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May 14, 2013

Review: 2013 Subaru Forester XT

Photos by Ulysses Ang
The Forester is perhaps the most important product for Subaru. What was once an odd little all-wheel drive wagon on stilts has matured into a competitive crossover that accounts for about half of exclusive Philippine distributor, Motor Image Pilipinas’s total sales. With those numbers continuing to swell even in the third-generation (SH5)’s twilight hours, engineers and designers found themselves in the unenviable position of being asked to build up on the strengths of the outgoing model while trying to achieve better fuel efficiency, more useable space, and a more refined drive.

In doing so, Subaru has successfully toed that delicate line between luring in new devotees to the cult of Pleiades and keeping the brand’s long-time fans smiling. While the fourth-generation (SJ5) may have lost even more of the trademark pluckiness in the pursuit of a more mainstream experience, there’s no denying that this is a more sorted vehicle than its predecessors. Make no mistake, the all-new Forester is keen to carve out a larger chunk of the compact crossover for itself, and for the first time in its model’s history, it has the cability to do so.

The all-new Forester is larger in every direction compared to the previous model, but familiar proportions help keep the new-generation from looking engorged. Taken on its own, the Forester looks fairly compact, but with its tall ride height and more capacious greenhouse, it appears beefier than the competition. It also features a more squared-off styling front and back with chiseled headlamps (now with LED park lights) and trapezoidal grille in the front, and the sculpted rear hatch and angular tail lamps at the back.

Subaru wanted to help separate the turbocharged XT model from its naturally-aspirated littermate, the 2.0 i-L, aesthetically which explains the “fangs” on the lower fascia upfront. There’s no calling the new front bumper subtle, but the look is much more subdued in the flesh. Longtime XT fans will spot the unfortunate omission of the trademark hood scoop—the casualty of new pedestrian safety regulations and the quest for greater fuel efficiency through reduced drag (now at just 0.33 co-efficient). While the new XT still makes use of a top-mount intercooler, the heat exchanger is now fed through a bit of clever duct work snugged to the underside of the hood that draws the air from the grille opening. Visual changes to the XT are capped off with black split-spoke 18-inch alloys, extra chrome trimmings, and dual exhaust tips shooting out from the back.

If the Forester shows its new girth anywhere, it’s in profile. The new model is around 40 mm longer than the outgoing model complete with an extra 25 mm of wheelbase. There’s also an additional 35 mm of total height thanks in part to a larger greenhouse. Designers shifted the A-pillar forward slightly for greater visibility and larger door openings. And anyone who’s come away from the previous-generation Forester with mud on their pant legs will appreciate the new roof-to-belly doors that covers the vehicle’s sills (“clean sill” design).

Inside, the all-new Forester doesn’t exactly offer buyers any great leap forward in comfort or convenience, though a number of small changes does make the cabin a nice place to spend time in, not to mention make it class competitive. Those start with larger door openings all around, which help jumping behind the wheel or wrangling children into the back seat easier. Upfront, the dashboard is laid out in a simple and straight-forward manner. The gauges are highly legible and all the controls are clearly labeled and offer a nice, tactile feel. The driver’s seat is power-actuated and together with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, offers the best driving position in any compact crossover. The 4.3-inch WQVGA monitor also displays a wealth of information from the usual trip computer functions to self-check maintenance alerts, calendar functions (birthday and anniversary), safety-related information, and even Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). It even has a customizable triple-meter display that shows things from coolant temperature to turbo boost pressure to elapsed time travelled. Plus it doubles as the monitor for the standard back-up camera. With an extra 10-mm of width and redesigned, scalloped door panels, occupants get an extra 33-mm of shoulder room, which helps make the Forester larger inside than it actually is.

But it’s the back seat that received the most attention. Subaru has worked to make the all-new Forester more kid friendly than its old counterpart. It starts out with a sill plate with an anti-slip design that allows kids to climb in easily. Then, there’s the transmission tunnel which is nearly flat. Likewise, the center console has been shortened by 100 mm to afford the center seat more legroom while allowing knick-knacks, such as an iPod, to be secured. Most importantly, there’s an additional 95 mm of leg room, effectively making the backseat generous for three (or even four) adults!

Engineers spent plenty of time tweaking the Forester’s drivetrain. The XT now benefits from an all-new turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, the FA20DIT, which is based off the engine that propels the company’s BRZ sports car. This new beating heart beneath the XT puts out 240 horses and 350 Nm of torque from a foolishly low 2,400 rpm. The XT also rides with an all-new high-torque continuously variable transmission or CVT (Lineartronic) which helps to return impressive fuel economy figures: 8.2 km/L in the city and 13.2 km/L on the highway. Combined with a 60-liter tank, the all-new Forester has a cruising range past 400 kilometers—pretty impressive numbers considering that the Forester comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive.

