Say Subaru to a car enthusiast and he (or she) will conjure images of a 90's Impreza STI sailing through the air in the World Rally Championship stages. Say Forester and the same set of people (us included) will imagine the XT model with it's turbocharged 2.0-liter liter lump, making it the grown-up's WRX.
Deviating from that enthusiast notion, the non-cooking version of the Forester is just another addition to the wave of crossovers in the country. At least on paper. What we have here then is the 2.0i-P, a sensible, middle of the road version of the brand's original crossover. No turbochargers, no performance intentions. Needless to say, my expectations were mixed.
Looking at it however and it's different to sort this mid-level 2.0i-P with the WRX on stilts 2.0XT. Really, the only visual cues you have are the different corners of the front bumper, a single exhaust pipe and the lack of badging. These are small changes that might catch out the passerby. I do have to say that it is a good looking crossover, if a little conservatively styled. It's evolutionary from the previous generation with its headlight and tail light treatment. I do like the fact that it has a generous glass area while those door mounted side mirrors are a classy touch.
The Forester was mildly updated back in 2016 but you wouldn't know the differences until it's pointed out to you. Perhaps the the obvious one would be the wheels which are now shared with the range-topping 2.0XT. A closer look now sees a pair of HID projector headlights, a slightly tweaked grill, and new tail light clusters. As my colleague put it, it's a 'blink and you'll miss it' facelift. Overall, design is, perhaps, typical modern Subaru; nice and tidy, but it doesn't really stand out.
Inside, you're greeted by a dashboard with a relatively conventional design. Perhaps the new Impreza spoiled me a little bit but there's not much in the way of surprise and delight. That aside, the ambiance certainly feels better when compared to Subarus of the past. There are more soft-touch materials inside with the hard plastics well out of reach of the common touch points. If logic is your thing then the Forester's interior will delight you with it's simplistic charm, which is well complemented by a high standard of quality.
As for equipment, it's pretty comprehensive. You get the same infotainment system in the 2.0XT, as well as the power-adjust seats with memory, leather trim and, of course, that vast sunroof to let in more light. Also standard is cruise control, SI Drive system, and a button labeled SRH. I will get to that later. On a side note, this mid-spec 2.0i-P doesn't come with the multi-colored vehicle information screen, sport pedals and the Harman/Kardon sound system. Still, I wouldn't say no to these extra amenities of the 2.0i-P.
Space is abundant inside the Forester and the big windows make it feel like it's more spacious than it already is. Even with the sunroof, headroom is generous, so is leg, hip and shoulder room. Taller passengers won't mind sitting in the back either, even with the front seat pushed relatively far back. Cargo space is another strong suit of the Forester with it's load bay flat and free of obstructions. If you do need more space, there's no longer the need to get to the second row and pull tabs and levers to fold the seats flat. It can all be done with just a push of a button. If I have to nitpick, the power tailgate takes quite some time to open and close.
The engine follows the crossover format down to a tee with 2.0-liters and four cylinders. Power is rated at 150 PS and 198 Nm of torque which then sends power to all four wheels via the marque's signature Symmetrical AWD system. These power figures are just about right for its segment. Being a Subaru, the cylinders are arranged horizontally in a 'boxer' layout. It then shifts through a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission.
So how does it perform sans the turbo? Drop all your WRC fantasies as this Forester is happily content as a slower pace. It picks up the pace steadily, if a little slowly for some tastes. It requires a little more effort from the accelerator but at least it easily maintains speed once you're cruising. Once you adjust your expectations, then the non-turbo Forester is alright.
However, because you need more effort in moving the car, fuel economy takes a hit. Around the city, the Forester chugged 7.2 km/l at an average speed of 20 km/h. For perspective, the turbo model did about the same in slow speeds. On the highway, it improves to a decent 13.2 km/l at an average of 95 km/l.
The shortcomings in performance are made up in ride and comfort. The seats offer great support without being too firm or too soft. The wide range of adjustability allows you to find the ideal driving position and, with all that glass area, visibility is among the best in its class. Road imperfections in the city are met with just a small dip and a muffled thump. Road noise is well isolated too, impressive given that it has a sunroof.
Set the cruise control out on the highway and it simply glides over expansion joints. Couple that with those comfortable seats and the Forester makes a very good long-distance highway and provincial cruiser. After long drives, the Forester doesn't leave the driver, or its passengers, with sore backs and frayed nerves. The air-conditioning was strong too.
And then there's the handling. It may not be fast but taking on twisty provincial roads in the Forester 2.0i-P was a surprising delight. Even though it is a crossover, turn in is sharp and accurate with the steering offering a fair amount of feel.
Again, I was greeted by heavy downpour but the all-wheel drive system simply shrugged off the adverse conditions. You may not need all-wheel drive all the time but the extra grip it provides is reassuring in tough conditions, more so when taking on slick winding roads. Earlier, I also mentioned the button marked SRH. Yes, this model is also equipped with steering responsive headlights which made illuminated dark blind corners and it helps boost confidence at night on unfamiliar roads.
At Php 1,678,000, the Forester's might sound expensive but compared to its contemporaries, it's just a bit lower when you compare most of them spec per spec. Add in the fact that is has a comprehensive safety equipment list (stability control, eight airbags, SRH) and the value proposition is actually alright. If you still find it expensive, there's the 2.0i-L (at Php 1,468,000) which still has the comprehensive safety suite and all-wheel drive. You do miss out on the power seats trimmed in leather, the sunroof and those handsome 18-inch wheels.
With all that said and done, the Forester 2.0i-P is one crossover that I could recommend. It may not be family man's WRX, but the 2.0i-P has a different group of people in mind. Its for those looking for a solid, safe and robust crossover with a surprising value proposition.