I’LL concede it’s entirely possible the new fifth-gen Subaru Forester is no great fan of my exterior styling. So yes, our feelings toward each other may be completely mutual.
In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Forester’s Eyesight camera recognition system scanned my face for the first time, and the software basically translated this to: “You’re kidding! I’ve got to look at this every day for the next six months?”
Sorry, pal, but arranged marriages often don’t ignite with a passionate flame. It’s said that women fall in love via their ears and men fall in love via their eyes. So maybe it’s not pathetically shallow of me to admit that the biggest hurdle from the outset for me bonding with the Forester is the look of it. Maybe I’m genetically programmed to feel this way.
The tall-boy roofline, those contrived sliced-segment tail-lights … it just looks a bit ungainly to my eye, so my first mission is to attempt to get past this and seek out the virtues that took it to the pointy end of COTY late last year.
Because what would I know? The sales success of the Forester would indicate I’m solidly outnumbered here. It’s unequivocally more popular than I am. I’ve amassed a few thousand views for my online content published this year, while the Forester has netted approximately $64m worth of retail sales in the first two months of 2019 alone. It’s currently Australia’s top-selling AWD soft-roader, and regular readers may remember that it triumphed over three rivals (Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan) in our November 2018 comparison.
I sure can’t moan that I’ve been short-changed in terms of spec. Mine is the range-topping 2.5i-S, which, over the Premium model below it, adds leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio with subwoofer, and additional mud/snow modes for the X-Mode off-road-drive program. It will be a challenge to get down and dirty to evaluate the true benefit of these latter two, but I’ll try.
What should be easier is making a call on whether the extra $3000 my S model charges over the Premium is money well spent. (Never mind the fact that I reckon the naming convention for these two is about-face. Shouldn’t Premium be the range-topper?)
Anyway, early niggles are minor. I’d appreciate more under-thigh support from the driver’s seat, and the steering has a tiny dead spot either side of centre. Countering this is the visibility, cabin space, absorbent ride and useful driver aids. As for the engine, that’s like the old footy adage – a game of two halves, which we’ll kick off next month.
PLENTY of us with a taste for fast and nasty motorcycles would argue there’s never a bad day to buy one. My partner, on the other hand, has no such affiliation, so she did mount a case that this particular day wasn’t exactly ideal to be throwing a leg over an unfamiliar 125kW crotch rocket for a 50km ride home.
Sydney skies were chucking it down, and the barometer in our neighbourhood – a vast storm water drain we can see from our back balcony (“water views!” claimed the agent) – was a brimming torrent, clearly at max capacity. My partner was mouthing words that I would later learn were to do with road closures and dangerous standing water and leaving it for another day, but all I could hear was, “blah blah blah … Italian V4 … Sachs suspension … every carbonfibre option … won’t last at this price …”
So Ana just rolled her eyes and settled into the Subie’s passenger seat, agreeing to drive it home after I’d sealed the deal on the bike. The seller was on a tight time frame, so I hustled as quickly as I dared as cats and dogs and even the odd sodden pigeon tumbled from the skies. As the wipers tried their best to clear the deluge, I took a moment to grudgingly acknowledge that yes, all-wheel drive can occasionally be genuinely beneficial.
The Forester’s 18-inch Bridgestone Duelers are not exactly limpet impersonators in the wet, but they do telegraph their modest limits with a decent degree of clarity. It’s the AWD system that really took most of my attention, though. Subaru is a bit unusual in insisting on a set-up that delivers a near-constant 50-50 front-to-rear torque split in normal driving, rather than an on-demand system favoured by many manufacturers. The theoretical downside of constantly driving both ends of the car is fuel consumption, but clearly Subaru says bollocks to that, and obviously believes that the consumption penalty is worth it for not having to wait that millisecond for slip to be recognised and for drive to be apportioned to the end in need.
The Forester’s traction is outstanding. You can monster the throttle and it just gets the torque down to the road with barely a flicker of the ESC light.
It was still belting down after doing the deal on the bike, so as my partner slipped behind the wheel for the drive home, I took some solace in the fact she was driving an SUV with such accomplished wet-weather performance. She grew up in the São Paulo suburb right next to where Ayrton Senna was raised, but sadly doesn’t quite have his mastery in the rain.
Release the hounds
This Subie’s gone to the dogs, and everyone’s happy about it.
