THE recent unveiling of the fifth-generation Subaru Forester at the New York motor show raised a question perhaps as important as those it answered: specifically, why no turbocharged flat-four?
It’s hard to overlook the enthusiasts’ point of view. How many fourth-gen Forester XT owners will be willing to trade their 2.0-litre 177kW/350Nm turbo SUVs and settle for a new model that’s at least 50kg heavier and produces 136kW and 239Nm? Not forgetting the new Forester’s FA25 direct-injection 2.5-litre flat four makes its peak torque figure at a relatively peaky 4400rpm, way higher than where the old turbo engine generates peak twist.
Fourth-gen Forester XT engine
Subaru pretty much pioneered the performance-SUV genre with the Forester GT back in the late ‘90s (essentially a WRX powertrain in a high-riding, trail-capable package) and has not deviated significantly from the strategy until now.
Putting aside the disappointment of enthusiast customers for a second, we need to question how Subaru is going to meet tougher consumption and emission regulations in the form of Euro-7 compliance due in 2021 with an atmo engine in a circa-1600kg SUV.
We don’t yet have an official consumption figure for the fifth-gen car that’s due in Australia in September, but even if it improves slightly on the current number of 8.1L/100km, that’s unlikely to cut it in the face of tougher CO2 legislation, even with the addition of a plug-in hybrid joining the line-up sometime in 2019.
Subaru's FA25 as fitted to the USDM 2019 Subaru Ascent
Wheels sat with Mr Tomoyuki Nunome, project manager of the fifth-gen Forester (along with the Mr Toru Ozeki who led design) at the New York motor show and asked why the new 2.4-litre turbo-petrol flat four (as fitted to the US-market seven-seater Ascent SUV ) was not part of the line-up for the new model.
The response, through an interpreter, was that the atmo 2.5-litre was deemed entirely appropriate for both the performance parameters and the target market. The turbo engine, we were told, was not necessary. When pushed about tighter emissions standards, and the need to reinvigorate a model during the course of its life, Mr Nunome simply declined to comment on future product plans.
The take-out from this? It would seem that perhaps reasons of hierarchy are why the new turbocharged 2.4-litre engine, which makes 194kW and 376Nm in the Subaru Ascent (above), is being reserved for the large SUV. Will a lower-boost version, tuned for even sharper economy, make it under the bonnet of the new Forester some time after the plug-in Hybrid is launched? We think so. And we hope so.