Although the Subaru Forester was one of the first active crossovers to hit the market when it was released in 1997, it’s an often- overlooked product in this segment on South African streets. This is in stark contrast to the Toyota RAV4, which was introduced in 1994 and has gone on to become a household name. Furthermore, models such as the RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan are offered with several engine options, appealing to a broader audience.
When we tested the 2,0i-L ES Forester in our May/June 2020 issue, we noted that even though the standard spec was comprehensive, the performance from the naturally aspirated flat-four mill was lacklustre. This was evident by its modest 115 kW output and a pedestrian 0-100 km/h time of 12,60 seconds. As somewhat of a solution to this, the Forester range has been revised for 2021 with the addition of a more powerful naturally aspirated, 2,5-litre flat-four mill delivering 136 kW and 239 N.m.
This 2,5-litre Forester can be had in Premium or Sport trim, offering mere visual differences. The Premium adopts the conservative design that we have come to know on the Forester but for those who want to accentuate the crossover’s active persona, the Sport adds some interesting highlights. Along the body, an STI-inspired kit has been applied.
This consists of grille and bumper elements and a pair of side skirt fittings with connected wheelarch surrounds finished in black with orange accents. Continuing this theme at the rear is a sporty bumper element and black trim along the tailgate. This is tied-up by a set of 18-inch grey metallic alloy wheels.
The sporty theme continues within the cabin where patrons are greeted by a set of water- repellent cloth seats. Orange exterior accents are repeated in the cabin on the air-vent surrounds, gearshifter, X-Mode switch and stitching. These details are a welcome addition to the crossover as they provide a more outgoing presence to the traditionally conservative moniker and should enhance the Forester’s appeal to a younger market. As it adopts spec from the i-S trim as tested by us in 2,0-litre guise in the December 2018 issue, the standard level of specification is impressively thorough, with amenities such as keyless entry, an automatic tailgate, Harman Kardon sound system with nine speakers and electrically adjustable seats. With the ES pack the Forester also offers a plethora of active and passive safety features as highlighted in our previous tests of the car.
As mentioned, our main concern with the Forester was the poor performance from its 2,0-litre boxer engine. This is something we expect to be resolved with this larger displacement engine, which adds 21 kW of power to the Forester and 37 kg of mass, according to our scales. This increases the power-to-mass ratio by 9 W/kg, which resulted in an improvement of performance figures based on our testing.
For the 0-100 km/h sprint, the Forester achieved a time of 10,06 seconds, which is 2,54 seconds faster than the 2,0-litre model. In-gear acceleration saw similar improvements, with this engine stretching from 100-120 km/h 1,02 seconds faster. These are commendable figures but it’s worth noting the Forester is fractionally slower than the Toyota RAV4 2,5 AWD VX, as tested in June 2019, which uses similar displacement to produce 152 kW and sprint to 100 km/h in 9,85 seconds.
As far as the CVT is concerned, as we have noted in previous Subaru road tests, it remains one of the best examples, if not the best. The manner in which it delivers power to all four wheels is smooth and responsive. With the implemented steps, it does a great job of impersonating a traditional torque converter when the driver desires. While it might feel strange to those who are accustomed to conventional automatics, the Lineartronic CVT offers an acceptable driving experience as it stretches to widen its ratio when the speed climbs. Crucially, depending on your throttle input, it’s able to add motive force without revving the engine out too hard, thereby circumventing the much-maligned “droning” typically associated with CVTs.
While there have been gains in power, it’s clear it has been at the detriment of the Forester’s fuel consumption, which Subaru claims is just 0,20 L/100 km more, however, based on our fuel route figure of 10,30 L/100 km, it’s a little bit thirstier in the real world.
Considering the 2,5i uses the same brakes and tyres as the 2,0i, the stopping times as tested were almost identical; it recorded an average figure 0,01 seconds slower than its downsized sibling.
Although it boasts more power and a performance-inspired design, the Forester remains a moderate crossover to pilot, as the focus has clearly been placed on comfort rather than dynamics. Because it offers generous ground clearance of 220 mm with a moderately thick-profile set of Bridgestone Dueler tyres, the ride contrasts pleasingly with its sporty appearance. Over rough roads it’s well sprung, making it ideal for long-distance travel. And with the clever X-Mode traction-control manager, it will shine on any journey involving gravel.
A positive to its traditionalist nature is the Forester’s impressively low NVH levels. On the road at cruising speeds, engine, wind and road noise is kept to a minimum, further accentuating its sense of comfort. However, as is common with large naturally aspirated engines when revved out to access peak power at 5 800 r/min, the Subaru’s flat-four engine note does become more self-evident in the cabin.
Considering all this, does the Forester successfully position itself as an appropriate alternative to the nation’s established crossovers? On paper, it certainly does, thanks to a standard maintenance plan as well as generous packaging and comprehensive level of standard specification. Furthermore, the larger displacement engine and more exciting Sport trim will improve its market appeal.
With the latest 2,5-litre boxer, the Forester’s performance shows a clear improvement; however, it’s still outpaced by crossovers with similar configurations. This by no means translates to it being a poor product. Putting its average performance aside, the Forester ticks all the major crossover boxes and is comfortable and capable on all surfaces. Its comprehensive safety features and standard equipment further bolster the package and promise a satisfactory ownership experience.
The competition for market share in this segment remains aggressive, yet, those dedicated to the Subaru brand will be joyfully satisfied with this example parked in their driveway. If anything, it is a product that has remained true to the brand’s core value of combining an adventurous persona with a dependable foundation.