Please go ahead and award yourself one RocKwiz bonus point if you’ve even heard of the Fauves, an Aussie four-piece formed in Victoria in the late ’80s. The Fauves are still together, but yet to top the modest success of their minor radio hit of 1996; a track I still believe to be something of a definitive social commentary regarding the messed-up realities of the modern world. Its title? ‘Dogs are the Best People’.
Okay, it’s not a song of huge lyrical depth; it’s really more of a catchy rock ditty set to crunching guitars and a propulsive bass hook, but certain lines really resonate with me: “His love comes free and unconditionally / …he never lied to me once / he never flaunted my trust…”
Dogs have been a big part of my life since childhood, but these days, apartment living and work travel don’t make dog ownership possible, so there tends to be a canine-sized void in my existence. To help fill it, I often spend time with dogs belonging to other people, but mostly with dogs who belong to no-one.
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Each Saturday, my partner and I drive to our local dog rescue shelter (doggierescue.com, if you’d like to make a donation) and walk a couple of the 70 or so hopeful souls there. This is mostly satisfying and enjoyable, although occasionally heart-wrenching when one decides he ain’t going back, so locks the parking brake on the hind legs and fixes you with those “adopt me NOW!” eyes.
Anyway, dogs at the shelter often need transporting to various events, so no long-termer can truly be considered to have fully slotted into our family unless it passes the doggo-Uber test.
Now, we all know dogs tend not to be too picky about these things – I’m pretty sure I could turn up in a Panzer tank and I’d still be swamped by panting, wagging mutts pirouetting hot laps of excitement at the prospect of an outing – but the Forester does ace two important criteria.
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Firstly, the chassis tune delivers real ride comfort. Whether the doggos want to do a bit of open-window surfing, or just take a nap in the footwell, I reckon all of them appreciate an SUV that breathes with the road and blots up the bumps. The Subie is the master of this; a fact brought into even sharper focus recently in our five-SUV comparo (Wheels, June.) The new Toyota RAV4 may have gotten the nod overall, but the Forester is even better when it comes to easy-riding, unstressed passage over bumpy bitumen.
Second criterion – and stay with me on this one – is a quality sound system. Occasionally we’ll have a dog on board who’s over-excited, or stressed, so one sure-fire way to chill them out is to crank up a bit of late-’90s deep house, with some soothing female vocals and a rich, velvety rhythm section.
The Forester’s Harman/Kardon system, with its 10-inch subwoofer mounted in the cargo compartment, fills the cabin with the aural equivalent of canine Valium. The Fauves may consider me an Oz-rock sell-out, but it does give peace a chance.
MAY BE ON my own here, but I always find it both curious and pointless when the pilot of a commercial aircraft insists on sharing the flight plan with the passengers over the PA: “Folks, we’re going to take off in a southerly direction from the eastern runway, before hooking starboard over Wollongong, and making our way down the coast…”
Is this really useful to anyone? Has anyone ever piped up and said, “What? Over Wollongong? That’s the long way, you muppet, terrible choice…”
We all know where we’re supposed to be landing, so surely that’s all that matters? As well as interrupting the in-flight entertainment, it’s really just more extraneous information in an age that seems to thrive on over-sharing.
I’m reminded of this each time I jump in the Forester. This may sound trivial, but I reckon the info section between the gauges and the separate info display on the centre of the dashtop could benefit from a serious simplification overhaul. It’s a case of excessive-info syndrome: too many little icons, many displayed in a crowded, unintuitive layout.
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Meanwhile, the upper-centre display provides no fewer than seven possible pages of info, several of which have me asking, “why?”. The ‘time and date’ page is just one example of duplication. The time is already displayed in the top left corner, so why would I want to call up a digital rendering of an analogue clock? Further, the 6.5-inch colour touchscreen is bright, clear and responsive, and does a fine job of showing what radio band and station I’m tuned to, so why do I need the option to duplicate this info in the display above?
It all feels a bit gimmicky, which is out of step with the rest of the design ethos that otherwise permeates the Forester. This car feels refreshingly unfashionable; a rejection of aesthetic trends that compromise practicality.
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It’s boxy because that’s the best way to provide rear occupants with adequate headroom. There are no thick, swooping C-pillars because that would impede rear-three-quarter vision. Likewise at the front: the A-pillars are comparatively narrow and the small, fixed front-quarter windows reduce your chances of snotting a pedestrian who may otherwise be obscured by the Harbour Bridge pylons used by other manufacturers.
