For those of us who have reached middle age, you could say there’s probably one thing you hate being reminded of the most. You’re getting old.
We already have things which remind us about this on a daily basis. Perhaps a new wrinkle that wasn’t there yesterday, hair which isn’t quite as thick as it used to be, or even hangovers which you never seemed to get when you were younger. Well, unfortunately I’ve got another nugget of news which might make some of you feel just a little bit older again. The Subaru Forester is now 20 years old. Amazing, isn’t it?
I remember when the Forester was the new kid on the block in the 1990’s as if it were yesterday. It was a car-like SUV with a taller stance and higher seating position, but with the added benefit of an Impreza chassis and drivetrain sitting underneath. SUV buyers loved it and sales took off, cementing the Forester’s place as an important part of the Subaru model line-up. Since then Subaru has worked hard to refine the Forester, and we’ve spent a bit of time driving the new fourth-generation 2016 model to see how it stacks up against other SUVs on the market.
The one we’re looking at here is the Subaru Forester 2.5i-S, which is essentially the top of the range model with all the bells and whistles included for $43,633 drive away. It includes a full leather interior, electric sunroof, daytime running lights, steering responsive headlights, rain sensing wipers and Subaru’s unique EyeSight driver assist system. You’ll lose all of those features if you step back to the 2.0i-L or 2.5i-L models for a few grand less, and while stepping up to the more expensive 2.0XT model will get you Subaru’s 177kW turbo-charged engine, you do miss out on the leather interior and EyeSight driver assist system. So engine aside, the 2.5i-S offers the highest amount of equipment and features – so lets take a look at how it stacks up.
From the outside, I don’t think you could ever describe the 2016 Forester as being pretty, but the styling does have a certain toughness and squared-off look about it – and it does bring about additional benefits which we’ll touch on later. Up front, you get a pair of truly excellent LED headlights with integrated LED daytime running lights, an updated front grille and new front bumper design, plus a pair of fog lights in the lower corners. From here you also catch a glimpse of the twin windscreen-mounted cameras for Subaru’s EyeSight system, plus the less noticeable inclusion of rain sensing wipers.
Around the side, you’ll notice the new 18″ alloy wheels which come fitted to the 2.5i-S as standard, while it also has heated door mirrors and full length roof rails. Seeing as the 2016 Forester is a facelift of the previous 2012 model, it continues to look great from this angle but is otherwise business as usual, although we did like the JDM-spec privacy tint on the rear windows. Walk around the back and you’ll notice a pair of new LED tail lights, plus an updated rear bumper design and rear spoiler. From this angle it is also easy to check out the Forester’s excellent ground clearance, and the shark-fin roof mounted antenna – signalling that this model does in fact have satellite navigation included as standard.
Step inside and the first thing you’ll notice, aside from how premium the interior feels, is just how comfortable and supportive the electrically-adjustable leather seats are. In front of you sits a nice leather steering wheel with a bunch of useful media and cruise-control buttons, with a set of beautifully clear gauges set behind. The 2.5i-S comes fitted with a 7.0″ touchscreen in the centre stack, which includes satellite navigation, Pandora music streaming compatibility and it also takes care of the rear-view camera display duties. There’s also a nifty secondary display on the top of the dash which can be toggled to display various pieces of information, and you also get push-button start and a suite of controls for the EyeSight system.
Earlier I touched on the Forester’s squared-off body bringing about additional benefits – and its on the inside where you’ll really notice it the most. In an age where SUV manufacturers are offering sloping roof lines, high belt-lines and windows which rise up towards the rear, the Forester’s has large windows, a low belt-line and thin pillars which offer a refreshingly clear view outside whenever you’re reversing or performing over-the-shoulder checks. If you struggle to deal with cramped rear window arrangements like those found on the Hyundai Tucson or super-fat rear pillars like those on the Kia Sportage, driving a Forester will be somewhat of a revelation for you. There’s plenty of space in the back for up to 3 adults, while the only downsides we can spot back here is the very Japanese tradition of not including rear air-vents. Otherwise, it is a supremely comfortable place to be.
Press the button on the key-fob to raise the powered rear tailgate on the Forester and you’ll find a wide 442 litre load area in the back, although the floor level is a bit higher than we’d have liked. This is all due in part to the full-sized spare wheel housed beneath (essential for SUVs in our opinion), and also because of the space required underneath for Subaru’s all-wheel drive system. We wouldn’t like to lose either of those, so having to deal with a slightly higher boot floor is easily the best option here. There’s plenty of space anyway, and the back seats can be folded flat to increase the cargo space to 1472 litres if required.
