First, an admission. I’m no fan of the SUV. The vast majority are used by people who think they’re safer than a ‘normal’ sedan or station wagon. Sure, you can see better out of them – except in reverse. But they’re top-heavy, gas-guzzling behemoths, wasteful of space and resources.
So when David threw me the keys to the Subaru Forester I gritted my teeth. Dave told me he quite liked it and would buy one, which, on top of his pro-Jaguar leanings worried me somewhat.
Within an hour, I was in agreement. The Subaru Forester is not an exciting car. It’s not flashy, sporty or full of luxury doodads. It’s simply a smooth, comfortable, quiet car that goes about its business with no fuss.
Futhermore, as a Subaru, it has good off-road credentials; the four wheel drive system is full-time and combines well with this car’s CVT and 2.5 litre petrol flat-four. It’s pretty frugal, too. My three days with the car were mostly highway driving, but even so I bettered 9 litres per hundred kays over a thousand kilometres or so.
It’s pretty comfy too. Heated front seats were really nice as I spent a couple of those days in Canberra and the NSW Southern Highlands. Temperatures weren’t troubling the second digit on the car’s outside temperature readout on the dash.
The car has plenty of space inside. The back seat is adequate for grown-up passengers, even with the front seats back a ways. There’s good luggage space too, even with a spare tyre .
Adding to the sense of space was the sliding glass sunroof. With the roof open, wind noise increased rather a lot and anyway, it was mostly too cold, but there’s a separate blind which you can open to let the sun in.
The car had a GPS which needed a suburb name to find a place – not much help when you just want to go to ‘Black Mountain’ or the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Antenna complex. The radio / stereo controls (and the GPS) are pretty simple and easy to use, with a touch screen.
While the car is smooth and comfy on the open road, the handling is compromised, as you’d expect. Sure, I’m used to (and much prefer) a ‘normal’ sedan. The Forester is a perfectly competent car around town or on secondary roads, sure, but it does feel tippy-toey around tighter corners. Not that it’s meant to be a sports car, of course, but for me, I’d prefer less body roll. Hard to manage, I know, while retaining off-road ability.
I did manage about 400 metres of gravel road, complete with a total of one corner and some ruts. The car handled that quite well, but I’d hardly call it a proper test! Certainly I’d like to have one for a week or two next time I head off to a rally – just to get a feel for it on a gravel road.
And rallying, of course, is one of Subaru’s natural habitats. Brett Middleton of MRT Performance is using a similar Forester in the Australian Rally Championship, while many have triumphed in various WRX versions over the years.
As you’d expect, the car has lots of safety stuff – stability control, ABS, seven airbags. This car also had Subaru’s ‘Eye-Sight’ system. This is cool. It works with the cruise control and does two things. First, it has a ‘lane departure’ function, yelling at you if you start to leave your lane without your turn signal being on.
The second is much cleverer, at least to me. If, say, you have the cruise set at 100 km/h and the car in front is doing 80, you’ll just slow down to 80 and sit a couple of seconds behind them. You change lanes and you’ll get back to the set speed and overtake, all without moving your foot. And if the car in front stops – so do you, without you actually braking (the car does it for you, and even puts on the brake lights).
While I might not buy a Forester, I’d certainly consider a Subaru, if this car is indicative of their current quality. And if you do need a family car with off-road capability, the Forester will be well worth a look.