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OFF-ROAD TEST: Subaru Forester 2.5 XS Premium Lineartronic

13 September 2016

  • Unlike so many soft-roaders, you can access remote locations like these in a Forester.

Subaru’s Forester recently received some mid-life updates. And although the changes seem relatively insignificant, they’ve given the Fozzy a new lease on life.

Every single one of the scribes in this office has their own motoring-related fixation. Our latest team member, Deon, has an unhealthy obsession with Opels and bucket seats, while Gerhard constantly harps on about the engineering genius behind the previous-generation Hilux’s cup holders. And Danie skulks around the office while making turbocharged engine and wastegate noises. Usually after viewing an Ari Vatanen video on YouTube.

As you can imagine, we don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to new cars, but there are a few vehicles we unanimously agree on. The Subaru Forester is one of them. Subaru’s mid-size SUV competitor recently received a few subtle enhancements and to find out whether it’s still as good as ever, we put together a fairly unique road test. One portion of the test took place on our usual inner-city/highway day-to-day test route, while the off-road part was slightly more severe. We’ll get to it in a moment, but first a rundown of the recent renovation.

All grown up
The exterior enhancements are subtle, but immediately noticeable. Upgrades include a new grille, headlights and alloy wheels. The changes are admittedly minor, but the overall effect is exquisite. It used to be a fairly unexciting SUV, which now features a decent helping of elegance. Let’s just say that it wouldn’t look out of place parked outside a five-star hotel in the Western Cape.

Five-star accommodation
On the inside you get a few new bits and bobs to delight the eyeballs. These include gloss black and chrome accents, redesigned seats and an updated multi-function display. The most important bits, however, are not visible to the naked eye. These include improved sound cladding for overall reduced NVH levels and a stunning eight-speaker Harmon Kardon system, which is fitted as standard on the premium model.

The Forester was already a refined vehicle, but these seemingly insignificant changes elevate it to a cut above any other mid-size SUV. It might seem like a silly comparison, but it feels like you’re driving around in a smaller version of Mercedes-Benz’s GLE (the old ML). The cabin is eerily quiet as a result of the added sound dampening and the ride is more refined thanks to some minor tweaks to the suspension.

Now more than ever, the Forester is an absolute joy to use during the daily commute. With automatic everything, a quality sound system and soft but supportive seats, it offers a driving experience that will soothe your tired buttocks after a long day at the office. But, as we all know, the Forester is about more than that. Unlike many soft-roaders, these things will likely see a gravel road more often than not. To test this, we drove it on a gravel route. A fairly long gravel route…

Wild child?
We used the Forester on an extended 3 500km adventure through Namibia and Botswana. It completed the journey without a glitch and looked just as elegant after some TLC at a local car wash. More importantly, there were no rattles or squeaks after the arduous journey, which included 500km of gravel road. The revised suspension made zero impact to its off-road ability. Although it can handle some light 4×4 obstacles (thanks to the X-Mode system), the Forester really shines at high speed on gravel roads. Symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard across the range and it works a charm. It inspires huge amounts of confidence, but if you do cross the line, it pulls itself back in line.

The electronic driver aids can be switched off if you wish, which turns the Forester into an engaging gravel grazing monster. Normally we wouldn’t recommend this, but it is a Subaru after all. A certain amount of hooligan behaviour is to be expected, no matter how elegant the exterior may be. As we’ve stated many times before, Subarus all come standard with an inherent Subaru-ness. Maybe it’s because of the rally heritage, the perfectly weighted steering, or the solid feel of the thing, but there’s definitely an X-factor at play here. It’s not just a piece of equipment, but rather something you’d inevitably end up loving.

Engine wise
They’re all the same as before, which is a good thing. The normally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine, as fitted to our test vehicle, delivers 126kW and 235Nm of torque. The power is fed to the four wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) – or Lineartronic, in Subaru speak. The good news is that Subaru’s CVT transmissions are some of the best in the business and no serious adjustment in driving style is necessary – the gearbox keeps the engine ticking over in the right range, according to conditions. We averaged 8.64l/100km in the Scooby, which is quite outstanding for this type of petrol-driven SUV.

It’s a pity South Africa doesn’t get the turbodiesel Forester anymore, because that engine and CVT combo is sublime. We probably have our previous, short-serving minister of finance to thank for this absence in the line-up. The 2.5-litre engine is no fireball, but it is perfectly satisfactory for most applications. If you want more horses there is always the turbocharged two-litre petrol option, too.

In conclusion
The premium model, as tested here, retails for a little over R500 000. That’s a lot of cash compared to its main rivals, but there are a few attributes that go a long way towards justifying that price. First and foremost, the Forester has a split personality. It’s comfortable and refined on tar, but it also has more off-road ability than most people would ever need. The standard equipment levels are very generous and the quality is a step above its competitors. With that in mind, the price doesn’t look half bad.

Engine Four-cylinder boxer petrol
Power 126kW @ 5 800r/min
Torque 235Nm @ 4 100r/min
Gearbox Lineartronic CVT
4×4 drivetrain Symmetrical AWD
Driving aids Vehicle dynamics control with ESC, TCS, LSD, ABD, EBD and BA, plus X-Mode off-road mode
Ground clearance (claimed) 220mm
Average fuel consumption 8.64/100km
Range (60-litre tank) 694km
Maintenance plan Three-year/75 000km
Price R519 000