The facelifted fourth-generation Subaru Forester officially made its launch debut here just over a week ago. Aimed at taking on established models like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, the refreshed SUV certainly has a lot going for it.
For starters, it is now a locally-assembled product, made at Tan Chong’s Segambut plant. That makes it the second Subaru model to be assembled there after the XV. Of course, localisation means the new Forester is now more affordable than the outgoing model, putting it in a prime position as an alternative to the standard “go-to” choices.
Not only that, the Forester also gets improved equipment, looks and a powertrain that steps up to assist you once the tarred road ends. Sounds like a hefty proposition. So, is there anything it can’t do? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The Forester variant you are looking at here is the 2.0i-P (RM154,488), the middle ground between the base 2.0i (RM144,948) and the turbocharged XT (RM211,729). Regardless of variant choice, you’ll find Subaru’s DNA embodied within, with the main component being the boxer engine – a 2.0 litre four-cylinder DOHC petrol unit, which provides 150 PS at 6,200 rpm and 198 Nm at 4,200 rpm. The XT’s turbocharged mill makes 241 PS at 5,600 rpm and 350 Nm at 2,400 to 3,600 rpm.
Linked to a Lineartronic CVT (with paddle shifters on the 2.0i-P and XT), power is sent to all four corners via the Subaru’s proprietary Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. The powertrain also gets two new selectable functions. First is the SI Drive Mode, which is controlled by two buttons on the steering wheel. Also available here is X-Mode, which we will discuss later on.
Subaru engineers also focused on improving the car’s ride and handling. The front suspension now features stiffer cross members and improved springs and dampers, while the rear suspension alignment has been changed. NVH also gets a boost here with additional sound proofing materials and thicker windows.
As for areas of the car you will see often, the Forester (the base 2.0i model aside) gets new steering-responsive LED headlamps with C-shaped DRLs that flank a new four-bar grille. The tail lamps now feature the same C-shaped motif as the front lights as well. Sensibly-sized 17-inch wheels are fitted here and on the base 2.0i, wrapped with 225/60R17 size Continental ContiMax MC5 tyres (XT gets larger 18-inch options).
The design may be familiar as that of the outgoing, pre-facelift XT, but the facelift does elevate the Forester – in terms of looks – to the other Subaru models of today. Nonetheless, it looks unique compared to the current crop of SUVs, an old school charm if you will. If there’s one complaint, the line of additional LED DRLs located beside the fog lamps seem a bit excessive.
Similar to the exterior, the Forester’s cabin follows the “same but not same” approach. The layout looks familiar, but look closely, and you’ll spot leather being applied on the door handles, centre stack, updated trim, new steering wheel and the seats themselves (standard on all variants). Soft-touch materials on the top section of the dashboard also provide a premium feel to the interior, something you don’t find in the CR-V.
Dual-zone air-conditioning is available here but there are no vents for the second row. As for the other bits, the instrument cluster now gets revised graphics and TFT LCD colour display. Other useful equipment here include automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry with push-start button, cruise control and aluminium pedals. There are also two USB ports available, which not just act as media sources for the Kenwood unit, but also as charging points for your mobile devices (one has a higher 1A output).
The dashboard-mounted multi-info colour display is also new here (lesser version on the 2.0i), as is the seven-inch Kenwood double-DIN touchscreen head-unit. The latter may be feature-packed with inputs (including MirrorLink), but does take some fiddling with to get right. Not only that, the matte coating on the display results in poor legibility under sunlight. While the unit may be considered as one of the CKD components, its integration isn’t the most seamless with the rest of the car.
Overall, the Forester’s interior is simple, functional, well-equipped and pleasant to be in. Practicality is pretty impressive too, thanks to the powered liftgate with memory function (not fitted on the 2.0i), making accessing the boot (with tonneau cover) an easy affair. Boot space here isn’t as generous (422 litres) as that available on the CR-V (589 litres), but should be enough for most needs. Part of the reason for this is because of the raised boot floor, which accommodates a diagonally-mounted full size spare mounted to make space for the rear 4×4 axle.
Other nifty features here include a PIN code access, which allows you to leave the key fob in the car while you partake in activities that may bring harm to it (i.e. white water rafting, skydiving). To unlock the car again, simply input your programmed PIN code with the button located beside the liftgate release.
So, the Forester is off to a pretty decent start then. And that’s even before we bring it on the road. We had a chance to sample the Forester both in Malaysia and Thailand, with the latter involving a few demonstrations of the SUV’s all-wheel drive powertrain at work.
