The highly-rated Subaru Forester has received mild exterior changes, a new interior that complements its symmetrical AWD system and will be exhibited at the upcoming Paris Show.

By Paul Simmons

The highly-rated Subaru Forester has received mild exterior changes and a new interior that complements its symmetrical AWD system.

The new Forester 2,5 XT, which will be unveiled in Paris, will be offered with a manual transmission and an extensive list of standard equipment, including black leather interior trim, satellite navigation, a seven-speaker audio system and six-disc CD player.

The softer interior touches include: 12-spoke alloy wheels, aluminium door kick-plates, Momo steering wheel, silver-rimmed instruments, steering-wheel mounted radio controls and new deeply-sculptured sports front seats. But, to appease performance aficionados, the Forester also shows off its most powerful engine - the 157 kW turbocharged 2,5-litre four-cylinder boxer.

The new 2,5-litre version takes the SUV's performance to new heights. Top speed for the 2,5 XT is a claimed 225 km/h and the zero to 100-km/h time drops to about six seconds. Mid-range torque has been increased to a maximum of 320 N.m and the braked towing limit has been raised to a two tonnes. The Forester's high and low-ratio gearbox is carried over as is the rear limited-slip differential, full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive and self-levelling rear suspension.

Engine upgrades to enlarge the horizontally-opposed four cylinder 2,0 litre 'boxer' engine to 2,5 litres were extensive. Subaru has used a semi-closed deck cylinder block for added smoothness, strengthened pistons and connecting rods, sodium-filled hollow exhaust valves to improve cooling and hollow camshafts for lightness and efficiency. Both the bore and stroke are enlarged - now standing at 99.5 x 79 mm instead of 92 x 75 mm.

The Forester XT's active and passive safety systems include electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock brakes and large-diameter ventilated front and rear discs.

Active front head restraints reduce the risk of whiplash injuries and the passenger airbag is dual-stage, allowing progressive protection during less severe impacts and total deployment in a more serious crash. Large side-airbags are also standard, protecting both the torso and head. The Forester's body was strengthened with high-tensile steel panels with tailored blanks in key impact areas. Those combine strength with good energy-absorbing properties, especially during side-impacts. All pillars are reinforced with new ring-shaped subframes (the front is claimed to be 60 per cent stronger than that of the pre-2003 model).

Aluminium is used extensively in the front and rear bumper beams, bonnet, roof rails and sunroof frames, keeping down weight yet performing well in offset impacts.