First drives: Subaru Forester

The new Subaru Forester cuts a familiar face in more ways than one.

While it's a new vehicle from the ground up, the overall design is an evolution rather than revolution, and the drivetrain is the familiar boxer flat four, although Subaru says it is 90% new. However, the latest electronics, safety and infotainment features have leapt forward to a point where they even recognise a familiar face – but more about that later.

Built on the latest Subaru global platform, size-wise the new Forester is bigger than ever before. In fact it's bigger than a second generation Outback in almost every dimension.

Inside there's more space than ever and you really do feel it. The high driving position and large glass areas increase your overall visibility. While all passengers get more space in every area, it's the cargo hold that looks significantly bigger, particularly the width between the wheel arches. The electric tailgate also opens and closes faster than the previous model. Materials, fit and finish have also moved to a more premium look. An electric park brake and hill-hold assist are standard across the range.

All models except 2.5i use a facial recognition system which Subaru calls 'driver focus' – Driver Monitoring System (DMS). Depending on the specific model, it can put the seat, climate-control, external mirror and instrument settings all exactly as you like them. The new Forester can store up to five drivers and recognises the diver when you sit in the driver's seat. It can also monitor for driver distraction or drowsiness. ANCAP is yet to release a safety rating for the Forester.

In my view the Forester is without peer off-road in the mid-size SUV category. Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system constantly drives all four wheels, unlike almost all other SUVs which use an on demand system. Ground clearance is class-leading and Subaru's X-Mode allows maximum traction and hill descent control to set it apart from the pack. The 2.5i-S has a two-mode system allowing mud/snow selection, which allows the engine to generate maximum torque, allowing the wheels to spin a little to get the vehicle moving. It handles all-road surfaces, both sealed and dirt, with a minimum of fuss and provides a comfortable and insulated ride.

If you were looking for a diesel option then you might need to look elsewhere. All four variants in the range feature the revised 2.5L petrol engine coupled exclusively with a CVT auto featuring a seven-speed 'manual mode'. The new engine increases power 7.9% to 136kW while torque is marginally increased to 239Nm and works well with CVT, using a stepping system rather than the 'elastic' sensation some provide. Forester is choc-full of safety features, including EyeSight forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control and lane change assist, with the monitor for the system displayed in front of you on the windscreen. Also displayed are lane-sway and departure warnings and adaptive cruise control information.

Steering response headlights follow the direction of the steering wheel and all models excluding the entry level 2.5i get adaptive driving beam, which adjusts the brightness, and high beam range controlled by the EyeSight cameras. New to Forester is lane keep assist. EyeSight also has a brake light recognition system that works in conjunction with the adaptive cruise control. Up-spec models also get a side view monitor camera for the LHS of the vehicle and reverse automatic braking to hopefully eliminate or reduce the impact of those car park reversing incidents.

Per capita there are more Foresters on the road in Tasmania than anywhere else in the country, so over the 21 years and four generations of previous models we have loved Forester. Times have changed and there are now more competitors in the crowded mid-sized SUV segment than ever before, but the new Forester gives you plenty of reasons to get it on your shortlist.

- Darren Moody

Published in the Dec/Jan 2019 issue of Journeys