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2015 Subaru Forester 2.0D-L long-term review

By Stephen Corby, 31 Jan 2016 Reviews

Subaru Forester Diesel

Corby brings home the most sensible of Subaru’s medium SUVs, and finds it more attractive than its faster sister

IT'S not every day that a dark-haired version of Catweazle – he was like a cross between a 1970s hipster and Merlin who starred in a TV show back in the dark ages; YouTube it, you’ll be alarmed – runs up to you at a red light, bangs on your window and then barks out of his beard: “Hey! How is the DIESEL? I’ve got the petrol VERSION, parked right back there and I just wanted to know.”

I was parked in my new MY15 Subaru Forester (yes, it does look a lot like my old one that went back three months ago, but I like blue) at one of the busiest intersections in Sydney, and if Wild Eyed Man didn’t get back in his Subaru quickly there’d be carnage behind us, so I had to be brief.

Subaru -forester -embed -wheels

“It’s brilliant. Buy one. And then get a haircut,” I shouted, before being set free by a green light.

My switch from a petrol version to the newly upgraded 2.0D-L CVT diesel means I get a new infotainment system. This human/screen interface should not be glossed over because it’s a gigantic leap forward for Subaru, which has long treated the whole centre console and stereo system as The Land That Time Forgot. Straight away, the nifty touchscreen made me feel better about my new Forester.

In just a few weeks the diesel has made me even happier because I now like to drive past service stations, giggling and waving. The previous XT Premium Forester’s biggest, and perhaps only, failing was its fuel economy, using around 12 litres every 100km. The diesel still drinks a bit around town, but nowhere near as much, averaging around 9L/100km. Take it for a long-legged lope down the highway and you’re suddenly getting 7L/100km, and damn near 1000km from a tank.

Subaru -forester -diesel -pump

All the things we loved about our last Forester remain familiarly joyous – cabin space, big boot, windows the kids can actually see out of, Quartz Blue Pearl paint – but the diesel is a better experience all round.

Except for the noise. While modern, expensive Euro diesels are little noisier than petrol versions, the Subaru’s unit does rattle and clatter a bit. I may get used to it, and of course it’s not a sports car, but the turbo-petrol flat four sure sounded more exciting.

On a final and rather significant upside, this diesel Forester is $15,000 cheaper, despite feeling somewhat newer inside. Throw in the savings on fuel and this has to be the one you’d buy. Which is what I told Catweazle.

Fight for the right

PEOPLE used to complain about stinky diesel pumps and how being forced to use them made you feel like a social pariah, with hands that smelled like a truckie’s, but I can’t say I’ve ever found that a problem. What is a challenge is that nearly all servos have only one diesel pump, and with the oily fuel’s increasing popularity this often involves having to queue up. Fortunately, we wise old diesel users don’t have to fill up very often, otherwise there’d be forecourt rage for sure.

UPDATE#1

By Stephen Corby

WHO knew being rammed up the backside could be such a revelation? Incredibly, despite having been licensed to drive since before Bieber was born, I’ve never been Liberaced, which is surely good luck rather than good management. Even F1 drivers don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads.

But on a busy holiday-weekend Friday, attempting to escape Sydney with my family on board the trusty Forester, I was suddenly and shuntingly bunted from behind.

The initial reaction was, of course, utter shock, because I hadn’t braked suddenly or done anything to deserve a good rear-ending, and also because I just couldn’t believe the force of the impact put through the car, and my back in particular. If I was American I would have rolled out onto the pavement clutching my neck immediately.

Subaru -Forester -driving -interiorSadly, I had kids in the car, one of whom – my three-year-old daughter, who can sleep through anything, except the night – wasn’t even woken by the crash, so I had to avoid swearing loudly, which took Herculean restraint.

I was already formulating a great diatribe on stupidity and the necessity of driving with one’s effing eyes effing open as I leapt from the car. My wife tells me the look of fury on my face was alarming; like Joe Hockey being confronted by someone on minimum wage. Possibly worse.

Most of my bluster was blunted, however, by the look of contrition and confusion on the face of the middle-aged mum climbing out of a battered red Mitsubishi Magna, her hands up in “don’t shoot” fashion.

Subaru -Forester -Boxer -Diesel -SideSomething about her, and her car, told me this wasn’t her first arse-ramming. Swallowing my bile, briefly, I turned to my Subaru’s rear flanks for that horrible moment of drinking in the damage… and was stunned beyond belief. Not a dent, not a scratch, not even a smear of her red paint.

How is this possible? I know modern cars have deformable bumpers designed to magically pop back out after low-speed impacts, but I thought they were a bit like fairies – nice in theory, but a bit thin on the ground. Now I’m a believer, and my belief that the Forester is one tough-as-teak tank is only stronger.

Forget the Hilux, all hail my Unbreakable Subaru Forester.