Driving about town, the Forester provides a very comfortable ride which borders on best in class in this writer’s opinion. The revised suspension certainly reaps benefits and those chunky tyres further cushion the harshness that Malaysian roads are famous for serving up. At times, the Forester does tend to feel a little “floaty” but it isn’t up to a nauseating extent.
Travelling on highways, the Forester remained stable, while the NVH improvements kept wind noise and tyre roar at bay. Rear passengers will have access to sufficient legroom but the reclining seats on the second row aren’t the most comfy and could do with additional padding. The driver and passenger seats are powered here (sans adjustable lumbar support), and positioned quite high for better visibility, although I do prefer if it were a tad lower.
On a slalom, the Forester’s 1.5-tonne heft will become noticeable, with body roll being present, but manageable to a degree. The power-assisted steering did feel a little slow, so don’t expect this Subaru to have best-in-class handling just because of its badge. I presume the slow steering was fitted to complement the off-road capabilities of the vehicles, where quick changes in direction aren’t a necessity. Therefore, unless you plan on participating in a gymkhana stage with it, the Forester is more than capable to cope with your daily drive, while keeping you relatively comfortable doing so. If you’re looking for a more engaging handling experience, consider the CX-5 or X-Trail instead.
The powertrain also does its duties well enough, if you’re driving within the capacity of a reasonable person. If you’re looking for instantaneous results by stomping on the accelerator pedal, you will only be greeted by the CVT’s “rubber band” effect, accompanied by a noticeable whine. Best to ease the throttle in progressively, and plan your manoeuvres ahead of time.
As a road-going vehicle then, the Subaru is pretty commendable in performing its duties. However, what’s it like when the road ends, and the terrain gets a bit more demanding? Well, on a sandy, dried-up lake bed in Thailand, we were instructed to disable the car’s traction control system before being sent out on a given route to test out the Forester’s all-wheel drive system.
The immediate lack of grip was apparent on the shifting sands but even with traction control turned off, the all-wheel drive system actively cuts in when it detects that the vehicle is out of control, braking individual wheels in an attempt to restore order. Trying to take on a corner at speed, you can feel as the AWD system constantly brakes the wheels with the least amount of grip, slowing things down till control is returned.
Impressive as it may be, when combined with X-Mode, it gets better. To test the new function, we were led through a pineapple farm, where the test route involved going up the side of a hill before proceeding back down. Only thing is, with X-Mode turned off, the Forester simply spun its tyres on the loose gravel and rocks, struggling to find grip. Push the button, and magic happens.
Working at speeds of up to 30 km/h, X-Mode forces the Forester to become more in tune with its various systems, activating five different forms of control to limit slipping tyres and get you going. For starters, the car’s throttle doesn’t open too quickly when responding to input from the accelerator pedal, compared to when X-Mode is not turned on.
The car’s transmission and AWD system also ensures power is readily available (low gear) and delivered more evenly (raising the front/rear coupling force) between the four wheels for maximum traction. Finally, the car’s Vehicle Dynamics Control system uses a specially-tuned “Enhanced LSD Control” that individually applies the brakes to wheels that are slipping.
With X-Mode turned on, the convoy of Foresters easily made it up the hill as you can tell from the photos. Coming back down, the X-Mode’s Hill Descent Control ensured the car itself managed the throttle and braking, allowing us to concentrate purely on steering the vehicle down the steep incline. It would have been nice to have an around-view monitor to spot any potential hazards around the car though.
Now, to what extremes X-Mode will operate flawlessly, that remains to be seen. Though the system won’t be used on a daily basis for most buyers, it’s good to know that when you need to make that drive through a pineapple plantation, the Forester’s got you covered. Other plantations yet to be tested.
Speaking of being covered, any safety concerns are answered with seven airbags (dual front, sides and curtains, driver’s knee), Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), Hill Start Assist, ring-shaped reinforcement frame and ABS (with EBD and BA). This safety suite is not variant-exclusive, and is available on all three, which is mighty impressive at its price point.
All in all, the new Subaru Forester certainly makes a very strong case for those in the market for a C-segment SUV. A comfortable ride, above-par off-road capabilities and a pretty impressive kit list, all backed by a price tag that is finally within the realms of its competitors. In this case, it’s RM154,488 for the 2.0i-P (right now offered at an introductory price of RM151,800), which is a slight premium compared to its rivals. However, is there anything it can’t do? No, not really.
Subaru Forester 2.0i-P
Subaru Forester media drive in Thailand