From an enthusiast standpoint, Subaru is best known for turbocharged rally reps and low-key cars that will surprise boy racers. The company, however, is beyond making cars just for the enthusiast. Subaru also makes some of the safest, pragmatic family cars anyone can ever ask for.
We rather enjoy driving them, even if the non-cooking versions won't exactly set your loins on fire. If anything, Subarus are likeable cars that you wouldn't mind recommending to friends and family, one such vehicle is something I'd personally suggest to them, and it's actually one of their best-sellers: the Forester.
Throughout the years, we've seen the range evolve quite dramatically. From an awkward-looking (but likeable) tall-roofed station wagon, it has become a true crossover with a more SUV-like shape and ground clearance to boot. Recently though, Subaru has been playing it safe with the Forester with the past two generations looking similar to each other.
In Singapore I got a chance to look at the all-new model, following our drive of the Forester in Taiwan. To be honest, it's looking like more of the same. But this Forester I'm looking at is different.
It's a hybrid.
This Forester may look exactly the same as the non-hybrid 2.0L versions we tried out a couple of months back, but that was to be expected. Really, the only differences are the smatterings of e-Boxer badges all over the car. You could say that's a good thing for those who still can't quite embrace the concept of hybrid technology. Still, a few distinguishing design characteristics would have been nice but the evolutionary redesign won't offend anyone's eyes. Iif it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
Opening the doors of the right-hand drive example (we are in Singapore after all), it's a pleasant change from the old one. Heck, it makes the soon-to-be outgoing car feel downright old thanks to the wraparound dash design. If you have the current Forester, you'll also like the much improved interior panels, now employing soft-touch materials. But again, the cabin of the e-Boxer looks the same as the one shown a couple of months ago, save for a different instrument cluster which shows you the status of the hybrid drive system.
I keep mentioning that it's a hybrid so here's some facts about the oily (and electrical) bits. There's a 2.0-liter boxer engine at the front and an electric motor at the back. Total output is rated at 145 PS and 188 Nm of torque and, on paper, it doesn't sound that impressive. I'll even go as far as saying that it's rather underwhelming when I saw the spec sheet. Surely, Subaru could have eked out more power out of the gas engine and electric motors, right?
What was impressive however was the packaging of the battery packs. Instead of putting it in front or near the front, Subaru placed it at the back. Why? It's to retain an even weight distribution says Subaru, and so handling isn't compromised. What's even more impressive is the fact that the batteries don't take up much space, which is good if you frequently carry loads at the back. Even the fold-flat mechanism for the rear seat back rests were retained.
Another neat trick in the e-Boxer system is its ability to drive in pure electric mode. Electric range is up to 50 kilometers says Subaru. If you spend most of your time in the city, that's a pretty fair distance from point A to B. Of course, that range depends on traffic conditions and the weather. Still, the idea of driving up to 50 kilometers without having to use the engine sounds pretty good, especially in the local setting.
So now you may be asking, what's the hybridized Forester like to drive? After the flurry of launches during the 2019 Singapore Motor Show, we were whisked away to a large, open space in Changi to try it out. Just to spice things up, Subaru even brought in two other hybrid crossovers: the Honda HR-V (badged as Vezel over in Singapore), and the Toyota CH-R. Funnily enough, I was actually looking forward to driving the CH-R too, aside from the Forester, of course.
The three cars would face a high-speed right-hand corner, followed by a slalom and into a hairpin. After that, a short sprint to the next hairpin and into a wet (and soapy) skidpan. A few more corners after that, it was on to the makeshift bumps to simulate rough roads.
Most of the group hopped in the Forester e-Boxer first, but I thought of stirring things up a bit. I decided to go for the car I was most familiar with, the HR-V. Yes, it's the hybrid version but the standard model is good, but needs a bit more grunt. The electrically-assisted HR-V was a nice surprise and has better pull over the 1.8-liter engine. It handles pretty sweet too and rather fun to toss around with front end plow kept in check. Of course, it veered off the track on the wet skid pad but it wasn't alarming. Overall, pretty good. Before I get carried away talking about the HR-V, let's move on to the Toyota.
I really wanted to try out the CH-R. Love or loathe the looks, it sure looks interesting, more than the Forester if I may say so. Sporty, funky, aggressive, I was expecting a lot from the CH-R given the fact that I just drove a vehicle (the HR-V) a few years older than it. After taking on the course, I got down from the CH-R feeling rather down. The ride was, to put it bluntly, stiff. It understeered just about everywhere with the steering wheel needing a few more degrees of turn in to avoid murdering cones. On the wet section, I nearly flew off the track and nearly wiped out a family... of pylons.
And now, the main event: the hybrid Forester. Here's the thing about the Forester e-Boxer: it feels slow. There's no 'pin you to your seat' sensation, nor was there the feeling of actually making quick progress. But one look at the speedometer and it showed a great turn of speed and more than what the relatively low power output would lead you to believe. It was smooth, quiet, and surprising. Steering felt sharper than the other two as well, offering more feel and feedback than the Honda and Toyota.
That also helped the Forester take on the hairpins with ease, despite being a size class bigger as the HR-V and CH-R would technically compete (size-wise) against the Subaru XV. Unsurprisingly, the symmetrical all-wheel drive system kept the Forester e-Boxer straight and true on the wet, and the ride was the best among the three despite what felt like soft suspension.
The Forester e-Boxer felt solid, the HR-V hybrid was surprising, and the CH-R hybrid was a bit of a downer. Of course, it would be nice if we got the Forester e-Boxer to go face to face with its similarly-sized competitors, but I digress. On first impressions, the hybrid Forester is a good vehicle to drive despite the extra weight of the batteries and the all-wheel drive system. Plus there's also the safety tech: Subaru's EyeSight system. It performed flawlessly with its automatic emergency braking and smart cruise control.
Of course, it will be totally different out in the real world. If you're interested in the Forester e-Boxer, you're in luck as Motor Image is planning to bring it in the country sometime in 2020. It's still a long wait but given the brief but substantial test drive, I could describe it as promising. For now, it remains to be seen if the Forester e-Boxer can deliver the same goods the way it did on billiard table-smooth Singapore makeshift test tracks on our harsher local roads and environment.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed my short drive of the Forester e-Boxer. It is no substitute for the potent Forester XT; not even by a country mile. Yes, I'll miss the boosted Forester but on the daily drive, kilometers per liter is more important than kilometers per hour. That, I reckon, is where the Subaru Forester e-Boxer will shine. For now, let's just say that 2020 can't come soon enough for us to try it on local roads.