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September 4, 2012

Review: 2012 Subaru Forester XT

Photos by Ulysses Ang
The Filipino car buyer is increasingly becoming picky. In the olden times, whether you wanted a basic sedan, a pick-up, or a luxury sedan, as long as it’s got four wheels, you’ll end up with a Toyota. Now, there are more than half a dozen mainstream brands, each one promising its own breed of ownership experience; be it bulletproof build or driver-centric handling. Subaru is one of these new players. After initially offering just rally-bred, turbocharged machines, Subaru is now taking their act to Main Street Manila. And today, not a day goes by without seeing at least one car with the Star of Pleiades badge upfront.

One of the star attractions (pardon the pun) is the Subaru Forester. Though it was always lumped together with the rest of the compact crossovers, it was always a leftfield choice. That was, until the current model came about. Going back to the drawing board, Subaru designers have shunned the “mutated wagon” look and went for something more conventional and mainstream. Now, the Forester is now closer to that of a traditional compact crossover with its long hood and boxed up body. But thankfully, Subaru designers have thrown in the family design cues such as the hood scoop, eagle-eye headlights, and egg crate grille to avoid obscurity. Knowing the palatability of the Forester’s design to the vast majority of buyers, Subaru kept the facelift to a mild level last year. In fact, the changes were limited to the grille (larger, matte-finished holes), tS edition-style spoiler, and side mirrors with integrated turn indicators.

The lack of on-road presence (at least in stock form) is perhaps the only criticism you can level at the Forester, because the rest of the car is downright awesome.

Getting in and out requires a bit of a step up because of the Forester’s thickened door sills (an integral pat of Subaru’s C-shaped reinforced crash safety structure). It’s not discontenting, but those who’re used to sliding in and out of their seats and onto the pavement may find it a chore. The seats aren’t mounted as high as other compact crossovers, but the driver’s seat does have a power height adjustment for a more mainstream feel. The seats themselves are finished in leather and are supportive, even for long drives. The rear occupants will also enjoy a “theatre seating” arrangement where they sit slightly higher than those in the front.

The Forester’s dash is pretty straight-forward. The materials aren’t as soft to the touch, but the fit and finish are still very good. The swept wing motif doesn’t just make for a dramatic statement but allows for the excellent placement of buttons and controls. Plus, the Forester is well equipped. For instance, the Forester has a dual-zone climate control which cools the cabin quite well. And when the weather’s good, the Forester allows a bit of nature to enter the cabin via the large moon roof. As for entertainment, the Forester takes both a step backward and forward. Backward because the 2012 model loses the 6-disc CD changer and 7-speaker system of the 2009 model in favor of a single CD and 4-speaker set-up. And forward, because USB and iPod connectivity is now standard as is a Bluetooth hands-free phone system. The overall sound is clear, but it’s not chest-thumping powerful. Thankfully, owners can opt to purchase door sail mounted tweeters (it’s prewired for them) and an under seat subwoofer.

Other nice touches to the Forester include steering wheel switches with a mute button (long press of the Mode button) that also pauses a CD track or the iPod when pressed. All the controls glow a sporty red hue at night including the new gauges which are a hundred times better than the old one which was very “Christmassy”. The new gauge cluster also includes a temperature gauge and an instantaneous fuel economy meter.

Under the hood, the Forester XT enters the new model year with an unchanged engine. And why fix if it isn’t broke? Like before, the P 1.758-million price tag largely goes to the smooth, quiet, and powerful engine. Power delivery is also very linear thanks to a combination of a generous 2.5 liters of displacement as well as a turbocharger. All in all, the Forester pushes out 230 horsepower with a faint whoosh from the waste gate at higher revs. The Forester may only have a four-speed gearbox, but the wide power band of the engine is well matched to the transmission. As expected, city fuel economy isn’t one of the Forester’s strong suits averaging 7.59 km/L. On the highway, things get better going up to 9.52 km/L. These figures aren’t too far from the Forester 2.0’s 7.7 km/L in the city and 9.96 km/L on the highway.

The Forester rides on the sportier side of the crossover equation without being harsh. By mounting the suspension on a sub-frame, the Forester quells even the worst of road ruts and reduces road noise transmission into the cabin. Plus, it feels as if the Forester has unlimited suspension travel as it goes through the various jungle roads of Metro Manila. With a 225-mm ground clearance and a shielded engine compartment, the Forester is also quite capable of going through flooded streets. Sadly, interior rattles seem to plague this 12,000-km test drive unit.

In terms of handling, the Forester still doesn’t feel as Teutonic as it should. Because of the softer suspension set-up, the Forester shows a bit of body roll, but it manages to feel glued and secure. Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamic Control System (VDCS) is standard, but the mechanical grip is such on a high level, that stability control is almost never used despite some spirited driving. The steering effort is nicely weighted and the brakes bite very well too. All in all, the Forester XT feels mature on the road, but fun enough when taken to the track.

The Subaru Forester isn’t a wagon version of an Impreza WRX.  Nonetheless, it offers a formidable blend of performance, practicality, and comfort that’s largely unmatched by anything close to or even double its price. And as far as compact crossovers go, the Forester is now at the top-of-mind of potential buyers. Subaru may be going mainstream, but it’s still managing to produce vehicles with the very same DNA that produced rally-bred winners. 

2012 Subaru Forester XT
Ownership 2.5 XT
Year Introduced 2009 (Facelifted 2011)
Vehicle Classification Compact Crossover
The Basics
Body Type 5-door crossover
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/AWD
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.5
Aspiration Turbocharged
Layout / # of Cylinders Flat 4
BHP @ rpm 230 @ 5,200
Nm @ rpm 320 @ 2,800
Fuel / Min. Octane Unleaded / 95~
Transmission 4 AT
Cruise Control Yes
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,560
Width (mm) 1,780
Height (mm) 1,700
Wheelbase (mm) 2,615
Curb Weight (kg) 1,525
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Double Wishbone
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Tires 225/55R17
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 6
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors No
Exterior Features
Headlights HID
Fog Lamps Front, Rear
Auto Lights No
Auto Wipers No
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjustment Tilt/Telescopic
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment Electric (driver)
Seating Surface Leather
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 60/40
On-Board Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, with Fold
Climate Control Yes
Audio System Stereo
No. of Speakers 6
Steering Wheel Controls Yes

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