Car Review

What's actually new about the all-new Subaru Forester

The 2019 Subaru Forester 2.0i-S ES is a cracking package - what a pity it's let down by an inadequate engine

10 February 2019 - 00:00

Let's cut to the chase, Falkiner, is this a new Forester or simply one of those cheeky facelifts manufacturers throw at us all the time?
This, my cynical friend, truly is a new-from-the-ground-up Subaru Forester. Built atop the marque's Subaru Global Platform (as used in the Impreza we reviewed last year), this fifth-generation model is both longer and wider than the car it replaces. It's also slightly heavier. Visually speaking things are certainly more evolutionary than they are revolutionary.
Apart from the jaunty rear taillights and faux aluminium now adorning the car's skirts and aprons, there's not much separating the old Forester from the new. Until you swing open a door that is - then it's a totally different story.
I was about to ask about that. Has Subaru upped their interior game?
Yes, very much so. The cabin of the new Forester is a definite highlight as much progress has been made in terms of overall fit and finish. From the presence of soft-touch surfaces to sturdier plastics and solid-to-the-push switchgear, the Forester no longer feels like it's trying to play catch-up with its rivals - even those from Germany.
The range-topping 2.0i-S ES model I had on test came with leather seats, which made the interior feel even more premium. In this specification the features list is extensive with items such as a Harmon Kardon sound system, eight-inch infotainment display and Subaru's excellent EyeSight driver assistance system all forming part of the standard package. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also on the menu, which adds further polish to an otherwise excellent cabin. Though I do think Subaru could have put in an auto-dimming rearview mirror - the el cheapo manual one doesn't cut the mustard.
This is sounding quite promising. I take it that Subaru have also turned a few tricks in the engine department?
I hate to say it but the engine is the most disappointing thing about the new Forester. The outgoing model could be had with a 2.5-litre or 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four motor. Here the only option is a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre unit and, man, is it anaemic. In isolation, cruising at steady speed out on some deserted freeway, it does a fair enough job. But put your foot down, try to overtake something, and you'll be met by a lot of noise and not much else.
In cut and thrust urban driving it frustrated the hell out of me even more with its distinct lack of urge. And don't for a second think that it makes up for it in economy - even with a light foot I couldn't crack less than 7.5l/100km. As far as the gearbox is concerned your only option is a CVT. Subaru makes a good one though and it feels closer to a conventional automatic in the way it goes about its business. You also get seven preset "ratios" that can be selected via paddles behind the wheel.
What's it like to drive?
Really good, actually. While the steering is quick and well weighted the chassis (40% stiffer than the last one) makes the Forester surprisingly adept around corners at speed. It feels stable and flat with none of that excessive body roll you experience in so many SUVs of comparable ilk.
Ride quality is equally impressive: whether blasting down a choppy dirt road or navigating the ever- worsening streets of Joburg, the new Forester does a fine job at soaking up vibrations with little or no drama. The cabin is very well insulated too, with minimal amounts of wind and road noise to fray your nerves when driving long distance. Off road you'll be happy to know that the Forester has a useful 220mm of ground clearance, hill descent control as well as something called X-Mode that allows you to adjust the all-wheel-drive system with two factory preset modes - snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
Finally, I bet it's pretty expensive right?
It's not as pricey as you may think. Even I was amazed to discover that the range-topping model I had on test was under R500,000. That's a chunk cheaper than the all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V and only a few grand more expensive than the all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4. Quite surprising when you consider the plethora of kit that comes standard on the new Forester.
However, both its rivals have much better engines: the Honda a 1.5-litre turbo petrol and the Toyota a 2.2-litre turbodiesel. Both blow that wimpy 2.0-litre boxer into the weeds and then some. So come on, Subaru, give this otherwise excellent SUV the motor it deserves.

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