Forester so knows its driver
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Personalisation of the interior of vehicles and infotaiment systems is de rigueur with a raft of artificial intelligence-style functions that not only will make you feel welcome but safe too.
Volkswagen NZ last year introduced Kiwis to individual settings when it launched the Tiguan SUV. You can have four accounts set up with “hundreds of options”, says the brand. They include your seat position, favourite radio stations and ambient lighting.
Mercedes-Benz NZ recently revealed the A-Class hatchback with the “hey Mercedes” linguatronic function that is like Siri for cars, controlling air conditioning, changing radio stations and directions. It also has Mercedes-Benz Unique Experience (MBUX) infotainment system that notes your daily route and habits and reminds you to do tasks.
Now Subaru New Zealand has joined the trend with the launch this month of the Forester SUV.
The range starts from $39,990 for the Sport that sits on 17-inch alloy wheels, before moving to the Sport Plus on 18-inch ($44,990) and the $47,490 Premium model that includes sunroof and leather upholstery as standard.
The fifth-generation 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 it turning radius of 5.4m — best in class.
The latest Forester has one powertrain — a 2.5-litre, direct injection petrol engine — and three variants. For the first time, a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts is available.
The new Forester also gets Subaru’s off-road system, X-Mode that includes hill descent, plus an updated EyeSight safety radar and camera system, and lane keep assist.
The Sport Plus and Premium Forester models also get auto reverse braking, so if you’re backing at between 1.5- and 15km/h and the car detects an imminent impact and you haven’t taken action, the vehicle will apply the brakes itself and alert you.
EyeSight — Subaru’s dual cameras located under the rear view mirror that scan the road for potential risks — now has a helper, the Driver Monitoring System (DMS) that is the next step in safety.
Fitted to the Sport Plus and Premium Forester, 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.
DMS can detect if the driver is getting drowsy by calculating the time ratio the driver’s eyes are closed.
The personalisation of DMS works by scanning your face when you sit in driver’s seat then welcomes you before setting your seat, mirrors and air conditioning to your setting.
DMS can register up to five drivers and is the next level in assistance while also being impressive for a vehicle of this price range. Many premium brands do not having this technology.
Subaru NZ’s managing director, Wallis Dumper, believes his is the first non-luxury brand in this country to feature this technology.
“We imagine that this comprehensive technology package could be the envy of some of our premium competitors, considering the value-for-money comparison the 2019 Forester presents,” he said. “And when you consider all the added benefits of the safety features that come with DMS, it will truly test our competitors’ ability to match this technology.”
Subaru sees the Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage and Nissan X-Trail as immediate competitors for the Forester.
Medium SUVs make up 40 per cent of the off-roader market in New Zealand with 24,000 units sold last year but Subaru 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.
The recent media launch was held at Bendigo station in central Otago. The icy conditions, mist-covered tracks and rain showed the sure-footedness of the Forester.
The medium SUV is also capable on the tarmac — with DMS coming to the fore in many ways.
When you turn on the Forester, it scans your face and it shows that on the multi-function display (MFD) located in the center of the instrument panel.
It’s quite sci-fi in an artificial intelligence way, although I suggest Subaru may want to adapt it in a more personal way. Maybe after scanning your face it can makes suggestions “you need to brush your hair”. Just an idea.
I tested the Subaru Forester Premium model this week and after setting up my profile — that included my radio station and seating preferences — I had a first taste of DMS when I spent too long looking at a shop while driving.
First came an audible warning then a written instruction in the driver’s display to pay attention.
It also gives that audible and written warning if the car ahead moves off but you’re still stopped, and if DMS detects that you are not paying attention to the vehicles in the lane next to you. This is on top of lane departure warning, which is visual via lights on the windscreen, and audible.
As a family vehicle, the Forester ticks many boxes. The rear seat has enough room for three adults or three car seats, while the boot is large enough to accommodate a week’s grocery shopping plus room for the kids’ paraphernalia.
The seven-speed automatic lineartronic continuously variable transmission is easy to adapt to after an hour’s driving, the main tip of tempering the throttle rather than being heavy footed.
A colleague parks his previous generation Forester next to me so I could compare the design of his versus my Premium model. Although the rear lights of my model are c-shaped, there is not a lot to tell the two apart.
With the likes of the stylish Subaru XV, I think the Japanese brand could be more outgoing when it comes to the interior and exterior design of the Forester.
SUBARU FORESTER PREMIUM $47,490
2.5-litre petrol (136kW/239Nm)
Pros: DMS, safety
Cons: Conservative design inside and out