IMPROVED interior space and off-road ability are the headline acts for Subaru's new Forester.
Pre-production cars were unveiled in Canberra this week ahead of the popular SUV's showroom launch next month.
Featuring a more muscular look where no exterior panel is the same as its predecessor, Subaru is arming the Forester with normally aspirated 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol, turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel engines.
The 2013 Forester enters the fray in a vastly different market from when the nameplate was launched 15 years ago. SUVs are currently taking the market by storm. It's the fastest growing segment at the expense of passenger vehicles, with diesel power and two-wheel drive versions gaining favour rapidly.
Subaru's smaller XV has enjoyed amazing sales success over the past year. And there's a hint of the popular compact SUV in the Forester's styling.
Pricing will be announced closer to launch next year, but given the competitive SUV genre Subaru could undercut its current base-model price of $30,990, while the diesel may stay the same at $36,490.
Feeling airy and spacious, Subaru has done wonders by moving the A-pillar forward 200mm and making full use of the 25mm longer wheelbase.
Those in the back will particularly appreciate the smaller transmission floor tunnel and greater elbow and shoulder room. The front seat backs are also concaved for additional knee room.
Improvements have been made in noise, vibration and harshness levels, although there was some wind intrusion in the driver's door on the models we sampled.
The seats are good to sit in over long journeys with solid support particular for the upper body.
On the road
The manual-only diesel and the 2.5-litre petrol (only available with a continuously variable automatic transmission) were available to test this week, but the latter is expected to be the volume seller.
Quiet and spritely, the petrol is a refined unit which can handle both city and country travel.
Particularly impressive is the new
X-Mode functionality for off-roading. It can be engaged at under 40kmh and makes easy work of slippery surfaces, controlling the differential rotation between the front and rear wheels - sending power to where you need it most.
We tackled a 25% gradient, up and down, where the Forester climbed and descended with ease.
The Forester has always handled dirt roads well and this latest iteration has again raised the bar. It irons out the pot holes well and feels surefooted.
What do you get?
Standard gear includes a CD stereo with MP3 compatibility and a USB connection, auto stop/start, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, climate controlled air-con and cruise control.
The range-topper gets an automatic tailgate, EyeSight safety functionality, sat nav, Xenon headlights, leather trim and a smart key with push button start.
EyeSight is an impressive safety addition to the Forester, and uses technology such as radar cruise control and lane departure warning. It can also apply the brakes automatically if a collision is detected.
Key rivals with all-wheel drive include soon to be overhauled Toyota RAV4 (from $31,990), Nissan X-Trail (from $32,690), Mazda CX-5 (from $32,300), Mitsubishi's new Outlander (from $33,990) and the Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban (from $26,990 drive-away).
Larger tyres are used on the new Forester for lower rolling resistance and it's also more aerodynamic. All models have good fuel consumption (the 2.0-litre engine is over 20% more efficient), but the diesel is the pick of the bunch for frugality.
Subaru has also consistently been rated as one of the best in terms of after sales experience.
Thankfully the child seat anchorage points are now in the seatbacks, rather than the boot roofline, which improves load flexibility and visibility.
The boot space is good, although probably slightly impeded in depth by the full-size spare - which has become a rarity nowadays.
While the silhouette is still very much Forester, sheet metal changes provide a grown-up look. It's come a long way in 15 years.
The alterations deliver a muscular stance, giving it a sportier appeal especially with the new alloys.
Forester is better equipped to face a challenging genre.
It possesses the ability to tackle some difficult terrain, which is a good option for those who want to head off mountain biking, kayaking, hiking or just want to tackle the semi-beaten track.
Subaru is desperately trying to lobby for an automatic transmission in its diesel, and it's a vital addition to meet the Aussie obsession with self-shifters.
What matters most
The good stuff: Spacious cabin feel, off-road ability, child seat anchorage points finally in the seat backs, full-size spare.
What we'd like to see: Less interior hard plastics, automatic transmission option for the diesel.
Warranty: Three year unlimited kilometres. Servicing will be every 12,500km or six months.
Model: Subaru Forester.
Details: Five-door medium-size all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol generating maximum power of 110kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 198Nm @ 4200rpm; 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol generating maximum power of 126kW @ 5800rpm and peak torque of 235Nm @ 4100rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (2.0 only) or continuously variable automatic (2.5-litre only).
Consumption: 7.2 litres/100km (combined average); 8.1L/100km.
CO2: 168g/km; 187g/km.
Towing capacity: 1500kg; tow ball maximum 150kg.
Engine: 2.0-litre common rail diesel generating maximum power of 108kW @ 3600rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 1600-2400rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual.
Consumption: 5.9 litres/100km (combined average).
Towing capacity: 1800kg; tow ball maximum 180kg.