Twenty years ago, the Subaru brand stands for outright performance, models like the Forester, Impreza and Legacy would have their own dedicated performance STI versions, which still have a strong following well into the 21st century. Things have changed when they pulled out from the WRC at the tail end of 2008, where the company had switched their focus on making comfortable, practical and safer cars since. The Forester is a prime example; it was once the next best thing to the Impreza WRX STI, its now more matured and less juvenile than it used to be.
Celebrating its official Asian region launch in Lihpao Land, Taichung – Taiwan, the all-new Subaru Forester is roomier, more practical, and yet it still retains its signature recipe. Now in its fifth generation, the all-new Forester is now longer, wider and lower than the previous model, and it’s one of the five latest models to be built upon the Subaru Global Platform (SGP) as its base.
At launch, the all-new Forester comes in four variants: 2.0i-L, 2.0i-L ES, 2.0i-S, and 2.0i-S ES. The ES abbreviation stands for EyeSight, Subaru’s active driver assistance system, a highlight in this generation Forester.
Much like the one featured on the current Outback SUV, EyeSight is a combination of three functions:
- Adaptive Cruise Control & Lead Vehicle Start Alert
Adjusts speed automatically to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, and Lead Vehicle Start Alert notifies the driver when the traffic starts moving again.
- Lane Sway & Departure Warning
Helps the driver to stay alert with a buzzer and flashing indicator when the car drifts away from the lane, and warns the driver before leaving the lane.
- Pre-Collision & Throttle Management
Likewise, this feature warns the driver with a buzzer and flashing indicator, with braking assistance to reduce the impending impact or avoiding possible collisions, while Throttle Management helps avoid accidental frontal collisions.
New standard exterior features available across on the all-new Forester at launch are LED headlamps with auto levelling, daytime running lights, power-folding door mirrors with LED turn signal, rear fog lamp, roof rails, roof spoiler and shark-fin antenna.
When it comes to its overall appearance, the latest generation Forester appears to have grown slightly bigger than the previous model which reflects its new dimensions; comparing the two cars on paper, the all-new model measures 20mm wider (1,815mm), 5mm lower (1,730mm) and 15mm longer (4,625mm).
That said, the wheelbase has been increased up to 33mm (2,670mm), and 20mm wider between the driver and passenger seat which contributes to additional room inside. In addition, the front and rear overhangs have been reduced by 10mm and 5mm respectively.
With the increase in overall width, Subaru engineers are able to further increase the rear tailgate opening, which can accommodate large items within its 1,300mm span; for example, it is now possible to fit a full size golf bag horizontally into the boot compartment. The rear auto tailgate now opens and closes much quicker than the previous generation.
Most importantly, the new SGP platform has provided the Forester its much-needed body and chassis rigidity. Front end of the chassis has seen an improvement in lateral rigidity of up to 100% and a torsional rigidity of up to 40%, which the chassis now can better utilise the suspension, providing higher anti-roll contribution and reduced NVH. Other changes were done on its suspension and with a thicker anti-roll bar at the front, and a repositioned anti-roll bar at the rear, which has the same thickness as in the old Forester.
Much like in the XV, the dashboard of the Forester is adopted from the Impreza, but the interior as a whole has seen a number of changes. With larger doors come new door panels, increased visibility index that eliminates most of the potential blind spots and a much-refined interior design, fit and finish. Another notable feature is a wider and flatter step at both sides of the rear door opening which allows a stable footing when accessing the roof rails above.
The all-new Forester’s comfort features include across all trim levels:
- Dual-zone automatic air-conditioning,
- Audio system with 8.0-inch touchscreen display with navigation,
- 2-inch multifunction display,
- 3-inch full-colour LCD multifunction display,
- Electronic parking brake,
- Idle stop start system (ISS),
- Paddle shifters,
- Smart entry and push start button,
- Multi-function steering wheel with cruise control,
- Tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel, and
- USB and auxiliary input jack.
The signature Subaru ‘Boxer’ is found under the hood; the latest generation Forester is powered by a 16-Valve DOHC 2.0-litre naturally aspirated direct fuel injection horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, which makes 153hp at 6,000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4,000rpm similarly found in the XV.
Mated to the 2.0-litre mill is a heavily revised Lineartronic CVT with revised seven-speed manual presets gear ratios, which better complement the engine output. Mr. Tomoyuki Nunome from Subaru Corporation explained that the Lineartronic CVT is currently the best match to Subaru’s current model portfolio, especially with its balance of fuel economy and performance.
