Subaru Forester - CVT done the right way
Entering its fourth generation, the Subaru Forester has made incremental refinements to better suit its target market.
The vehicle, a compact crossover SUV, has been in production since 1997, which, at the time, was a relatively new concept in the automobile industry. Since then, it has developed a group of ardent supporters, who have stuck with the Subaru fraternity.
Unlike its younger stablemate the XV, the Forester targets the older driver who still has an adventurous side when the time arises.
To be fair, Subarus are built for a specific market that places priority on practicality, rather than overly-fancy designs. It's not a brand that buyers just happen to acquire - you either want one or you don't.
With sharper accent lines and a trimmed exterior, it has been upgraded for a slightly more sophisticated demeanor that is in keeping with the current automotive trend. The 17-inch alloy rims also add some muscle to it, while the longer wheelbase from the previous generation gives second-row passengers more leg space.
The boxer engine, with its horizontal design, gives the vehicle a unique weight distribution which allows it to stay balanced on the road despite its 8.7-inch ground clearance. This becomes very important, especially when taking on corners.
While on my test drive, I took it to St Ann from Kingston via the North-South Highway, which did not feel like a challenge. The only thing I was able to learn was the fact that the cruise control was able to be engaged on a mild incline, whereas most vehicles can only do this on a flat path.
Given how mundane this route is, I decided to take the old route back home, which has a lot of corners and uneven surfaces.
My first challenge was taking it through the inclined road through Steer Town, which is not only narrow at points, but has potholes here and there. While the power of the vehicle was adequate in this scenario, the true test was the suspension. Overall, it performed very wel,l with good travel. However, there were points I felt like the dampers could have been a bit more 'cushiony'.
When the rocky part of the stretch was finished, still on the incline, I was behind a vehicle driving very slowly. It provided me with the perfect opportunity to engage manual mode, by shifting the gear to the right, while in drive. Luckily, I saw a narrow opening and used the paddle shifter to gear down for immediate power, which allowed me to overtake the vehicle in the fastest possible time.
Even though it did not do it with rapid speed, it did the job convincingly and confidently. This was not something I expected from a naturally aspirated two-litre engine in a vehicle this size. As for the paddle shifters, they are ideal for instant power or for controlling the compression when going down a steep hill. This was the case when I was going down the steepest part of Mount Rosser and I didn't want to be constantly riding my brakes, which is not encouraged by the way.
The overall performance of the responsive engine was surely a pleasant surprise, so much so, that I wouldn't see the need to buy a turbo engine model over this one. The Forester has somehow found a way to master the CVT transmission in a manner that feels similar to a varied-speed transmission.
The customary three knobs for air control are placed in the middle of the centre console which also houses the 6.2-inch touch-screen display. While no drastic changes have been made, Subaru has added some creature comforts to make the ride more pleasurable for drivers.
The infotainment system has been refined to work better with intuitive placement of buttons to access pivotal features such as phone messages and multimedia.
Nonetheless, the star of the show is the voice recognition of the infotainment system which can be paired with a phone via Bluetooth. At least 90 per cent of the time when I gave it a command, such as, 'call work', it accurately found the assigned number. Even names that gave other vehicles' infotainment systems trouble were easily recognised by the Forester. The only gripe I had was that the call log could not be accessed through the steering-mounted controls for the very rare occasions I was doing a manual search.
The ergonomics of the seats are great, with side bolsters to keep passengers in place.
Taking some hints from its European counterparts, the seats come with intuitive electrical adjustment features, which allow you to tilt the angle of the base along with many other sections to get the perfect seating positions. Once this is done, it can then be programmed in the car's computer, in the event someone changes it when he or she is using the vehicle.
With that being said, I do wish that the base of the seat and the headrest were on the softer side, which would have given it a perfect score.
As for the rear passengers, there is more than adequate space for two adults and a child in the middle. To accommodate this, there is a seatbelt latch in the roof for the middle occupant, which is ideal for safety. The only thing missing is a rear a/c vent, which on most SUVs is usually at the back of the centre armrest.
They have also added some thoughtful features such as a door light, which points to the ground, allowing occupants to see where they are stepping when exiting the vehicle. This seemed like a gimmick, until I was returning home on a rainy night and did not want to step in any water when exiting the vehicle.
Another addition is the X mode, which can be activated by the press of a button, located in front of the gear lever. It's basically Subaru's way of initiating a more aggressive traction control for very wet and muddy situations.
What I like
- Exceptional voice recognition system
- Door light that shines on the ground
- Responsive CVT transmission
- Seat base and headrest are a bit too firm
- No front sensors
- Forester 2.0i $5,400,000 with three free services and complimentary tint
- Forester 2.0i-L Premium $6,100,000 with three free services and complimentary tint
- Forester 2.0i-L Premium with sunroof $6,230,000 with three free services and complimentary tint
- Forester XT (Turbo) $7,200,000 with three free services and complimentary tint
Test drive provided courtesy of Kingston Industrial Garage
1(876) 923-6479, www.kigjamaica.com