The Forester has always been a favorite of ours at AutoIndustriya, not just because of its performance, its abilities, or the sharp looks, but because it's the WRX that a husband can justify to his wife, otherwise known as the boss.
After 3 years in showrooms for this fourth generation (SJ) model, Subaru decided to give the Forester an update, and this is the result. We've had our hands on the updated Forester in naturally-aspirated 2.0i guise, but this is the top-of-the-line 2.0 XT, and we're going to take it out and see how it makes the daily drive just that much more fun.
Right off the bat, the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT looks, uh, almost exactly alike as the 2.0 XT that I was able to drive in 2013. It seems Subaru didn't heed the conventional car manufacturer playbook when it comes to the mid-cycle refresh, as it takes a very keen eye to notice changes when it comes to design. Only when I started referring to the photos of the 2013 model did I notice that Subaru “adjusted” the look of the front grill, put in redesigned HID projector headlamps, replaced the taillights, and bolted on a new set of wheels.
The list of changes made to the exterior is rather underwhelming, but the cabin certainly feels much nicer than the original fourth gen model. The interior — especially the dash — looks more premium, thanks to the use of more gloss black trim and panels as accents to the soft touch, matte black surfaces. The buttons feel better to the touch, and the leather upholstery is more tactile and more supple than before. Yes the changes are subtle, but they do give a more premium air about the cabin. Though for some real air, there's that massive retractable sunroof up top.
The steering wheel is new and so is the set of switchgears on it; audio, Bluetooth and multi-info display controls on the left, cruise control and SI Drive buttons on the right. The gauge cluster is new, but perhaps the most welcome upgrade is the multi-media audio system. It's a touchscreen, and feels much more befitting the Forester's premium Japanese status as opposed to the 2-DIN units they had before, and the Harman/Kardon speaker system does it justice even with the heavy bass common in today's, uh, EDM.
There's good space in the back seat for large and tall individuals, especially with the high ceiling and abundant legroom. There's no third row, unlike the X-Trail, and so there's plenty of boot space back there. By Subaru's count, the Forester can take on 505 liters, and that swells up to more than triple at 1573 liters with the rear seats down.
The Forester comes powered by a 2.0-liter flat four engine. It's the same one in the WRX (and the original fourth gen XT), meaning it's turbocharged and has a top-mounted intercooler. In this guise, the FA20 makes 240 PS at 5600 rpm and 350 Newton-meters of torque with a very flat curve starting at 2400 to 3600 rpm. True to Subaru's nature, the Forester XT benefits from the very balanced Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system, and comes with a few goodies like X-Mode (for off-road or tricky surfaces) and, unusually, a continuously variable transmission called Lineartronic. Sadly, unlike the Foresters of old, there's no hood scoop; instead the intercooler draws air to cool the hot intake gases (thanks to the exhaust-driven turbo) through the grille and via ducting on the underside of the hood.
Despite its brand's championship-winning rally heritage, the Forester XT is actually a superb daily driven crossover. Yes, it can deal with high-performance cornering better than most, but the suspension seems to work well to dampen much of the low-grade urban pavement we get here. Of course we can't expect Merc-levels of comfort, but Subaru did work hard at getting a better ride after re-engineering the suspension for this update. Noise suppression is also much better, as Subaru's engineers made the window glass thicker, and reworked the sound insulation on the steel monocoque.
The part that could use some improvement is the fuel economy. Subaru's engines haven't really been known for efficiency, and it shows with the Forester XT. If you get stuck in heavy traffic like I did, your fuel consumption could easily drop to about 5.3 km/l (15 km/h average), though that does improve to 7.2 km/l if it lets up a bit (22 km/h average). On the highway the Forester fared better, achieving 11.8 km/l at an average speed of 92 km/h.
Economy, however, does take a bit of a back seat when it comes to performance. At full throttle and with SI Drive set to the most aggressive setting, Sport # (sharp, not hashtag), the turbocharged XT can easily dispatch 100 km/h in 7.8 seconds. The official claimed 7.5 seconds is possible, but you may have to be a bit more aggressive with the launch. 221 km/h is the quoted top speed, but please, try that on a racetrack, not on a public highway or expressway.
We can go on about how well the X-Mode works (we've tested it time and again), how many airbags it has, or perhaps even how many cupholders there are around the cabin, but the gist of any Subaru, particularly this 2016 Forester 2.0 XT is its drive.
Cornering? No problem; the suspension has a very progressive feel to it and easily takes care of the weight of this 5-seat crossover. Encountered a sudden downpour while at speed? Subaru's very capable all-wheel drive system ensures all four wheels are working, all to help the crossover deliver maximum control by chanelling torque to the wheels that could use it best. Emergency braking maneuvers? The Forester XT has discs on all four wheels, meaning you can stop very sharply, and still have plenty of steering control left over to dodge a deer (or a more common dog) caught in the beams of your headlights.
The Forester 2.0 XT, however, comes at a price. At PhP 1,913,000, Subaru's top-spec turbo crossover has already exceeded many top-of-the-line crossovers and even seven-seater PPVs by its sheer price of admission. Still, the Forester XT has a very strong following because of one simple reason: it can drive around so many of them.
This Forester, like any Subaru, has the ability to deliver an exhilarating drive at a moment's notice, quickly transforming from a sedate daily driven car to exciting performance machine. And that's what sets Subaru apart from the rest, and what makes them premium in their own unique way.