for signs of distraction or drowsiness and if either is detected, it provides a warning alert to the driver and passenger.

The system can also recognise the driver and tailor the cabin to their individual preferences and provide a personalised greeting. A simple facial recognition registration process is performed for each driver (up to five drivers can be registered) and thereafter the system can scan and recall the individual driver’s face when they are seated in the vehicle.

In 2.5i-L models DMS can then automatically set the individual’s preferred air conditioning and some instrument display settings. Preferred driver’s seat and exterior mirror settings are also automatically set in 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S models.