It's no secret that we've been impressed by the updated Subaru Forester. From the high-performance XT Black Edition to the sedate 2.0i-P, the Forester has the crossover essentials right down to a tee. The versions we've tested so far are fully loaded, hence the high praise but how does it fare in entry-level form? Say hello to the Forester 2.0i-L, the most affordable way to brand-new Forester ownership.
So, there's noticeably less equipment and even less visual panache. Will the magic from the top-spec models make it to the base variant? Needless to say, expectations were high.
Looking at it head on, there isn't much to separate it from the higher-spec 2.0i-P. It gets the same grill, same amount of chrome and those HID headlights. It's from the side is where you'll know it's a base model. It rides on smaller 17-inch rims whereas the rest of the range come with 18s. The 2.0i-L is also devoid of a sunroof. On that front, you really wouldn't know it's the entry-level variant unless it's pointed out. To the passerby, it's just another Forester, albeit with smaller wheels.
I do have to say that the facelift added that bit more aggression to the Forester. Even in base trim, the smoked headlights lifts the presence of the crossover and the new grill also helps its cause. As I've said before, it's a cautious, evolutionary design that won't offend anyone's eyes.
It's on the inside it where you see the equipment taken out. There's no power seats, leather trim and push-start button. Also, there's less light coming into the cabin with the deletion of the aforementioned sunroof. Like the higher-end models, in-cabin design can be best described as an exercise in function over form. There's not much in the way of styling but it's no-nonesene, logically arranged layout makes it easy to use, even for first timers. It's very well screwed together too.
While I bemoan the loss of the sunroof, I gladly appreciated the room with a generous amount of leg and headroom, as well as a large cargo area. Even with the loss of some luxury items, Subaru didn't scrimp on equipment. It still has a touchscreen, a multi-information display and even cruise control. Plus, they didn't get rid of the Steering Responsive Headlights, a feature that I enjoyed using in the 2.0i-P.
By this time, one would be familiar with the Forester's engine. It's the same 2.0-liter flat-four seen in the soon to be outgoing XV and the Forester 2.0i-P. Power is rated at 150 PS while torque is at 198 Nm. Of course, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is standard and the lone transmission choice is the Lineartronic CVT. It does benefit from Xmode which gives the Forester that bit more off-road capability.
To be honest, I was expecting more of the same with this entry-level Forester. Yet for some reason, this one felt lighter to drive and picks up speed better than the fully loaded non-turbo model. Perhaps it's the removal of the power seats, power liftgate, sunroof and extra bracing for the said sunroof that made it feel like it did. In the 2.0i-P, I had a moan about it slowly getting off the line. In this 2.0i-L, it gets to speed a little quicker, although I still believe that it needs that bit more torque.
With less weight to pull around, fuel economy is noticeably better than the in the 2.0i-P. In the city, the trip computer recorded 7.8 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 18 km/h. Out on the highway, that figure moves up to an impressive 16.1 kilometers per liter with an average speed of 94 km/h. That's up by 0.5 kilometers per liter in the city and a significant 2.9 kilometers per liter better on the highway when compared to the higher-spec Forester.
Another noticeable improvement was the ride. Thanks to the higher profile tires, there's better ride compliance be it on pock-marked city streets or out on the highway. Body control is well-tuned and it doesn't float around at higher cruising speeds. I do have to note that the previous-generation model rode a little bit better but it more than makes up for it with its handling. It's still safe, precise and secure, albeit lacking a bit of feel.
As for practicality, I took the Forester out for an overnight trip while carrying a significant amount of luggage on board. Packing in a duffel bag, camera gear, and a large backpack, there was still more than enough space to load in a cooler and several more bags. Should you need more space, there's a handy switch that tumbles down the second-row seats, sparing you the hassle of fiddling with levers.
So it covers the task of being a crossover with ease plus it's a comfortable car for long trips. What separates the entry-level Forester from its rivals at the same price point is the all-wheel drive system. Its contemporaries are still saddled with two wheel drive whereas this variant gets power to all four wheels. It adds that additional blanket of security, especially in adverse conditions. During my road trip, I encountered pretty nasty weather and harsh conditions and not once did it step out of line. Simply put, it's unfazed by weather.
I also appreciated the extensive amount of standard safety kit in this base model. Aside from all-wheel there, there was the steering responsive headlights, stability control and a barrage of airbags which I, fortunately, didn't have to test.
At Php 1,468,000, one could argue that they can get a larger, more practical pickup platform vehicle. Opt for those however and it won't be as well-equipped as the Forester 2.0i-L. Despite the base model tag, the Forester, even in this trim level, stirs up a good value proposition. You may lose some of the luxuries but what you get is a capable, dependable car. In some ways, it's even better than the higher-spec 2.0i-P.
The Forester 2.0i-L may be basic but it's basic done right.