Can-do attitude for Forester
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In the 1990s the car de jour for big Kiwi families was the station wagon – and one of the popular “station wagon” on our roads was Subaru’s newly launched Forester.
Fast forward 21 years and the fifth-generation Forester goes on sale next month but this time Subaru wants to remind Kiwis about the technical term for the vehicle.
The latest Forester has one powertrain — a 2.5-litre, direct injection petrol engine — and three variants. For the first time there’s a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts.
The new Forester also gets Subaru’s off-road system, X-Mode that includes hill descent, plus an updated EyeSight safety camera system, and lane keep assist.
The range starts from $39,990 for the Sport that sits on 17in alloy wheels, before moving to the Sport Plus on 18in ($44,990) and the $47,490 Premium model that includes sunroof and leather upholstery as standard.
Subaru told the motoring media at the launch this week that “New Zealand consumers think the Forester is a station wagon” but its technically correct description is a medium SUV.
The company is also targeting families with “one to two kids who are looking for an SUV to help fulfil their love to get out and ‘do’ activities”.
The Forester sits on Subaru’s all-new global platform while the Boxer engine has 90 per cent new components, giving a power output of 136kW (up 10kW) and 239Nm of torque.
The Forester is 19mm longer than the previous model (at 4637mm), 21mm wider (at 1817mm) and a 28mm greater wheelbase at 2667mm. It retains its turning radius of 5.4m — best in class.
Subaru sees the Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage and Nissan X-Trail as immediate competitors for the Forester.
In 1997, less than 10 per cent of the New Zealand new market was SUV, but 21 years on and that segment makes up 42 per cent – and increasing.
Digging deeper, medium SUVs make up 40 per cent of the off-roader market with 24,000 units sold last year.
It’s a competitive market and Subaru is ready to push the Forester as a “must test-drive” for people in the market for a medium SUV.
The Forester is a good looking vehicle on the outside, with a high grille and large bumper giving it a strong stance on the road and the rear curved lights are a stand-out.
Inside, the Forester lacks the sophistication of some of its competitors with a more dated feel. The infotainment screen and the control dials are basic for this class.
What makes the Forester stand out is the advance technology and safety features in the SUV.
The Forester was the first Japanese-made vehicle – and the first compact SUV – to receive a five-star Ancap safety rating in early 2003. And that safety focus continues with an updated EyeSight – Subaru’s dual cameras under the rear view mirror that scan the road for potential risks.
But it’s the driver monitoring system that is the next step in safety. It uses facial recognition software in dash-mounted cameras that monitor the driver’s eyes and head for drowsiness or distraction, such as turning around to tell off the kids.
It can also scan your face when you sit down and welcomes you before setting the driver’s seat, mirrors and air conditioning to your liking.
The system can register up to five drivers and set up their motoring needs.
Subaru also says the Forester stands out from its competitors by having permanent all-wheel-drive.
That X-mode system covers snow and dirt, while in the Premium model deep snow and mud plus hill decent control.
To prove the Forester’s off-road capabilities we went to Bendigo station in central Otago, famous for its gold mines in the 19th century and merino wool and wineries in recent decades.
With station owner John Perriam leading in his Ford Ranger Wildtrak, we went in convoy of five Premium model Foresters past the DoC-controlled former gold mine area and up into mountains where some visitors land by helicopter.
On a fine day, the trip up dirt tracks and along stone passes in the Forester would seem effortless, but with patches of icy then misty conditions before rain rolled in, the drive brought out the strength in the SUV.
At one stage I was perched at the top of a hill with rocks around me and Perriam disappearing ahead of me into rain clouds hovering around the mountain range. I couldn’t see the track to descend onto so cautiously drove over – luckily seeing the wheel tracks. But the Forester didn’t hesitate to take on the now slippery path.
It was a test that most owners of SUVs will never encounter — but it showed how surefooted the new Forester is, proving it’s more than a family ‘wagon’.
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