Subaru Forester 2.5i-S

Fifth-gen SUV stays faithful to family Ė yours, and its own

DANIEL GARDNER

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

ALTHOUGH the 2019 Subaru Forester is all- new, meeting it feels a bit like catching up with an old pal. Thereís a sense of familiarity and dependability that creates an entirely different kind of appeal to that exuded by ostentatious luxury and performance cars.

The fifth-generation Forester is built on the companyís new Global Platform which supports electrification and will soon underpin the first-ever hybrid Forester, yet initially, the Forester range has been pared back.

In its previous generation, the Forester was offered with atmo, turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel engines and manual and CVT automatic transmissions. For now, though, every 2019 Forester has a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four bolted to a CVT. The 2.5i and 2.5i-L open proceedings with respective pricetags of $33,490 and $35,490, but only the 2.5i Premium ($38,490) and 2.5i-S ($41,490) were present at the launch, showing off their more generous equipment.

Headlining the technological upgrade is a new Driver Monitoring System, which uses a camera to scan the driverís face. Not only can the system recognise up to three different users and set their preferences, including seat position and favourite radio station, it also continuously monitors the driver for drowsiness and distraction. Reach down for your phone or start to nod off and the Forester slaps you on the wrist with audible and visual alarms.

The new system joins Subaruís proprietary EyeSight stereoscopic camera technology, which is now standard range-wide, and enables autonomous emergency braking as well as a host of other driverassistance tech.

While many SUVs talk the off-road talk with pumped arches and a raised ride height, some of them offer very limited ability beyond sealed roads. The Forester has always been one of the better SUVs for light off-roading, but we were deprived of a chance to test that reputation with the drive route delivering little more challenging than slippery but smooth gravel.

There was no need to engage the Foresterís X-Mode system, and its permanent symmetrical all-wheel drive only made its presence felt when the cornering enthusiasm was dialled up.

For hitting the blacktop, though, the Forester is stoic and a loyal companion. Its 136kW is entirely adequate for the suburbs and for highway cruising, but overtaking had us fantasising about forced induction and a variant wearing the coveted STI badge. We would settle for a return of the GT.

The new Foresterís cruising ability is a real strength, with a ride quality that walks a line between smooth and comfortable, and alert and confident. Further pluses include low cabin noise and a commanding view out the windows for both front and rear occupants, to keep every member of the family happy on tour.

The Foresterís CVT does a decent job masquerading as a conventional auto with its ratio steps and is free of CVT drone on a light throttle.

A compelling list of practical features seals the Foresterís value equation, with cavernous occupant space in the second row, a 498L boot which is widened to 1300mm, and a new infotainment unit with an 8.0in touchscreen in upper variants.

Without parking the 2019 Forester next to a previous-gen version, you might not believe much has changed, but thereís a significantly better SUV lurking behind the new Foresterís endearingly familiar face.

DANIEL GARDNER

PLUS & MINUS

Innovative safety; vision out of front and rear; cabin comfort

Sole atmo engine only adequate; no performance variant planned

Model Subaru Forester 2.5i-S

Engine 2498cc flat-4, dohc, 16v

Max power 136kW @ 5800rpm

Max torque 239Nm @ 4400rpm

Transmission CVT

Weight 1546kg 0-100km/h 9.5sec (estimated)

Economy 7.4L/100km

Price $38,490

On sale Now

Subaru Global Platform helps increase rear legroom by 65mm. Flat sections at the corner of the rear seats allow easier roof loading. Quicker-opening powered tailgate in 2.5i Premium and2.5i-S opens to larger boot.

Reverse Automatic Braking features in Forester 2.5i-L, 2.5i Premium and 2.5i-S. Improved approach and departure angles complement X-Mode for light off-roading. Top Foresters get 18-inch wheels; entry pair roll on 17s.

In a pair of Forester firsts, DAB radio now features as standard, as does an electric parking brake. LED headlights are also standard across the range and are Ďsteering responsiveí (directional) for all but the base variant.

More left jab than right hook

You could be forgiven for thinking the 2.5-litre atmo boxer four is a carryover, but Subaru says itís not. It says 90 percent of the engine components have been Ďrevisedí with everything from the block, head, crank, conrods, pistons, valvetrain and exhaust, to the engine management, injectors, inlet manifold and spark plugs redesigned. Even the air filter is new. Sounds significant enough, and a power increase of 10kW and efficiency gain of 8.6 percent are worthwhile from an unchanged 2498cc swept capacity.

OR TRY THESE...

Jeep Cherokee Longitude $41,450

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Mazda CX-5 Maxx $33,690

Comparable power from a 2.5-litre atmo petrol four and a road-biased all-wheel-drive system. But itíll cost you more to have a spec level equivalent to that of the Forester.