Motor Image, distributor of Subaru vehicles in 10 Asian countries including Malaysia, gave the fourth-generation Subaru Forester its regional launch here in Taiwan yesterday.

The new Subaru Forester made its world debut just last week at the LA Auto Show, so the fact that this event happened so soon after shows both the importance of Asian markets to Fuji Heavy Industries, as well as Motor Image’s clout.

Yes, you’re looking at a new Forester, not a facelift. This fourth-gen SUV might not look worlds apart from its predecessor, retaining familiar proportions and a traditional SUV shape (as opposed to today’s crossovers), but it is all-new, with new drivetrains, larger dimensions and more features than before.

Two variants were shown in Taipei, one with a 2.0 litre naturally aspirated boxer engine (2.0i) and one moved by a new 2.0 litre direct-injection turbocharged “DIT” boxer (2.0XT).

The former is the same 150 PS/196 Nm FB series NA unit powering the CKD Subaru XV, while the FA20 DIT engine makes a strong 280 PS and 350 Nm of torque from 2,000 to 5,600 rpm. The latter version is the one coming to Malaysia.

Both flat-four motors are paired to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT gearbox with manual mode and steering paddles, finally sending the four-speed auto into retirement. The ‘box in the turbo model gets a modified torque converter and chains to match the higher torque output.

Performance is good, with the 2.0XT doing 0-100 km/h in just 6.4 seconds. At the product presentation, Subaru pointed out that their new SUV is faster than intended Euro turbo rivals VW Tiguan and Volvo XC60, and can even out-drag the Porsche Cayenne V6!

The downsized 2.0 DIT is also a better engine than the previous 2.5 turbo in every way – more power, more torque and much better fuel consumption (8.5 litres per 100 km, a full two litres less).

Compared to the SUV it replaces, the new Forester has grown in all directions. Overall length is up by 35 mm to make 4,595 mm, the 2,640 mm wheelbase is 26 mm longer, width is up by 15 mm and the new car is also 35 mm taller.

The effect inside is increased couple distance, more legroom and a higher seating position. The latter (34 mm higher driver eye point) was a design priority at Subaru, which is keen to satisfy SUV onwers who like higher vantange points.

Style wise, it’s blink and you’ll miss, despite the fact that this is no mere facelift. The Forester now wears Subaru’s latest family face (as seen on the XV) but the 2.0XT gets an aggressive lower bumper design and funky 18-inch alloys that sets it apart. Just as well, because in many markets, the 2.0XT will be up against European SUVs.

The Forester gets a new AWD control system called X-Mode, which co-ordinates the engine, transmission and VDC to provide optimum traction. The system also incorporates hill descent control and shows you what each wheel is doing on a full-colour central display. Think of the button (in front of the gear lever) as a multi-purpose, do-it-all for slippery, loose or rough surfaces.

There’s more. SI-Drive allows the driver to choose between Intelligent, Sports and S# (Sports sharp) modes via steering buttons (not a dial like in some older Subarus). In S# mode, you’ll have eight virtual CVT ratios to play with, besides sharper response.

Other notable points include a powered tailgate (open via key fob, close with button) and expanded cargo space that is claimed to equal the new Honda CR-V’s boot room. Four golf bags, no problem.

Glenn Tan, executive director of Tan Chong International Limited (MI’s parent company), confirmed that this new Forester will come to Malaysia next year, as early as Q2 but most likely in the third quarter of 2013.

As mentioned, the turbocharged 2.0XT will be the one reaching our shores, as the naturally-aspirated 2.0i variant is deemed too close to younger brother Subaru XV, which is assembled in Malaysia for domestic consumption as well as exports to Thailand and Indonesia. The XV will be Subaru’s biggest seller in ASEAN.

Tan was reluctant to give a ballpark price for the Forester, citing Japanese Yen exchange rate fluctuation, but we’re expecting a high-spec CBU Forester 2.0XT like the one you see here to cost over RM200k. Might sound hefty at first, but then again, this SUV can outgun a Cayenne!