EARLIER this year, we had a chance to sample Subaru’s first-ever attempt at a turbodiesel engine in the Outback 2,0D (January 2011). Based on the Legacy sedan, the Outback is fairly popular in our market and we were impressed with the combination of large quasi-off-roader and oilburner, but the model most likely to benefit from the long-awaited engine is the marque’s bestseller, the Forester SUV. It’s long been considered an alternative contender among more rugged compact SUVs but, with recent cosmetic tweaks, revised standard features, price adjustments and the boxer turbodiesel, the Forester now more than ever stands a great chance of attracting new buyers to the Subaru stable.
The term “facelift” should be used rather lightly, however, because the exterior changes aren’t particularly noticeable save for a more distinctive front grille, turn indicator lamps in the side mirrors and new wheels (tasty 17-inchers on our Premium test model).
Inside, it’s familiar Forester territory. Although it’s very neat and tidy, we’re not convinced by the level of perceived quality – too many hard, easily scratched plastics are used that rattled throughout the cabin – and attention to detail in items such as the sound system and trip computer. These unfortunately spoil what is otherwise a spacious cabin with an impressive standard specification list, including climate control and an eight-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat.
Underneath the air-scooped bonnet nestles the world’s only 2,0-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder turbodiesel, which develops 110 kW and 350 N.m of torque at 2 400 r/min. Peak power may not be outstanding, but the ample torque on tap boasts a fairly flat curve for optimum progress in lower gears and reasonable grunt in the higher ratios.
Owing to the unique layout, the powerplant doesn’t sound like any other diesel, which is a good thing. Yes, there’s the unmistakable clatter of any oil-burner on the market, but it’s intertwined with the characteristic off-beat thrum of a flat-four engine, making for an interesting aural note that’s nevertheless refined and smooth.
Depress the clutch and you have to almost muscle the six-speed shifter into gear. The lever is reluctant at first, especially when selecting reverse, but higher gears are easily and cleanly found. Surprisingly, this model doesn’t have low-range as on the 2,5-litre petrol variants. Apart from there being more than enough torque on offer to drive the all-wheel-drive system, this version would inspire more off-road confidence if it was fitted with this feature.
Considering the Forester’s 1,5- tonne mass, as well as the relatively low power output, a 10,6-second zero to 100 km/h time is nothing to scoff at – the 2,0-litre turbodiesel coaxing a minor break in traction from the 225/55 R17 Yokohamas for optimum acceleration.
Overtaking acceleration is similarly decent – it’s tractable enough to be able to pull from 40 to 60 km/h in top gear in just over 15 seconds – something that was impossible in the Outback, as it resulted in heavy jerking and stalling on every attempt. At highway speeds, the torque figure comes into its own with 6,45- and 6,64-second hauls from 80-100 and 100-120 km/h in sixth. In fifth, those figures are reduced to 5,01 and 5,53 seconds.
The Forester’s reputation for an accomplished ride is a further boon to the driving experience. The generous ground clearance, MacPherson struts and multi-link self-levelling rear setup makes short work of most rough surfaces and provide a very comfortable ride on good asphalt. Unfortunately, this compliance comes at the expense of body roll in corners when pressing on. Of course, the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system keeps the Yokohama rubber glued to terra firma, but the initial swaying movement might unsettle those who don’t expect it.
The Forester is available with a plethora of safety features, including six airbags, Isofix anchor points on the outer rear seats, TCS and VDS stability systems, and ABS with EBD. Despite the rear differential, and mostly thanks to the tall body, cargo room is generous at 336 dm3 with the rear seats in the upright position and 1 392 dm3 with the pews folded flat.
The Forester 2,0D relies on 50 ppm diesel to operate optimally but, for your effort to find the right pump at which to fill up, you’re left with the knowledge that the diesel Forester is one of the greener SUVs in our market. Our fuel-index figure indicates an average consumption of 7,7 litres/ 100 km and we managed 6,6 litres/ 100 km on a real-world fuel run. So from a 60-litre fuel tank, expect a range of well over 700 km. According to Subaru, this Forester emits only 167 g/km of CO2.
For your money, you score a three-year/60 000 km service plan (oddly inferior to the petrol models’ three-year/75 000 km plan) and a three-year/100 000 km warranty.
Compared with the rivals we’ve chosen, this Forester model appears on the expensive side at R399 000 (the 2,0D is much better priced at R359 000, while sacrificing just a few features). The Premium model is, however, full of niceties, some of which are optional on some rivals.
We really like the Forester diesel, niggles such as the interior design and finish aside. It delivers most of what we’ve come to expect from Subaru but, thanks to finally receiving the engine it has always needed, without the traditional fuel penalty. We have little doubt it will only add to the Forester’s endearing popularity.