So what about the EyeSight and Driver Focus systems? Via dual forward-facing cameras either side of the rear-view mirror, along with a dash-mounted infra-red camera pointed at the driver, the combined system claims to deliver both user-convenience and driver-monitoring safety benefits.
I’m not sold on the convenience thing, as the ‘benefits’ amount to it displaying “Hello Ash!” as it adjusts the seat and mirrors to my driving position. There’s already a two-position seat-memory button, so I’m calling this one out as bloatware. But monitoring the driver’s eyes, and giving a little cricket-chirp alert if they stray from the road, is genuinely useful. And useful info in this over-info’d age is to be applauded. Now, please return your seat to its upright position; we’re about to land … somewhere.
Avoiding flat chat: Silence-keep assis: unofficial app of dependable Subie
- Price as tested: $41,940
- This month: 476km @ 10.3L/100km
If there’s one thing that fills me with terror on a road trip, it’s the thought of having to sustain conversation for hours on end. To mitigate any possibility of this nightmare scenario, I always make sure I have a failsafe back-up plan for music sources. In the Forester there’s the DAB radio, of course, and my phone is plugged in to provide Spotify via CarPlay. But just in case the Telstra network melts down, Chernobyl style, I also keep my trusty iPod Classic plugged into the auxiliary port.
Then I remembered the two small red LED lights on the Forester’s centre stack, there to highlight the CD slot – yet another music source! I’d been remiss in not bothering to assess this quaint laser-based relic that dates back to the ’80s, so to redress this, I’d stashed a handful of ’90s banger discs in the glovebox.
As my partner and I headed south for a weekend away on the coast, I felt comfortable that the music situation was well in hand, and there’d be no awkward silences, or protracted chats about our ‘future as a couple’.
As we settled into a hushed highway cruise, I unclipped a gleaming disc from its case, only to be met with a surprised look from my partner, as if I’d just put on a trilby hat. “Gosh – feeling a bit retro, are we?” she asked.
Fact is, the Forester’s CD player sounds fantastic – it destroys DAB radio and Spotify for fidelity – but it did make me wonder: if yesterday’s state-of the-art digital music storage format is today’s shiny, acrylic-disc landfill, how future-proofed is the fifth-gen Forester?
In terms of safety systems, I’d say brilliantly. I always kept the lane-keep assist switched off, but otherwise the driver aids worked well, with the blindspot warning both bright and intelligent in its judgement. The cross-traffic alert has been continually useful, and having AEB for reverse did actually save me from contact with a low post one night while squeezing into a tight spot.
But it was the powertrain’s slight lack of sparkle that was the one core element that stops me short of full effusiveness for the Forester, and it’s this that will be addressed with the e-Boxer powertrain set to become available early next year.
This hybrid set-up pairs a 110kW/188Nm 2.0-litre flat-four with a rear-mounted 10kW/65Nm motor powered by a 13.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It’s a conventional hybrid, like the RAV4, not a plug-in, but according to overseas reports, it makes a significant difference to three key areas: low-speed responsiveness, quietness, and reduced consumption.
They’re the Forester’s three slight Achilles, so good work, Subie. On the latter, particularly, I’d have to say my experience was acceptable, rather than brilliant. Our average consumption, very heavily urban biased, was 10.3L/100km, which is 28 percent above the 7.4L/100km ADR combined-cycle figure. The car’s comfortable urban range was around 480km per tank, but we easily added another 100km on the highway, which was plenty.
The bigger ownership cost, of course, is depreciation, but it’s here that the Forester is a strong performer. Now, this info differs depending on the source, and is far from watertight, but financial services group Canstar rates the Subie one of its top five depreciation beaters, losing between 24 and 31 percent in the first three years. So if we were to assume I owned the car for that period, and we took 30 percent as our number, and assumed depreciation was on a linear scale (which we know it’s not, but never mind) it would lose $13,500 of its (haggled) driveaway price of around $45,000. That averages out to $4500 per year, which puts Forester owner comfortably ahead of those with less robust depreciators that carry a similar driveaway price.
So as the Forester rolls out of the Wheels garage for the last time, it will go down as probably the greatest slow-burn long-termer I’ve run, wedging its way into our affections via its mostly thoughtful design, brilliant visibility, pliant ride, and generally versatile, super-likeable nature. And a quality audio system that makes conversation highly overrated.