People love their Foresters. This is what the folks at Subaru kept reminding us throughout the presentation leading to our first drive of the all-new Crossover Utility Vehicle. Despite this love, there were a few things that owners wanted, like more room fore and aft and a bigger loading area. But if you are reading this, you want the straight dope, and you will want to know how the new range-topping XT 5-speed drives. I can’t tell you anything about this car because it does not exist. That’s right, the turbocharged, 2.5-liter EJ255-powered shoebox is only available with an automatic.
Now there will be some who will wail and moan that the 5-speed turbo is another special car that Subaru has killed all in the name of being more bean-counter friendly, and rightly so. Subaru never sold many 5-speed turbos, at times it was never more than 10 units a month nationally.
Do not fret though. The Subaru performance lineup is set to get a lot more exciting in the next few model years. So before you curse the name of Subaru for killing your favorite, hot cute-ute, look yourself squarely in the mirror and ask yourself if you bought one. We’d place our party bets on the fact that you didn’t.
The good news is that the new car is better in almost every way than the one it replaces. Not merely a box body on an Impreza chassis, the car can handle off-road situations well. The car comes loaded with lots of standard features and more interior room while not becoming a bigger-overall car. Subaru has managed to do this for less than $20,000 — with 2,400lbs towing capacity, AWD and VDC (Subaru speak for stability control) standard.
Our testing ground was the rugged and remote Catalina Island off the coast of Southern Calif. where we were afforded a rare glimpse of the island’s hinterlands of rough dirt tracks carved into the sides of the island’s heights which climb vertically out of the ocean. Often times, we would find ourselves climbing straight up one of these roughly-hewn tracks, only to crest the precipice and clamber down the other side. Subaru was very clear in that the car has not lost any of the utility that previous owners have come to rely on. In many ways, it has only gained more user-friendly ability.
There are two ways to get to Catalina, by boat, or by air. And if you think Horizon has an hourly shuttle, think again. The airstrip, and I do mean strip which is carved into the side of a hill with a drop-off on either end, is just long enough to accommodate a twin Beach with room enough for seven passengers; Tribeca territory. From there it was off into the dirt tracks that crisscross the island.
One of our first challenges was to make our way to the top of a very steep and rock grade. While rock crawling is not exactly the forte of the turbocharged automatic, it handled the hill well. While it did not have the awe-inspiring off-road ability of the Defender 90, it clearly shows that the Forester has the ability to handle the rough terrain that one might find on an unimproved forest service road or rough track one might encounter while leading the active lifestyle that Forester owners are known for.
The overall feel and quality is what you have come to expect from Subaru; good quality plastics with good ergonomics. The seating position is a bit higher now, by about four inches which makes ingress and egress much easier, the doors also open wider to aid this. Headroom is also increased a bit and is comfortable for taller drivers.
In the rear, legroom has increased by just over four inches as well. Rear passengers will also get the comfort of reclining rear seats along with a snack tray that can be used in conjunction with the center armrest. The rear seats also fold down in a 60/40 split configuration.
The new car is quieter, more comfortable and overall better than the outgoing Forester. The new car is also roomier thanks to the chassis being a bit taller, it is also slightly wider and with a longer wheelbase. Improvements in suspension packaging have also increased rear cargo room.
Visibility is one of the key features of the new car. Class competitors are hampered by thick c-pillars and small and obscured rear-views. To bring the point home, Subaru brought along a CRV and a Rav4 for comparison. The view out of the Forester is panoramic for and aft making for easier parking and lane changes and better all-around spatial awareness.
But the driving is really where it is at. Over the rough roads of Catalina, the car felt planted and sure-footed. What’s more, the car never felt jarring, even while being hammered along rough dirt tracks. It was easy and predictable to drive and loved to hang the end out around fast bends as long as you had your foot planted.
In the very rough bits, the rear end was almost a little too light and at more than one point over undulating bumps, the rear end left the ground, although a change in dampening would fix this problem.
The turbo model has lost none of its scoot. Plant your foot and it rockets forward. Either through a trick of engine or transmission tuning, power is delayed a bit, even for a turbo car, however, Subaru says that low-down torque and throttle response has been improved, they even had a dyno chart to prove it. However, those itching to take more control of their drive will be relived to know that there is a sequential “sport shift” on the auto box, which was able to hold revs happily and do as it was told, even during monster power slides.
The NA car shares the same 170bhp engine with the 2.5i Impreza. However, this engine feels no faster, or even less so, than the previous less-powerful NA EJ25. Power delivery is nice and linear and keeping your foot on the loud pedal does get the car moving, but power junkies will want to go for the turbo as the NA feels rather weak, even when coupled with the option 5-speed, which is the only way you will get to change your own cogs.
While there will still be some that will say that the Forester has lost its charm that made it such a cult hit. The reality is that this car is just as good as the older version. It let’s you know very simply that you are in a Subaru and that under the cute-ute skin, beats the heart of a rally champion; boxer-growl and all.