Subaru Forester X Sport: quiet achiever with pop of colour
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Subaru Forester X Sport
- Orange bits are quite bold
- Brilliantly sorted ride, handling
- Family friendly cabin
- Conservative overall design
- Driver Monitoring System can nag
- Somewhat in the shadow of XV and Outback
The Subaru Forester has always been something of a quiet achiever. The larger Outback carries a lot of the brand’s credibility as one of the very first “crossover” vehicles: launched back in 1994, it started as a family station wagon (the Legacy) and became a pseudo-off-roader. So it's definitely a hero model for Subaru.
But the Forester was also one of the world’s first mass-market SUVs – at least as we’ve come to know them today. Following hard on the heels of the Toyota RAV4 five-door and Honda CR-V, the 1997 original paired bespoke 4x4 styling and ride height with the comfort and handling of a passenger car (the platform was shared with Impreza).
Forester has continued to do what it does best for five generations and nearly a quarter of a century. In 2018 the current model was even voted New Zealand Motoring Writers Guild Car of the Year, and local sales volumes started to creep closer to the iconic Outback.
Forester gets a bit of a spruce-up for its 25th year in 2022. All five models have new frontal styling, while the EyeSight active safety system has gained Lane Centring Function, Lane Departure Prevention and Autonomous Emergency Steering.
The X-Mode function to calibrate the vehicle for off-tarmac driving has been revised; it still cancels above 35km/h, but now has the ability to re-engage when the speed drops below that figure again.
Models with the Driver Monitoring System (facial recognition) not only set displays, seat position and climate control to the correct setting used, but also now offer temperature adjustment with simple hand gestures: an open palm to go up two degrees or a closed fist to go down. It's a first for Subaru.
Our Forester X Sport test car is relatively recent addition to the range, introduced this year as a more out-there variant fitting in between the entry model and the Premium (there’s a $5000 step either side).
It gets the same 2.5-litre boxer engine as its stablemates, but rides on special 18-inch alloy wheels, gets pops of colour outside and in with orange accents and is upholstered in novel water-repellent fabric (a feature first introduced on the previous-generation Outback X).
Forester still impresses for its refinement, supple ride and assured handling; the whole dynamic package has been improved in this model with an aluminium engine mount to reduce NVH, and retuned springs and dampers.
We in the motoring press still seemingly feel obliged to single out cars with Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) as being less enjoyable to drive, while the people that actually buy cars seem perfectly happy with the technology, which is now widespread. Subaru calls its gearbox “Lineartronic” and it differs from the majority of CVTs in using a steel connecting chain (rather than pulleys alone), giving a stronger and more decisive feel. It works really well, unless you happen to drive with with foot flat to the floor absolutely. Like a motoring writer.
Don’t be deceived by the Forester’s relatively soft suspension: it’s still beautifully balanced on the open road, with good steering feel and clearly telegraphed transitions around tight corners.
It’s especially good off-tarmac, with changes in handling attitude gradual and easily controllable. Composure on the slippery stuff has always been a Forester strength.
As has true lifestyle ability. Impressive ground clearance of 220mm and that excellent AWD system makes it more capable in the rough than any “soft roader” has a right to be and the tow rating of 1.8 tonnes is pretty decent for a medium SUV.
The cabin is Subaru-conservative (not a patch on the flash new Outback) but the orange bits and comedy upholstery give the X Sport a real lift and the Forester is genuinely spacious for family use, with generous glass areas. Little details like excellent rearward visibility though a low-cut rear window highlight the amount of thought that goes into this model. Even if it doesn’t shout about its abilities.
SUBARU FORESTER X SPORT
ENGINE: 2.5-litre horizontally opposed petrol four
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 9.5 seconds