The Lineartronic transmission is all but unobtrusive, offering quiet operation and helping to put the engine where you need it with none of the rubber-band feeling typically associated with a CVT. That said, the transmission does dull the engine’s punch somewhat, culminating in a much tamer driveline than the XT models of old despite a jump in power and a quoted 0-100 km/h of around 7.5 seconds. Likewise, quickly changing from Park to Drive or Drive to Reverse results in a noticeable delay compared to a traditional automatic. Plus, it has the propensity to lurch forward even when the brakes are fully depressed, say when waiting for a traffic light to turn green.

The XT also differentiates itself from the 2.0 i-L with a sportier suspension tuning with stiffer spring rates and revised dampers. The brakes are also larger and are ventilated front and back for additional stopping power. However, one of the most significant changes is the addition of Subaru’s SI-Drive system. This tech allows the driver to select between three modes: Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp which alter throttle mapping and transmission parameters. In Intelligent mode, the Forester offers more than enough city puttering performance, but if you want to extract the most out of the vehicle, shifting to Sport allows the driver to click through 6 simulated gears via the wheel-mounted paddles, while Sport Sharp offers 8 simulated gears. SI-Drive may seem like a gimmick at first, but 225 km/h in Sport Sharp doesn’t lie.

The move to a CVT has also allowed Subaru to refine its already impressive all-wheel drive system by using the Vehicle Dynamics Control system to manage a continuously variable transfer clutch. The system takes into account data like steering angle, vehicle yaw, and lateral acceleration to more accurately put power to wheels with the most traction. What’s more, the driver can now actuate X-Mode via a button on the center console. Available at speeds below 40 km/h, X-Mode further moderates throttle inputs while controlling the transmission logic, front-to-rear all-wheel drive power split and brakes to provide as much grip as possible. It also integrates an automatic hill-descent control and hill-start assist for low-traction surfaces.

Despite the Forester’s 1,620-kg curb weight and 220-mm of ground clearance, it feels remarkably quick on its feet and stable. There’s some tip and sway when pushed into corners, but there’s remarkable mechanical grip and feels much more sorted than ever before. Plus, despite employing an electric power steering, the Forester offers a nicely weighted feel. Push the XT a little further, and it breaks away gradually with confidence-inspiring forgiveness. Kiss the brakes, go full throttle, and it will turn like a somewhat bigger WRX. Indeed, the old track-fiend in grocery getter clothing is still there; you just have to lift more skirt to find it.

At P 1,868,000, the XT’s price jumps up P 100,000 over the previous model. Though given the various improvements and additional features such as the 8-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, power tail gate, and push-button engine start/stop, the price increase is more than fair. The all-new Subaru Forester XT has grown up in all the right ways and while the old machine’s wild hair tendencies will be missed, it’s clear that buyers will find more to love in the newest model.

2013 Subaru Forester XT
Ownership 2.0 XT
Year Introduced 2013
Vehicle Classification Compact Crossover
The Basics
Body Type 5-door Crossover
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/AWD
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.0
Aspiration Turbocharged
Layout / # of Cylinders Flat 4
BHP @ rpm 240 @ 5,600
Nm @ rpm 350 @ 2,400-3,600
Fuel / Min. Octane Unleaded / 95~
Transmission CVT
Cruise Control Yes
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,595
Width (mm) 1,795
Height (mm) 1,735
Wheelbase (mm) 2,640
Curb Weight (kg) 1,620
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Double Wishbone
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Vented Disc
Tires 225/55R18
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 6
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes
Exterior Features
Headlights HID
Fog Lamps Front, Rear
Auto Lights Yes
Auto Wipers Yes
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 9
Steering Wheel Controls Yes


  1. Nice review Ulysses. I noticed a few possible mistakes though. The MFD is actually just 4.3" and not 6.1". It's small, but serviceable.

    Also, local spec XT version (237hp) is quoted to have a 0-100kph of 7.5 seconds, I found this on their official brochure.

    Lastly, I believe it only has an 8-speaker HK system with an amplifier, not a 10-speaker one.

    A question though, are those fuel economy you reported (8.2 and 13.2) factory numbers or did you actually achieve them through your tests? Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the inputs. I didn't get the brochure, so I wasn't so sure. Anyway, I made the corrections to the story already :-)

      As for the fuel economy figures, these are my actual test figures during the 4 days I had it.

    2. Thanks, good to know those were actual figures.

  2. Excellent review on the XT model. Were you also able to drive the 2.0X model? With a price difference of almost 500k, the base model sounds like a good alternative to the XV since its a bigger car. Any idea if its underpowered with a small NA engine?

    1. Thanks. The 2.0 i-L has pretty decent performance as well. Of course, it won't provide the same levels of performance as the XT, but for everyday driving, it's more than enough. Though the XV and the Forester 2.0 i-L are basically the same car underneath, the Forester feels more mature, more grown-up rather than the XV which is more nimble, pluckier. In terms of fuel efficiency, we haven't tested it in detail yet, but I reckon it can do close to 10 km/L in the city.