Take a look under the bonnet and you’ll find Subaru’s punchy 2.5L 4-cylinder boxer engine, mustering 126kW of power and 235Nm of torque. The Forester 2.5i-S is available only with a CVT automatic gearbox, but it would have to be one of the best units we’ve ever tested. It works well with the engine to ensure you always have power when you need it, while being a smooth operator and keeping the engine at quieter lower RPM’s at all other times. If you don’t like the idea of a CVT, you can get a manual gearbox in the base Forester 2.0i-L or 2.5i-L models – but we do recommend that you try the CVT first, as we think you’ll come away feeling very surprised.
Subaru say they’ve made improvements to the steering, suspension and NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness) on the 2016 Forester – and it shows. Even at highway speeds or across poor road surfaces, the Forester remains comfortable, quiet and relaxed. We found the 2.5L boxer engine to be a willing performer, while the CVT automatic has two ‘intelligent’ and ‘sport’ driving modes, with the latter allowing the engine to rev at higher RPM’s for quicker power delivery when you put your foot down – and when you do, the familiar bark of Subaru’s boxer engine will make itself heard. Being based on the Impreza chassis and with the same low-mounted engine, it should come as no surprise that the Forester corners very well for an SUV, and overall we were very impressed with how it performed on test.
When the sun goes down, you’re in for a treat, too. The interior lighting inside the Forester looks amazing at night, with every button clearly backlit for easy operation. The new LED headlights are also a sight to behold, offering a razor sharp light output which rivals that of high end bi-xenon systems. The low-beam cut-off line is beautifully sharp, while flicking to high-beam removes the cut-off completely – resulting in intense light output which illuminates almost everything in your field of vision. The Forester easily has the best headlight setup we’ve experienced, and it is made even better by the fact that they’re ‘steering responsive’ – meaning they’ll turn left or right to match your steering output – illuminating the way around corners beautifully. Top marks, Subaru.
Another aspect of the Forester which gets the thumbs up from us is Subaru’s EyeSight system, which comes fitted to the 2.5i-S as standard. The twin EyeSight cameras located on either side of the centre rear vision mirror constantly scan the road ahead in an effort to keep you and your family safe. It performs multiple functions and will trigger warnings if it detects a car ahead has slowed down considerably and you haven’t, or if you’re drifting out of your lane. It’ll even autonomously brake and bring you to a stop if it detects you’re about to rear-end someone when travelling at 40km/h or under. Overall, we feel EyeSight is a fantastic system and it has the ability to make a meaningful difference to the amount of Subaru vehicles involved in rear-end style accidents, although we did find a small downside to it.
If you’re someone who drifts over the white lines occasionally in order to drive more smoothly – and I don’t mean drifting into oncoming traffic – the EyeSight system will pick up this behaviour and beep at you every single time. You’ll either get used to that and live with it, or change your driving style and follow your lane more rigidly – as you should I guess. We also found the system to be overly cautious on a few occasions, for example – when a car in front was slowing down to turn into a side street. Even though it was about 40m away, EyeSight flagged the vehicle and sounded a warning on the dash, even though as a skilled driver I knew it would be well out of the way by the time I got anywhere near it. All things said though, EyeSight is an important safety feature to have in the Forester and we’d rather have it than go without, as it is a potentially life saving piece of technology.
Overall we loved the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S and really didn’t want to hand the keys back once the test period was up. At around $43,663 drive-away, we felt it offered a compelling mix of technology and equipment, all wrapped up in a classy, quiet, and very comfortable interior. The Forester is also covered by Subaru’s 3-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, plus you can rest easy knowing it is based on sturdy and reliable Impreza underpinnings.
In summary, while some of its competitors are getting softer with each new generation, the Forester retains its “go anywhere” toughness and dependability. It excels as being a comfortable family SUV – and one which packs potentially life-saving technology. Subaru’s latest round of updates to the Forester have helped give it a more premium feel overall, and if you’re in the market for a family-friendly SUV it should be at the pointy end of your short-list.
Specifications: 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S
Price: $43,663 drive-away
Warranty: 3 years / Unlimited km
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol 126kW / 235Nm
Transmission: CVT automatic, all-wheel drive
Body: 4,595mm (L), 1,796mm (W), 1,732mm (H)
Weight: 1,495 – 1,656kg
Thirst: 8.1/100km official combined, 9.1L/100km as tested
Test Location: Queensland, Australia
Vehicle Supplied By: Llewellyn Motors