“The seven step virtual gear ratio is much preferred, as it better matched the engine’s power and torque band better than six, eight or nine step ratios,” Mr. Tomoyoki Nunome explained, “Seven (speeds) is best for the driver (as) they can feel the sportiness and feels natural,” The components in the Lineartronic CVT in the Forester is 80% new, in the pursuit for the right balance of efficiency and sportiness. The gear ratios have been revised as well from the lowest to the highest ratio.
Many would expect the latest Forester would come with a turbocharged variant as in the generations that came before, but it is no longer available in this model as the turbocharged engine is unable to comply with the ever-tightening emissions standards. However, Subaru’s focus is now on its new E-Boxer hybrid powertrain.
What’s also new is that the all-new Forester gets an updated version of the X-Mode, which has two new modes: Snow/Dirt, and Deep Snow/Mud. The former mode is runs with the TCS switched on, which is ideal when driving on slippery surfaces such as when driving on a snowy or icy stretch of road, or on loose dirt and wading through rivers.
The latter mode runs with the TCS switched off and in conjunction with the electronically-control limited slip differential enables the Forester to dig its tyres into deep mud and snow to find much needed traction conditions as such.
When asked about the reasons as to why the Forester will not be locally assembled as of yet, Glenn Tan, Executive Director of Tan Chong International explained, “Right now, the XV is produced in Malaysia, and we have made the decision to produce the Forester in Thailand. We will still export the XV out of Malaysia because the Segambut plant is at full capacity and struggling to keep up,” This is unsurprising as the XV is currently on a two to three month waiting lists due to the high demand. Besides the XV, the plant also locally assembles Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault vehicles as well.
That said, the Segambut plant could not assemble the Forester locally as the plant would be forced to increase its capacity up to three times fold. Glenn Tan also mentioned that his team is currently studying the feasibility of introducing the new E-Boxer hybrid powertrain in the XV and Forester locally, and highly likely to be CBU models due to the technical constraints of the Segambut plant.
There are no prices as of yet, but all we know is that for the local market, Motor Image will be bringing in the 2.0i-L, 2.0i-S, and 2.0i-S ES, all of which will be CBU units imported from Thailand. The all-new Forester is scheduled for launch in Malaysia by Q2 2019, and the assembly of the Forester will commence in April 2019.
Sampling the all-new Forester
Being flown all the way from Malaysia to Taiwan, it would be waste if we don’t get to try out the latest Forester model first hand. We were brought over to a nearby go-kart track and off-road course nearby to have a feel of what the new changes made to the Forester had an effect on its handling characteristics and drivability, as well as its off-road capability.
The track has been laid out specifically to test the Forester’s acceleration, braking and handling, featuring a slalom, S-bend, and sharp turn over a wet surface. However, the EyeSight portion of the test could not be conducted due to the bad weather. The on-track test driver pits the new Forester against the Mazda CX-5 2.2 diesel and the previous generation Forester.
The changes made to the new Forester were apparent with much reduced body roll, better acceleration and drivability. In terms of the experience, the Forester drives much like the current XV; its easy going to drive and takes quite and effort to unsettle it, albeit with some understeer tuned in. But, what can be improved further is the steering feel, where the Mazda CX-5 is much more communicative when driving close to the limit.
On the off-road course, driving the all-new Forester over rough surface shows that it’s solidly put together this time, where the NVH has been improved significantly over the old SUV and feels plenty more comfortable. The MacPherson strut up front and the Double Wishbone suspension at the rear does offer a good level of compliance on both test courses.
The new X-Mode can be described as user friendly; simply switch between both modes and the car pretty much gets the job done quietly in the background. In X-Mode, the Hill Start Assist is engaged permanently until the driver puts their foot on the throttle, and the Hill Decent Control manages the car’s decent seamlessly which lets the driver focus on navigating down rock or muddy slopes. The Active Torque Split AWD at default runs at a 60% power at the front wheels and 40% at the rear, but when the need for maximum traction arises, the ATS system splits that to 50% at both ends.
The much-stiffened SGP platform also contributes to the Forester’s suspension articulation, especially when traversing through deep slippery and uneven ruts. And when driven spiritedly on the lose and dusty portion of the course, the Forester feels like it is in its elements; it’s stable through slippery surface even when driven close to its limit, and the steering is predictive enough to tell where the front is heading to. But again, it could do much more with a little more feel.
The all-new Forester is of course entirely new outside and inside. Engineered around the new SGP platform provides additional room inside with improved refinement as emphasised during the development of the new SUV. As experienced first hand, the all-new Forester would suit many Malaysians who prefer comfort and practicality, and the much improved build quality and refinement would do effortlessly well on our ageing and blemished roads. And as mentioned earlier, the all-new Forester is slated to launch in Q2 2019 and the second model to feature EyeSight in Malaysia, this is one car to look forward to.