Capable on every surface
SUBARU OFFERS NEW FORESTER DIESEL IN AUTO AT LOWER PRICE
Subaru is very much a sports utility vehicle (SUV) brand these days: there’s the entry-level XV, the Outback and of course the Forester.
Of that trio, the Forester is the one most likely to show up in a pair of Sirio all-terrain boots with its sleeves rolled up. It’s been around almost as long as the legendary Outback (the first-generation model was launched way back in 1997) but it’s always been one for the more knowing Subaru devotees: less showy, more functional.
It’s certainly the most SUV-like of the Subaru range. While the XV is essentially a jacked-up Impreza and the Outback has always been based on the Legacy, the Forester is very much its own thing. It owes a lot to the Impreza platform, but it’s still a standalone model.
In that context, there’s been something missing from the Forester range for quite some time. Subaru has had a boxer-diesel engine in its range since 2008, but it’s never been able to offer a Forester diesel with an automatic gearbox.
But good things do come to those who wait nine years. We already have an Outback diesel-auto and now it’s the turn of Forester, as part of a facelifted range. Don’t expect the new model to leap out at you: the only visual differences are the addition of daytime running lights and the obligatory “shark fin” antenna on the roof. Inside, the Forester gains the same touch-screen information and entertainment system as the new Outback.
Aside from the powertrain upgrade, the biggest news about Forester is a reduction in price, between $3000 and $5000 depending on model. In the case of the Forester diesel, that puts it at $46,990, or $3000 cheaper than the outgoing manual-transmission model.
You would never mistake the Forester 2.0D for anything other than a diesel: it clatters when cold and the soundtrack intrudes into the cabin under load.
But crude it’s not: in fact, the power/torque delivery is deliciously smooth, thanks to 350Nm and a continuously variable transmission (the company calls it Subaru Lineartronic Transmission, or SLT) that seems perfectly matched. This type of gearless transmission can have its foibles, but Subaru seems to eliminated the most serious ones: the SLT holds station at low revs to maximise the diesel’s generous torque and it avoids high-rev “flaring” by reverting to a pseudo-stepped operation under heavy throttle. You could theoretically drive this car and never realise it had a continuously variable transmission.
Gearchange paddles are standard.
Subaru still knows how to make an engaging and well-balanced chassis. The Forester has a shorter wheelbase than the Outback and you sit in a much more upright position, so changes of attitude ore more pronounced. But you can still readily adjust the car’s cornering attitude with the throttle and Forester revels in gravel work, with every move beautifully telegraphed through the steering wheel and seat of your pants. There isn’t a soft-roader on sale that’s more capable and enjoyable across varied surfaces.
Soft roader? Yes, it still is one, being based on road-car underpinnings. But unlike many rivals, Forester won’t shy away from off-road work. There’s an X-Mode button that configures the powertrain for mud-plugging and the ground clearance is generous for a vehicle of this type. With 220mm minimum underneath it’s slightly higher than the Outback, while the shorter wheelbase and overhangs mean better ramp-over and approach/departure angles than its stablemate. It’ll also tow 100kg more, with a braked rating of 1800kg.
True, you don’t get as much style inside or out with Forester as you do with Outback. The cabin’s gained that infotainment screen and improved greatly in terms of quality in the latest generation, but it still looks and feels sparse compared with Outback.
Forester also has slightly less load space than Outback: 422/1481 litres (rear seats up/down) compared with 512/1801. But I’d bet on the Forester being more versatile, as the opening and cargo area are taller than Outback.
If you focus solely on the dollars and cents, the Forester diesel is a hard sell over the entry-level petrol model unless you’re doing a lot of mileage. The price premium is $6000 and you only save 1.8 litres per 100km in fuel consumption. But in terms of driver appeal there’s absolutely no contest.
There’s no upmarket Premium version of the Forester diesel, as there is with the petrol models. You can see the logic: with that premium (excuse the pun) over the petrol version, adding yet another $7000 for a Premium specification would take the model into pseudo-luxury territory that’s already covered by the high-performance Forester XT ($54,990). Although it must be said: the diesel has exactly the same amount of torque as the petrol-turbo XT .
SUBARU FORESTER DIESEL
2.0-litre turbo-diesel four, 108kW/350Nm, continuously variable transmission, four-wheel drive, ADR economy 6.3 litres per 100km.
Smooth, strong diesel powertrain, great to drive on tarmac and gravel.
Expensive compared with petrol model, not economical enough.