It won three world rally championships in the ‘90s and countless regional and national titles the world over. Even in virtual-world, a blue 555 Impreza is the car to have in any video game. The result of this rally success and clever video game marketing? A whole generation of future buyers from the Playstation era just waiting in the wings…
But recently Subaru has also started gaining mainstream SUV acceptance, with Outback and Forester models doing brisk business. In fact, the Forester has become a vital product for Subaru. Recently launched internationally, a new generation Forester will be on sale locally very soon after this issue of CAR hits the shelves.
Our pre-launch test unit came with its badges taped over but, even so, it was clearly recognisable as a Subaru. Well, to those in the know, anyway. The basic silhouette is pure Forester – meaning a highish wagon profile with large bumpers and subtle wheelarch blisters. But for 2002 the detailing has been much improved. Where the old Forester had a rather anonymous front end, the newcomer’s bonnet line cuts across the top of the headlights to
create an angry, “get out of my way” facial expression, as one onlooker put it. The biggest change is at the rear, though. Gone are the large, low-mounted lights. In their place are new triangular upright clusters that, at a quick glance, resemble Mercedes-Benz units.
All-in-all, new Forester retains Subaru’s by now familiar wilfully quirky persona, but manages to look attractive at the same time. As an aside, it is worth noting that Subaru recently hired Andreas Zapatinas as chief designer.
The 44-year old Greek was previously with Pininfarina, BMW and Alfa Romeo, where he was responsible for the 147.
Some of the Forester’s greatest improvements can be found in the cabin, which must rate as one of Subaru’s best interiors ever. Although nothing to set the heart racing, the use of vastly higher quality plastics and a cleaner, more modern design work well. The hangdown section, especially, looks much neater. Although our test unit did develop a rattle in the instrument panel, build quality was generally solid. Standard equipment on our pre-launch test unit included; height-adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel, electric windows, power steering, remote central locking, six-disc CD front-loader/radio, climate control, electrically adjustable door mirrors, front foglights and cruise control. Three models will be on offer at prices ranging from R240 000 to R290 000.
Dynamic safety has been given high priority. You won’t find stability control or other electronic gizmos on the Forester, but the symmetrical
drivetrain layout and 50:50 split all-wheel drive system make for a secure and stable vehicle under all driving conditions. In the event of a crash, however, it does offer dual front airbags and active front head restraints. To demonstrate their effectiveness, at the Australian launch of the vehicle, a Forester was hurled into a barrier at 64 km/h in front of the press. You don’t often see that…
Cabin space has been greatly improved. A family of five, with luggage, should fit in easily, with enough head and legroom for all. Rear legroom, for example, is up by 25 mm. The front seats were generally found to be comfortable, but one tester experienced some discomfort from a ridge in the backrest. Otherwise, the seats are fairly wide, but with strong side bolsters to lend support under enthusiastic cornering. Both front seats have folding armrests.
Boot space is a competitive 344 dm3. With the 60:40 split rear seats folded forward, usable space grows to 1 264 dm3. Oddments stowage is provided by a sizeable cubby, front seatback and door pockets, netted hidey-hole in the passenger footwell, lidded compartment to the right of the steering wheel and another on top of the facia. The storage box between the seats may be small, but it does house a 12V power outlet. The Forester has not one, but two overhead sunglasses
In the boot, several separate compartments are hidden under the floor, and another power outlet is provided. New Forester is powered by Subaru’s proven flat-four 2,5-litre engine. In its latest guise, and in SA spec, the unit develops 112 kW at 5 600 r/min and 223 N.m at 3 600. These figures are somewhat misleading, and certainly
resulted in us being surprised by the vehicle’s sprinting ability – which could put the
frighteners up more than just a few hot hatches.
As expected, it was difficult to get the all-wheel drive Subaru’s wheels to spin to gain momentum. At maximum revs, the tyres would only
scrabble for a fraction of a
second before the car would bog down. After that though, the Forester just starts surging forward. Zero to 100 km/h in
9,5 seconds! That’s barely a
second slower than the fire-breathing Forester S-Turbo
previously tested by CAR. Top speed worked out at 192 km/h.
But the Forester is not all about sprinting ability –
compared with most SUVs, the engine is also usefully flexible. This, combined with impressive powertrain refinement, makes it a relaxed cruiser. In absolute
performance terms it runs the
S-Turbo fairly close, but the new car’s performance is more usable in everyday driving. It’s also more economical.
10,95 litres/100 km fuel index
figure (mixed driving) betters that of the Legacy 2,5 GX saloon. Against non-Subaru rivals, the Forester’s economy also compares favourably. In
performance terms, it trounces them all.
Power is transmitted to all four wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. In typical Subaru fashion, shifts need a firm hand, but quick changes were easy to execute, as we found out during our
acceleration runs. It’s just a pity that the gearlever itself looks and feels a bit plasticky.
Braking power is provided by 294 mm ventilated discs in front and 266 mm discs, also ventilated, at the back. ABS with EBD (electronic brake-force
distribution) is standard. In our ten-simulated-emergency-stop test, the Forester averaged a
commendable (for a SUV) 3,38 seconds to come to a complete halt from 100 km/h. Pedal feel and consistency were also
On-road, new Forester is very un-SUV like. Body roll is well controlled, thanks to a reworking of the carryover coil-spring suspension (struts and L-shaped lower arm at the front, multilink struts at the rear). Supple suspension (self-levelling at the rear) gives the Forester a superbly comfortable ride, and high-speed
stability is impressive.
long distance family cruiser it performs admirably.
But it’s also more than willing to tackle the twisties. And it should be, as it’s based on the rally-bred Impreza’s platform. Ultimate grip is limited by the on/off-road compromise tyres, but the basics are right, and the Forester will out-handle most – probably all – other SUVs in its segment. Only the slightly over-assisted steering let the side down somewhat. But, of course, the light steering has great benefits in town. It is here, in the tight confines of the city, where most SUVs are completely out of their depth. The Forester though, is just as at home in the concrete jungle as it is flying down gravel roads.
For such an unassuming station wagon-shaped vehicle with chunky tyres, its ability to get away from the line quickly, ease of driving, and general user-friendliness comes as a surprise to most. It’s the small details that matter here. For example; keep the clutch in and first gear engaged on a steep hill, and, thanks to Subaru’s “hillholder” system, the Forester won’t start rolling backwards into vehicles behind.
Short of clambering over boulders and tackling steep obstacles, the Forester – within limits – actually puts in a good effort off-road. Its shiny bumpers and long front and rear overhangs play havoc with the all-important approach/
departure angles, but ground clearance is fine for light off-road duty. It’s also equipped with a low-range transfer box. Where the Forester really shines is on rutted gravel roads, where it is devastatingly fast from point A to B. It is here that the rally genes shine through. Seemingly unflappable in mixed conditions, which can include rocky surfaces, loose gravel and mud etc, the Forester comes across as a thoroughly secure and