Better obscene than heard

I’M REALLY starting to love this car, except for the diesel rattle, which still bothers me. It’s better than diesels used to be, but there’s just no joy in it. When you put your foot down in a car you want a happy sound, as well as a surge forward, but a diesel like this only moans about the effort. Still, our long-ish journey saw us dipping as low as 6.3L/100km on the highway, so it’s a long time between dealing with diesel fumes at the servo.

Update #2

By Stephen Corby

THE ironic thing is that I would laugh at someone who ignored a warning light on their dash and kept driving right off the face of the planet as a damn fool.

History is awash with stories of people, some of them women, who kept pootling about in their cars despite a red oil light warning of impending thermo car-killer disaster, and yet when an icon flashed up on the dash of my Subaru Forester I was more bemused than befuddled.

2015 Subaru Forester 2.0D L

Much as I’m loath to admit it, my refusal to engage with instruction manuals of any kind (I figure industrial designers are paid a fortune to make such things effectively redundant, because they understand that only a small percentage of people will read them) can be problematic.

In my defence, warning lights are generally self-explanatory, but this one looked like the symbol you might find in a European bathroom explaining what a bidet does, only laid on its side. Or perhaps one of those emoticons that lazy, illiterate people love.

READ MORE: 2016-2018 Subaru Forester Range Review

Admitting that I was beaten, the manual told me that this was the Diesel Particulate Filter Warning Light, which warns you when the filter is not able to burn the soot and particulate matter that has accumulated and the built-up crud exceeds a specific limit.

Because my wife was reading this to me, and I may have been shouting at her, we might have missed the distinction between the light being on (continue to drive carefully, drive at certain revs for 15 minutes for burn treatment) and the light flashing (go directly to your Subaru dealer).

Subaru -Forester -dials

To cut a slightly embarrassing story short, the dealer advised that it was merely

“a precautionary oil dilution warning light, which can come on sometimes if diesel cars have been used on a lot of short journeys”.

This would make sense because the Forester does do a lot of short journeys (I didn’t realise this was a potential problem) except that when it came on I’d just returned from a 2000km trip down the coast, during which I thoroughly enjoyed the car, its utility and its fuel economy in particular.

READ NEXT: 2019 Subaru Forester Range Review

The only bummer with the diesel (before this whole palaver) is the agricultural tone, which still bothered me when climbing a winding mountain road, but for 80 percent of a long journey it’s quiet enough that you forget about it.

To be honest, I still can’t decide whether I’d buy the diesel or petrol Forester, although I seriously would consider one of them as a family car if I wasn’t such a prima donna, but the value equation with this diesel is tipping me in its direction.

Strawberry Sunday 

WHAT is it about Foresters and vomit? I’d just flown up the Clyde Mountain out of Batemans Bay and on reaching the end of the hairpins was congratulating myself on having kids who can cope with enthusiastic cornering. Then my four-year-old daughter said she felt sick and I, like a fool, just advised her to drink some water. Seconds later half a punnet of strawberries had expelled from her throat. I still feel sick just thinking about wiping it up. So it’s 1-all for vomit between the petrol and diesel versions.

Update #3

By Stephen Corby

I FEEL I really should apologise to my trusty Forester, which has become a more beloved part of our family than our clingy cat or the freakishly infuriating Furby we mistakenly bought our daughter, because I shouldn’t have doubted it.

A recent trip to the Blue Mountains for a wedding meant packing not only a weekend’s worth of crap and one of the world’s least-utilised suits, but also a grandmother to look after our two banned-from-nuptials offspring.

Subaru Forester diesel

I had presumed that going five-up would be too much of an ask for the plucky Subaru’s cabin, with its tricky, roof-mounted centre-rear seatbelt set-up and ever so slightly squeezy ambience.

In my mind, the hilariously optimistically named Honda Accord Sport Hybrid parked outside my house, with people occasionally clustered around it to point and laugh at its ocean-blue plastic highlights and mock its absurd $57,000 pricetag, was a better option.

Built tough: We crach a Subaru Forester with ANCAP

Obviously I’d be more likely to buy a “We Shall Overcomb” Donald Trump mural for the front of my house than I would this weird and sonically challenging vehicle, but it did seem nice, spacious and, particularly compared to my hard-working Subaru, clean inside.

It took about half a nanosecond to change my mind, of course, once I lifted the boot to evaluate the load space and found it largely taken up by batteries (the rear seats don’t fold down, either; not that it would have been an option here).

Subaru -Forester -Long -term -test -rear

As I say, I should never have doubted the Forester, which swallowed all 18 of the outfits my wife decided to take so that she could make up her mind what to wear at the last possible moment, the 12 layers of clothing my mother insisted on bringing for each child, and my suit bag, which was literally the only thing I was allowed to pack.

The gear was stacked almost to my rear-view eyeline, but I could still see enough to feel like a responsible road user.

The climb to Katoomba from Sydney is a constant one, with plenty of bends and twists and nicely surfaced tarmac, now that the roadwork that has been going on in the area for what feels like 10 years has finally finished, and the Subaru fairly flew up the hills.

