Just weeks ago, Motor Image Pilipinas, invited us to be one of the first to get up close and personal with the all-new 2013 Subaru Forester, and we'll be taking it up to Sagada. Could you say no to an offer like that?
Day 1 – Conquering Sapang Uwak
Prior to the event, we were briefed that we will be visiting several locations on the way to the mountain getaway of Sagada, the first of which would be to head on up to Sapang Uwak’s view point on day one.
Sapang Uwak is a small barangay in Porac, Pampanga and is actually one of the more popular destinations for weekend off-road enthusiasts because of its relatively convenient location. Aside from enthusiasts, it is also where some automotive brands hold driving events to test their pickup trucks and SUVs. Yes, the new Forester will be playing where the big boys play.
After a quick breakfast, our convoy comprising of five Foresters left Motor Image Pilipinas HQ in Greenhills and braved through the usual EDSA traffic on our way out the expressway. Way before reaching the trail at Sapang Uwak, EDSA already served as a small proving ground for the Forester’s ride quality. Being at the passenger seat during those times, the Forester’s suspension offers a level of comfort comparable to most sedans.
The trip from EDSA to Porac and breaks in between gave me enough time to observe the Forester's look; a design that grew on me. Don’t get me wrong, I love its front fascia and sharp lines that makes it look more aggressive than ever, but its rear end, especially when viewed straight-on, isn't that appealing. Perhaps I'm just not a fan of how Subaru's new tail lamps design, something that's further influenced by most modern vehicles featuring oversized lights.
On the highway, the 150PS 2.0-liter boxer naturally aspirated engine -together with the Lineartronic CVT- didn't have that much of a problem getting up to decent highway speeds although the speedometer needle starts to crawl up past the 130-140km/h range while overtaking.
Another new feature that the Forester has was the X-Mode, a system that basically assists overall driver control by regulating the engine output, transmission, AWD system, brakes for better all around traction. The X-Mode is best activated when going uphill or downhill and passing by rough and slippery surfaces. When descending steep declines, the X-Mode modulates throttle and brake input to maintain the Forester's speed within control. We got to test this feature on our way up Sapang Uwak's view point, although majority of the way up was confidently handled by the car itself even without the X-Mode activated.
After reaching the view point, we were invited to hike up the viewing deck since no stock vehicle (and driver) can easily drive up there. After the magnificent view from the viewing deck took our breaths away (literally and figuratively) you'd just have to appreciate how Subaru has taken every detail into consideration with the Forester. The side sills integrated into the car's doors prevented our shoes and clothes from getting soiled by all the dirt that the Forester has collected from the dirt road we drove on the way up.
Having driven through city, highway, and some off-roading the Forester 2.0i Premium yielded a fuel consumption of 8.6km/l; a pretty acceptable FC rate considering there were four of us aboard and a loaded cargo area and given that we weren't trying to drive it efficiently at all.
Although the drive was supposed to challenge the Forester's off-roading capabilities, it will be safe to say that the hike up and down Sapang Uwak’s view deck was the most challenging thing we did that day.
Day 2: On to Baguio
After a night's rest in Subic, we continued on our way to Baguio though the SCTEx and MacArthur Highway.
I was able to drive the 2.0i premium from the foot of Marcos Highway up to Baguio City. Conquering the famous zigzag road of Marcos Highway was effortless, overtaking trucks and busses on the way up was also a breeze. Even the drizzle that we encountered halfway up Baguio didn't dampen the Forester's capability to take on the corners confidently, though this time I've felt the need to feed more fuel to the engine to push the car past the 130km/h marker.
One very welcoming feature of the Forester was the hill hold system; keeping the car in place and prevents vehicle rollback when on steep roads and automatically deactivates once you step on the gas. Something that's helpful when you're traversing the congested roads leading to Baguio's famous tourist destinations where steep inclines and traffic queue are completely ordinary.
Day 3: Reaching Sagada
With a night's rest done in Baguio, the group departed for Sagada after breakfast. This time around I took the back seat and was surprised at how relaxed and comfortable it was. I was even able to doze off after a couple hours of admiring the scenery on the way up.
The closer we get to Sagada, the rougher the terrain got, though about 90% of the road leading to Sagada was already paved in concrete. Before entering the town proper, a huge boulder blocking a part of the road greeted our convoy, while another boulder rests on top of a crushed house can be seen on the other side. Just one of the tradeoffs of living on the side of the mountain.
Rain started pouring soon after we reached our inn and unpacked our stuff. While waiting for the rain to simmer down, the group was introduced to our 'local' tour guide: Steve Rogers. Yes, that's his real name, apparently. Captain America, err, Steve, is an American who has fallen in love with our country and has been going in and out of our Philippines since the early 80's. He's an outdoors guy and has basically visited more places in these islands than most us, and has also learned to speak Tagalog and a couple more dialects fluently in the process. But of all the places that he's been to, he chose to settle down in Sagada and married a local potter who we visited right after.
With majority of the roads in Sagada itself still in the process of being paved, the group had to pass through muddy roads brought about by the rain while on the way to the pottery house. The Forester didn't have any problem getting traction on this tricky terrain, especially with X-MODE.
After a quick lesson and demonstration on how to create art out of clay, the group headed out to view the famous hanging coffins while there was still light. It was only on the way back to the inn that I got to notice how nice the Forester's headlight's beams were and can actually rival most of the cheap plug and play headlight projectors. Fog lamps, both front and rear were also working as expected and were very helpful in maintaining the car's visibility.
During dinner we were told that those who wish to catch a glimpse of the sunrise at Kiltepan viewpoint should wake up a bit earlier the next day. Time for some shut-eye then.
Day 4: Dawn and back
Up early, I prepared my stuff and and on we left, the silhouettes of the Foresters -with daytime running lights fully lit- all neatly lined up waiting for us outside.
Our group was able to make it through the slippery and rough road up the viewpoint way before the break of dawn. Visibility was very poor as we were literally in the clouds that, after a couple minutes of teasing, eventually cleared up as the sun came out of the horizon, revealing the beautiful mountain province and the terraced farmlands.
On the way back to Manila, our group was finally handed the keys to the Forester XT. Aside from the turbocharged engine, it offers a few more niceties included which made me realize how lucky the previous guys were as their ears were serenaded with the Harman/Kardon 8-speaker audio system that's perfect for long drives like this.
Now it's my turn to drive, and so it was time to engage Sport Sharp Mode, plant the throttle, and head on back to Manila.