New to Wheels Car of the Year?
Read the COTY 101.
This article was first published in Wheels February 2019
Like your favourite local pizzeria, the Forester, by little ol‘ Subaru, has long been both a big crowd pleaser and a cut above most of the larger multinationals’ fare, regularly winning comparos with quality engineering and packaging smarts.
That’s mighty impressive given that, until now, the medium-SUV’s bones dated back to the first Liberty/Legacy of 1989. Obviously, each redesign in the series’ 22-year history has kept pace and evolved, culminating in the previous version’s impressive pricing, specification and economy – the latter aided by a switch to a CVT auto.
This time the Japanese have gone all out, with the spanking-new ‘Subaru Global Platform’. The recipe might be much the same – just try to differentiate old and new Forester at first glance – but the ingredients have created something special.
Let’s start with value. While there are no manuals (or turbos, for now), thus raising the base price by over $3K, what’s included from $33,490 does lift class standards – a 2.5-litre boxer petrol engine driving all four wheels via an equally fresh auto, for example, as well as AEB, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic and adaptive LED headlights, digital radio, CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, 17-inch alloys and tyre-pressure monitors.
Add acres of space for five, a sizeable cargo area with a flat floor (the upshot of a body that’s now 15mm longer, 20mm wider and accompanied by a 30mm wheelbase stretch), better all-round vision due to deeper windows, thinner pillars and a low dash cowl, a fine driving position and simple controls, and you can see why, as one judge put it: “that base Forester is all you need.” Indeed.
Read next: 2019 Subaru Forester pricing and features
The ever-so-slightly more powerful (by 10kW/4Nm) fifth-gen Forester is also a tad heavier than before, but considering how much larger and better equipped it is, the circa-10 percent fuel-consumption fall highlights further efficiency gains, which is important in a family SUV like this.
It’s not just for misers, either. Keener drivers will appreciate the fine line the steering straddles between lightness, feel and feedback, making the most of a chassis offering unshakeable poise and grip. And everyone in the vehicle will marvel at the softly sprung, long-travel suspension’s almost supernatural trick of soaking up the rough stuff without making occupants feel woozy with excessive bodyroll. Premium SUVs costing thrice the price cannot replicate such suppleness.
Whether maintaining a cool and calm attitude at high speed on the durability circuit, sliding along with figure-skating grace over gravel and dirt, or glued to the bitumen in belting rain, the sweet-handling Subaru garners respect and admiration through its sheer, relaxed control.
Perhaps that’s why most judges felt that the 136kW of power and 239Nm of torque provided by the 90 percent-new naturally aspirated boxer aren’t enough for a tremendously capable chassis that’s crying out for more oomph.
Even the superbly tuned CVT and its ability to provide precisely the right band of ratios with minimal lag and tolerable droning cannot mask the Subaru’s unremarkable performance. Don’t get us wrong, with sufficient smoothness off the mark and more-than-reasonable throttle response in the mid-range, the 2.5 can be deceptively quick point-to-point, but a bit more muscle would not go astray.
Read next: Subaru Forester: which spec is best
A three-year warranty also falls short, although at least there are now 12-month rather than six-month service intervals.
We’d suggest Subaru needs to quieten noise intrusion, fit shapelier back-seat cushions and devise a less-complicated dashboard for the facelift. Otherwise, there’s little to fault and much to savour in the fiercely fit Forester. Even if you like your pizzas Margherita-basic, you still get the lot here. Dig in.