2015 Subaru Forester

I really do never tire of the Forester’s steering and chassis, which are better than they need to be in a car like this. But the more time goes on the more I am tiring of the diesel grumble, particularly after a recent steer of the new Audi Q7, which shows how quiet a modern oil-burner can be (though you need to spend a lot more to find out).

Don’t ask me how I know this, but the clatter of a diesel has a particular dissonance that can really disturb the quietude of someone with a hangover as well.

Perhaps most impressively, though, no one other than me had any complaints at all, including the three who sat abreast in the rear. Eight-year-olds, it turns out, don’t need that much leg or hip room, particularly when they’re falling asleep on their grandmother’s shoulder anyway.

Camera shy

Is there any feature more over-rated than a reversing camera without beeps? Perhaps it’s because, much like Donald Trump, I simply refuse to believe what they’re telling me, but I managed to lightly tap another car the other day when parking, which simply wouldn’t have happened if I had just the beepers in the rear bumper instead of the camera.

Subaru -Forester -reversing -camera

Yes, apparently they save little lives, but on their own cameras are more annoying than useful; give me the machine that goes “beeeeep” any day.

Update #4

By Stephen Corby

AS THE sideways-bidet/angry-fat-man-whistling warning light leapt back into life on the Forester last week, I did start to wonder whether diesel ownership was worth it.

I had already been wondering about this after writing a story about real-world tests of diesel emissions conducted in the UK that suggested some car companies might just be gaming the system, and allowing their cars to spew forth dangerous poisons and lung-cutting crap. And then, almost freakishly, the Volkswagen thing happened, and staff in the Wheels office were calling to ask if I could give them next week’s Lotto numbers.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that Subaru has done anything dirty with its diesel engines – to be honest, theirs don’t seem technologically advanced enough to be fitted with ‘defeat devices’ – but the more I read about particulates and nitrogen-dioxide, the less I think I could justify actually buying any diesel car.

Subaru -Forester -front

Putting aside my selfless care for the health and welfare of others for a moment, diesels just don’t seem to suit my lifestyle.

Regular readers will recall that the “precautionary oil dilution warning light” had blighted me before (see Garage, Oct) and was apparently being caused by my taking the car on a lot of short journeys. I’m guessing I’m not the only school-running, soccer-mom parent who spends most of their lives doing short trips.

READ NEXT: What are the best baby-friendly cars?

What’s worrying about the light is that the owner’s manual says it’s okay if it just lights up but that I should panic and seek a dealer if it flashes, yet Subaru told me last time I did so to stop being such a worry wart. As an actual owner, however, I think I’d be deeply disturbed by this, and be feeling compelled to go for more long drives in the country to sort out my diesel engine.

The real problem for me, of course, is the noise – the clattery, rattly, wheezy diesel whine under acceleration and at start-up – which really didn’t bother me that much for the first few months, but now gets under my skin each time I step out of a petrol car and back into the trusty (and much beloved by my family) Forester.

2015 Subaru Forester

Of course, as a neighbour pointed out the other day (while weeping on my shoulder about his resale value after buying two new Skoda diesels just before the VW scandal broke), you do get great fuel economy. My previous petrol Forester was doing its very best to get 12L/100km, while the diesel is 25 to 30 percent better, with the advantage really coming into its own if you do a lot of long trips.

Perhaps I could live with a more modern and refined VW Group diesel, like the brilliantly smooth one found in the new Audi Q7, but knowing what I now know about emissions and the evil that car-company men do, I probably wouldn’t, even if I did have next week’s Lotto numbers.

EXPLAINED: Subaru X Mode

I know that in my first report after switching from the petrol Forester to the diesel, I said that this was clearly the one you’d buy, but that’s the whole reason we run long-term cars; to see what they’re like to live with. While my diesel is a bargain at $35,490 and my flashier Premium Forester was $50,490, I’d have to say the joy of petrol would almost make the price differential worth it.

Engine (and gearbox) aside, though, the Forester has absolutely charmed me, with its much improved interior, excellent bicycle-swallowing utility, involving handling and steering, and general just-rightness.

In the final analysis, if I had to buy one Forester or the other, I wouldn’t – I’d buy a WRX, or just wait until next year for the awfully named Levorg.

CVT rivals a politician for shiftiness

IT IS truly remarkable how some things that don’t annoy you at first can drive you to mouth-frothing frenzy after a while, which may well be how the Australian public feels about the currently beloved Malcolm Turnbull in a few months. Turnbull, though, isn’t as droning, shifty and unsatisfying as a CVT gearbox, or at least not quite.

Subaru -Forester -automatic -gearbox

I’ve tried to warm to this supposedly very clever technology, and I admit it’s nifty and saves fuel — and thus, in the case of a diesel, perhaps even some nasty emissions — but there’s simply no joy in it.

Revving an engine through the gears is one of the most basic and pure joys of motoring, and replacing that sensation with a system that simply whirrs slowly to 3000rpm and sits there, humming to itself like a simpleton (or a politician) is simply not satisfying.Give me a manual-gearbox Subaru any day.