Subaru Forester

Much-needed visual lift for Subaruís staple

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

A LOT has happened since the Subaru Forester won the Wheels SUV Megatest.

A nine-car brawl between an armada of rivals Ė including Mazda CX-5, Ford Kuga and Honda CR-V Ė saw the Subaru come out as the best dirty weekender. That was August 2014.

Over the intervening 18 months, Forester has faced increasingly stiff competition from younger, prettier rivals as the medium SUV market has become the bloodiest battle in local showrooms.

For the same $29,990 kick-off, the 2016 Forester has been given a fresh set of bumpers, a new grille, LED running lights in trick new headlamps, and LED rear lights.

From a distance, youíll be hardpressed to spot the changes but theyíre definitely an improvement.

The $39,490 2.5i-S version weíre driving here is the mid-point of the range, and is expected to make up more than half of all sales. In terms of extra fruit over the existing model, the i-S gets cornering headlights as well as fresh 18-inch alloy wheel patterns designed to work with a new engine cover to improve aero.

EyeSight, Subaruís camerabased safety technology, has had its skillset broadened and is standard on the CVT 2.5i-S. It now includes sway warning and antifatigue functions in addition to autonomous emergency braking and radar cruise control.

Thereís also a suite of minor changes aimed at reducing NVH, including thicker door glass and door rubbers, as well as revised, locally tuned suspension (with torque vectoring on XT Premium).

On the road, the electric steering systemís ratio has been changed from 15.5:1 to a quicker 14.0:1, meaning fewer inputs when cornering. In fact, on the wet and occasionally winding limestone roads of South Australia on which we briefly tested the new Forester, the steering demonstrated its precision and effective weighting.

The MY16 Foresterís tweaked set-up allows it to storm a battalion of dips, ruts, crevices and massive holes without the need for any additional driver input as its composure and excellent ride absorb the drama beneath with supreme efficiency.

On smoother stuff, Foresterís compliant ride is effortlessly comfortable, though Subaruís claimed improvements to noise, vibration and harshness were difficult to gauge on our rugged test route. The heavy rain made an awful racket, though we can say the strong 126kW 2.5-litre boxer feels smooth, and makes itself heard only when given a gutful.

Is it chalk and cheese between the MY16 Forester and its predecessor? Hardly. Yet Subaruís collective changes have made what was already a capable, high-quality SUV even more convincing. e s m

PLUS & MINUS

Starting to look its age, despite the updates; no 2.5-litre manual Well-mannered in town; smooth, efficient engines; all-round ability

Clear vision

Subaruís EyeSight is its camera-based system that enables active cruise control, auto braking functions, and more. For the first time, though, itís now available with a diesel engine. The only Subarus that still donít offer EyeSight are the manual-equipped models because itís the electronic brains controlling the CVT that tie everything together.

The diesel manual and base 2.0-litre account for just four percent of Forester sales.