An XT-spec (as in turbocharged petrol-engined) Subaru Forester has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure in the compact SUV market. Powerful, if somewhat thirsty, it provides a mixture of speedy on-road and muscular off-road performance to aficionados that don’t want to be left behind at the lights or frustrated in traffic just because they’d chosen to forego dynamically-minded executive saloons for an a compact SUV. However, with every passing incarnation of the Forester, the vehicles became less attractive and amorphous in many people’s opinion and if you can’t draw eyes into the showroom, how can you get buyers to go in and ask for a test drive?
The new one, however, looks chunky and purposeful with just a hint of bling. It’s a step in the right direction. I particularly like the characteristic flame-licked HID headlamps and the sporty front bumper treatment with the chrome foglamp surrounds. The (standard-spec) roof rails and 18-inch rims add to the Forester’s kerb appeal and although the rear aspect is pretty similar to that of the previous model, the XT comes equipped with a nice-to-have power tailgate with height setting and keyless entry.
The roomy interior is devoid of the garish satin-coloured switchgear. Instead, there’s a neat and tidy black facia with a smart-looking multicolour display that includes a reverse-camera view. The dashboard is of a soft-touch variety, the leather upholstered front seats are electrically adjustable and form-hugging, and there’s even a standard double-volume sunroof with tilt and slide function on this flagship model. What’s more impressive, however, is that the 6-speaker audio system (with Bluetooth phone-compatibility and a USB input socket), cruise control-enabled multifunction steering wheel, auto air-con and seven airbags are standard throughout the range.
And, to Subaru’s credit, the Forester bucks the trend of compact SUVs that swap their hiking boots for bunny slippers. The (standard) auto stop/start may be a sop to the crossover crowd, but the Forester has short overhangs and a notable ride height of 220 mm. In the absence of low-range, an X-Mode co-ordinates the engine’s throttle inputs with the vehicle-dynamics control system so that symmetrical all-wheel driven Scooby can make steep off-road hill descents at safe, stable speeds. I tested the system, which displays its activities on the facia monitor when active, during the Forester’s local media launch that included a short, steep, rocky trail. The system will flatter most off-road novices – one can leave the throttle and brake pedals alone and just steer the vehicle!
As for the on-road performance, the XT’s automatically activated headlamps/wipers and SI-Drive system, which allows drivers to manipulate the engine and transmission modes to suit particular driving conditions, are a boon. One can manipulate the up or down steps of the CVT-transmission with the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, but let’s be honest, it’s no match for the snappiness and responsiveness of a dual-clutch setup. With 177 kW and 350 N.m on tap, the turbocharged 2,0-litre boxer motor is very punchy and flexible however and, with a claimed zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 7,5 seconds, certainly no slouch. What impressed me most about the Forester’s on-road demeanour was the compliant ride quality and excellent on-road noise suppression. Yes, the Subaru tends to lean in the corners just as its predecessor did, but the steering feels well weighted and direct at all times.
The 2,0 XT offers a lot of specification and sophistication, but at its price (R529 000 at launch), it certainly ought to! At that mark, rivals include big hitters such as the top-of-the-range Land Rover Freelander 2,2D SD4 HSE AT (R544 200), BMW X3 xDrive20i AT (R473 702) and Audi Q5 2,0T FSI Quattro S tronic (R488 000). Those models come with 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plans, as opposed to the Subaru’s 3-year/75 000 km, which doesn’t help the flagship Scooby’s cause. Granted, the German competitors would need to be specced up to the 2,0 XT’s level for a fairer comparison, but nevertheless, as much as I enjoyed driving this particular vehicle, I am certain the best value can be found at the opposite end of this impressive new Subaru’s range.
Engine: 2,0-litre direct-injection turbocharged flat four
Power: 177 kW at 5 600 r/min
Torque: 350 N.m at 2 400 to 3 600 r/min
0-100 km/h: 7,5 seconds
Claimed fuel consumption: 8,5 litres/100 km
CO2: 197 g/km
Top speed: 210 km/h
Maintenance plan: three years/75 000 km