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NEARLY four years ago, Subaru’s unassuming and underrated Forester 2.5i-L emerged from the corner stalls to claim victory in our 2014 medium SUV Megatest. Dressed down in work-a-day threads, the Forester wowed us with its consummate all-round ability and its rather charming personality.
Little has changed in 2017, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Subaru has since upgraded the multimedia system and added the odd flicker of visual sparkle, yet this deeply pragmatic vehicle continues to fly in the face of all that glitters. The Forester is simply about mucking in and getting on with it.
It continues to set the medium SUV benchmark for ride comfort and all-round vision. Indeed, the Forester’s super-low cowl and beltline deliver a panoramic vista, while its superb ride is so far ahead of the next cushiest (the Escape), it’s in a league of its own. As rivals bumped, thumped, jostled and jiggled, the supple Subaru devoured everything beneath it with impervious control and unwavering calm.
If we had to pin-point a weakness, it’s the Forester’s middling level of tyre hum and wind rustle. But given that this is essentially a box on wheels pushing through air – almost as tall as it is wide – it’s more about sensing their presence than their offensiveness.
The benefit of the Subaru’s upright stature is highly effective passenger space. Decent front seats (with tilt-adjustable headrests) combine with an eminently supportive rear bench that, while lacking backrest-angle adjustment, gets all the fundamentals right to provide an airy, elevated environment. Despite its relatively short wheelbase, the upright Subaru provides plenty of room for most body types, and terrific entry and egress through wide-opening rear doors for parenty or elderly types. Its 422-litre boot is relatively small, however, in part owing to the full-size spare beneath.
Continuing the Forester’s theme of effortless operation is its drivetrain. A 2.5-litre flat-four engine and CVT transmission combination may seem deeply underwhelming, but the reality is a responsive, refined performer that ties with the turbocharged Tiguan for 80-120km/h class honours (6.8sec).
With a dedicated ‘M’ position (for ‘manual’) in its shift gate, and seven stepped ratios accessed via steering-wheel paddles, the Forester offers similarly effective engine braking to the RAV4. Yet unlike the Toyota, the Subaru accelerates without faux ratio steps limiting the effectiveness of its performance. With standard all-wheel drive, the Forester also has no problem putting its powertrain to good use, regardless of the surface.
In typical Subaru fashion, the Forester’s dynamics are quite low-key, communicating enough feedback to achieve easy-to-place cornering fluency, yet always with more chassis poise than tyre grip.
It rolls quite a bit, but it’s chuckable and confidence-inspiring, rewarding driver commitment with amusing handling (providing you don’t mind some howl from its all-season tyres running quite low recommended pressures). And if you want the peace-of-mind of Subaru’s comprehensive ‘Eyesight’ safety aids, add $4000 to the 2.5i-L’s competitive $33,240 list price, which delivers a package with a breadth of ability that sits right at the top of this competitor set.
So why has the humble Forrie slipped from grace? Blame the ageing process. Up against the razzle-dazzle of the new CX-5 and the slick proficiency of the Tiguan, the four-year-old Forester simply has neither the wow factor or quite the refinement to eyeball its fiercest rivals. And alongside the superb-handling Escape, the Forester’s more subdued abilities just edge it back a notch.
But what a deeply admirable thing the Forester is. If you champion function over form and lament the loss of great ride quality in modern cars, then welcome to Subaru country, where the weather’s always fine.
Model: 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i-L
Engine: 2498cc flat 4, sohc, 16v
Max Power: 126kW @ 5800rpm
Max Torque: 235Nm @ 4100rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel economy: 11.8L/100km (tested)
On sale: Now
Medium-size SUV Megatest Contenders
9th, Score 2/10: 2018 Haval H6 Premium review
8th, Score 5/10: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LS review
7th, Score 6/10: 2018 Toyota RAV4 GXL review
6th, Score 6.5/10: 2018 Hyundai Tucson Active X review
5th, Score 7/10: 2018 Kia Sportage SLi review
4th, Score 7.5/10: 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i-L review
3RD PLACE, Score 7.5/10: 2018 Ford Escape Trend review
2ND PLACE, Score 8/10: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Trendline review
1ST PLACE, Score 8/10: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport review