More space, more safety, more power and generous-as-ever specification make the Subaru Forester is a bargain all-rounder in the mid-size SUV class.
Aimed at growing families seeking a solid on and off-road performer, Subaru’s best-seller may not be a thriller to look at or drive but as a value proposition is impossible to ignore.
Our family of testers get cosy with the range-topping 2.5i-S. Does it live up to the hype?
Iain: If I didn’t suffer silly emotions like desire, passion and the occasional need for speed, the Subaru Forester is pretty much perfect.
Jules: You mean it’s an ideal family car but you can kiss goodbye any coolness factor you think you have?
Iain: Nobody buys a Forester for their mid-life crisis.
Jules: No. But happy families do. I think it looks chunky and fit for off-road purpose. Quite blokey actually.
Iain: Fair enough. The Forester’s been a talented family hauler and accomplished off-roader for more than 20 years.
Jules: Surely people don’t really take them off-road? Should be called the Subaru School Carparker rather than Forester.
Iain: You’re wrong. These things aren’t soft-roaders. Foresters may be rare sights in actual forests but they’ve got all-wheel drive, excellent ground clearance and clever X-Mode. They won’t climb mountains but they balance sealed and unsealed road life well.
Jules: X-Mode? Sounds a bit Avengers.
Iain: You flick a button if you’re on snow/dirt or deep snow/mud/soft sand and the car’s brain sorts the traction accordingly. I’ve tested it in mud and snow and it’s impressively capable.
Jules: OK, so it’s for an adventurous family. Rivals?
Iain: Bucket loads of medium SUVs. Think AWD versions of the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Tucson and many more.
The living space
Jules: Wow, it’s a huge cabin and dripping with leather. Range-topper I take it?
Iain: Yep. This is the 2.5i-S, costing about $46,850 drive-away. There are four in the range, all with same engine and gearbox, starting from $38,500 drive-away. Only difference is specification.
Jules: It’s loaded. I love the eight-inch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to mirror my phone, Harman/Kardon audio’s a belter, there are electric seats, sunroof and buttons for everything.
Iain: The sea of buttons and three screens take some getting used to. Have you seen the coolest bit? It has facial recognition, so recognises you when you get in and sets the seat and mirrors to your preferred position. Witchcraft.
Jules: Bit Big Brother. It’s blokey inside too. Really chunky door design, seats and steering wheel, and everything’s black. Feels quality and upmarket with soft surfaces and leather.
Iain: So the Forester may look daggy but it’s worth it when driving. Great driving position and the windscreen and windows are huge. Brilliant vision.
Jules: It doesn’t feel like a cumbersome SUV, so it’s nice to cruise through town.
Iain: The suspension is a gem at soaking up bumps. It may lean a bit in corners but it’s just so comfortable and secure-feeling for everyday life.
Jules: Maybe. But let’s talk about Nanny. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many beeps, warning messages and screens permanently on my case.
Iain: This is Subaru’s EyeSight. It’s a comprehensive safety set-up to make it near impossible for you to crash. But yes. Get even close to a road lane edge and it flashes, beeps and pulls you back in. It scans your eyes too. Looking down at your phone when driving? It’ll catch you.
Jules: And if I go 1km/h over the limit. I’m sure the safety kit’s brilliant but all that flashing means I was taking my eyes off the road to see what I’d done wrong.
Iain: Fair point. It instigated an emergency stop for me when it thought I wasn’t braking hard enough for slowing traffic. It’s like a four-wheel helicopter parent. I admit to turning some of the safety gear off as I found them too intrusive, which kind of defeats their purpose.
Jules: Huge boot, really useful solid boot liner for shopping or sports kit, and my favourite: a power tailgate.
Iain: And Big Brother is back for parking. The dashboard screen shows the rear camera view but there’s also a side view monitor watching you don’t kerb your wheels or clip a parked car alongside. No excuses.
Jules: The engine’s pretty strong but it’s not really enjoyable to drive. The gearbox whines a bit.
Iain: That’s Subaru’s continuously variable transmission. It’s smart but not one for driving joy.
Jules: I’d happily cruise the highway for a few hours in this comfy big thing, then trust it to do some mild off-roading to our favourite deserted campsite.
Iain: Ideal choice. Loads of room for camping gear, sports kit and bikes, and these Foresters can handle some serious off-road tracks and slippery surfaces. Victorian Alps ski trip for me.
Jules: Huge rear space and the seats recline for added comfort.
Iain: Those seats electrically fold with one touch, which is a bit fancy. The kids were happy in the back seats. Air vents for them and a USB port each.
Jules: All that safety gear keeps a careful mum happy. Thirst is not like diesel SUVs — fuel use was up at 9L/100km.
Iain: The Forester makes so much sense as a family all-rounder but there’s just no soul to make me want one. I’d go full “sensible hat on” and wait for a hybrid version or go the other way — a hot turbo version, like Subaru wagons of old.
Jules: If you love technology and safety to a nerdish level, I’d point you the Forester’s way. Brilliant practicality, great vision and mind-boggling safety levels at a sensible price. Sure it’s a bit boring, but it’s a very smart head over heart choice.
Subaru Forester 2.5i-S
Price: $46,850 drive-away (reasonable)
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km (good); $1276 for 3 years/37,500km (reasonable)
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl, 136kW/239Nm (gutsy)
Fuel use: 7.4L/100km (good, expect 9L)
Spare: Full-size (excellent)
Boot: 498L/1768L (massive)
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, rear camera, blind spot monitor, active cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, reverse auto braking, side-view monitor, driver monitoring (excellent)