  3. Sir, any news if the diesel variant be available for the Philippine market in the near future?

    1. I don't think there is even a diesel version of this in other countries. From what I know, they only have the 2.0, 2.5, and 2.0DIT Turbo engines available right now.

    2. I read that the diesel variant is available in UK. Sana magkaroon din tayo. Has been waiting for one since 2008.

    3. Mahal ang maintenance ng subaru,lalo na siguro kapag diesel..

  4. Nice review Ulysses. Other local reviews said that the turbo of the new forester xt is bitin compared to the new xt. I am not sure what they mean. Is this true?

    1. I mean compared to the old xt.

    2. When they mean "bitin" they probably mean the "umph" you get from the old XT. While I tend to agree that this feeling is now gone, the new XT is still a very potent machine. Having tested the old XT before, the new one has better overtaking speed (50-80 km/h) and it accelerates like there's no tomorrow. However, the overall feeling is much more relaxed--like having a large displacement NA engine rather than a force-induction 4-cylinder engine. Nonetheless, it's still pretty good.

  5. What do you mean when you said there's a delay in the Forester's CVT transmission compared to traditional automatic? Is this a good or a bad thing?

    1. The delay is actually more of a subjective feel. The CVT requires a bit more time to be coaxed to rev while the the AT simply downshifts.

      As a whole, the CVT delivers the power in a much more linear fashion than the old AT. This means passengers will feel nauseated each time you gun the throttle because the power is gradually fed. Don't get me wrong--the power and acceleration are still there and this is evidenced by the speedometer.

      However, the AT makes you feel the rush more. But this can be discomforting to passengers.

    2. I felt that delay using 95ron fuel, but it was absent after switching to blaze 100

  6. hi. on your test drive, what kind of fuel did you use? does it really need a higher octane rating? or would a 95 do?. thank you.

    1. I used Petron XCS for the test drive. Motor Image recommends using 95 octane for the Subaru Forester XT, so the likes of Petron XCS or Caltex Gold or Shell V-Power Nitro are the LOWEST you can go for. The New FA20DIT is finicky when it comes to fuel, or so I've heard.

    2. tnxs.
      which one would you recommend, a Montero sport gls v 2wd,forester 2.0 il or the xt? value for money?fuel economy?
      thank you very much for the reply. and more power!

    3. It depends on what you want in your car.

      The Montero Sport is a 7-seater SUV that's a traditional ladder-on-frame design and it's diesel. This means it's much more capable off-road and through floods.

      On the other side, the Forester 2.0 i-L is a 5-seater crossover that's gasoline. This means it's much more comfortable to drive everyday.

      Bottom line: if you don't need the 7 seats, get the Forester. If you need the 7 seats, then go Montero Sport.

  7. 2013? Isn't this the all new redesigned forester model 2014?

    1. Unlike markets such as North America, the Philippines follows "calendar year" in determining model year. Therefore, if a car such as the Forester (SJ) is launched in 2013, it's considered as a 2013 model.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Hi Ulysses! Can you help make a Subaru Forester 2.0XT vs Mazda CX-5 2.5 AWD vs Honda CRV 2.4 EX comparo?

    I'm curious to see which between the "premium" small CUV's is the best buy at the moment. :)

    1. I'd have to say the Forester 2.0 XT is the best buy. Can't beat the power, space, and refinement.

      We'll try to do a comparison test soon.

  10. 2014 SUV Motor trend of the year is no other than subaru forester xt..

  11. which color is the best?

    1. Can't go wrong with Satin White Pearl. Though, the Burnished Bronze is also proving to be popular.

    2. Satin white pearl vs Crystal Black silica vs marine blue pearl, which one is the easiest to maintain and has the longest longetivity?

    3. black would be the hardest to maintain, light scratches can easily be seen. white is just as easy to maintain as other colors.

  12. With Ford launched its latest Ford Escape Titanium, 2.0, how would you compre the current Forester XT vis-a-vis Ford Escape overall performance and other amenities?

    1. I'd like to try the Escape 2.0. Havent' done so yet. Ford has yet to lend me a unit (maybe they're afraid?) :-D Anyway, will let you know the pros/cons between the Forester XT vs the Escape 2.0 once I get to try it!

    2. Any update so far Ulysses?

  13. is there any latest model of the xt

  14. Got a xt last month, trying out different fuels, from xcs to blaze then back to xcs, using blaze right now, i noticed there is a lag from the get go upto 2.5k when using XCS, on blaze, lag is absent, btw, fuel economy is better than i expected, theres a screen that shows boost and how hard you press the acceleration pedal, you become conscious and try to control yourself going to boost all the time, better than our old Underpowered gas guzzling 2.0 matic crv, press the pedal....slow, so you press it again to urge it to move.....

  15. ang xt model ba ay may EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology7: Pre-Collision Braking System, Pre-Collision Throttle
    Management, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, remote engine starter, at power lift gate tulad ng US XT Touring Version?


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