Without a doubt, the Subaru Forester is one of the key models in the Subaru line-up, if not the most important. Locally-speaking, the Subaru's crossover has consistently outsold its brother the Impreza by a mile, given the versatility and all-around usability of the Forester.
Now they've got a new one, and yes, it's good... almost too good, actually.
Previous generations of the Forester could fall into the category of what could be considered as wolves in sheep's clothing. Not this new model: the 4th generation Subaru Forester.
The front end appears ready to pounce and devour whatever vehicle is ahead; what with those lines, creases and proportions, not to mention the rather unique use of LED running lamps. Not much to report on the side profile, as it is a crossover SUV, though the tail does finish off the whole look quite nicely.
Overall the design of the new Forester seems to have been penned by a guy who exclusively downs vodka and Red Bulls all day... wild, energetic and very aggressive. It's certainly a far cry above and beyond it's predecessor in looks, though this one doesn't have a hood scoop, as the top-mount intercooler draws air from the grille.
Sitting inside, the first thing you really notice is the abundance of room both in front and back. The reason is that the Forester has grown in all respects, as it now measures 4595mm long (previous: 4559), 1795mm wide (previous: 1781mm) and 1735mm wide (previous: 1674mm). The wheelbase has also been stretched to 2640mm compared to the previous generation which was at 2619mm. The result is a far roomier cabin; space you would normally associate with the next larger class of SUV. Pop open that massive glass roof (a mainstay of the previous 2 generations of the Forester 2.5 XT) and you've practically got a convertible.
Design-wise, the cabin shares many cues (i.e. the dashboard) with the smaller Subaru XV... albeit taken up a notch. For one, it feels more premium and very well appointed given that this is the range topping XT variant. Subaru uses a predominantly black interior, accented by silver trim, brushed metal surfaces and piano black bits, all highlighted by red illumination from the dials and other buttons. For entertainment, you get a 2DIN audio system with USB, Aux-input and Bluetooth, finished off with speakers from Harman/Kardon.
The driver's seat is the best place to enjoy the action-packed Forester, what with leather seats, sports pedals and leather for the steering wheel and shift knob. The steering wheel is quite busy too with buttons and toggles for various functions like cruise control, audio controls, the multi-info LCD on the dashboard and Bluetooth. Also, given that the buttons controlling the SI Drive are now on the wheel along with the same paddle shifters used in the BRZ/86, this should be a fun crossover to drive.
With the key in your pocket, simply press the starter button and the boxer engine that Subaru is known for gets going. In a surprising move, Subaru elected to use a smaller 2.0 liter, DOHC 16-valve boxer engine fitted with a turbo and a top-mount intercooler. I say surprising because the previous version had the same specs yet had 2.5 liters of displacement, but the new FA20 2.0L Boxer Turbo Intercooler generates 240 PS and a whopping 350 Newton-meters of torque. The power and torque figures of the new Forester 2.0 XT outperform the previous Forester 2.5 XT.
The engine is new, and so is the transmission. Gone is the 4-speed automatic, as this new 2.0 XT gets a continuously variable transmission and, of course, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. The advantages of the CVT are clear: a more direct transfer of power and torque to the wheels and can maintain a more efficient cruise. Also, pull the paddleshifters and the CVT will perform like a 7-speed automatic gearbox. Subaru also introduced a new X-Mode drive system for light off-roading, and we'll put that to the test later.
In everyday city driving to and from places like the mall, church or the supermarket, the Forester drives with ease and good comfort over the rougher than usual, rain-battered and pothole-laden streets that we commonly get in the metro.
The CVT and 2.0 liter engine both work wonders for efficiency; driving solo and with light traffic, the Forester does a 8.3 kilometers per liter. In everyday (read: medium) traffic that figure drops down to 6.2 km/l, whereas the previous model managed just 5 km/l under similar conditions. In highway cruising, the new Forester is even better, as it is now able to achieve a very respectable 12.6, not far off from the EPA rated 13.6 km/l or 32 mpg.
Now that's the everyday dawdles of efficiency are out of the way, it's time for the fun stuff. Up on our favorite mountain pass we go... in SI Drive's Sport Sharp (S#) mode.
The engine and transmission that combined to deliver better efficiency also provide far better acceleration and 'gearing' than before. In SI Drive's Sport mode, engine response is improved. In Sport Sharp, the engine and turbo are at your right foot's beck and call.
The previous 2.5 XT was quick on the straights and so is this 2013 Forester 2.0 XT, but the main difference lies in the cornering manners. Subaru have fitted the XT with a stiffer suspension that provides handling and body control that is uncharacteristic of the car's size and, more importantly, weight. To improve the handling even further, the XT is also fitted with chassis braces. No wonder the 2.0 XT felt incredibly flat on the corners for a crossover even if you're faced with a heavy monsoon. Also of note was the degree of visibility even if you're driving moderately quick in heavy rain. This thing really is an all-weather warrior.
The last surprise came in the form of the X-Mode drive system. Made for light to somewhat moderate off-roading or trail driving, X-Mode gives the driver superior traction and ease of control if you're ever faced with a dirt path, both uphill and downhill. If you're not really the off-roader type, this will come in handy -or as a neat trick to show off to your friends- if you're heading down a steep parking lot ramp.
It's hard to find fault in the 2013 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT. Subaru have really improved the model across the board: power, efficiency, design, practicality, space and handling. The pricing was kicked upstairs a little bit, but at PhP 1,868,000 for this top-of-the-line variant and just PhP 1,398,000 for the non-turbo version, it's no wonder that the new Forester is fast becoming one of the most visible crossovers on the road today.
Just one thing: I wish it still had the signature Scooby-scoop on the hood, but that's probably just me.