Super Star: Subaru Forester (2006)
In my opinion, the best verdict you can give any car is whether at the end of the test drive, you’re actually willing to sign your soul for one. With the amount of cars I’ve driven so far, there is usually a fault or two that will make me re-think whether this car’s such a good purchase or not. Be it the design of the smoothness of the engine or the design of the cup holder, there is always an excuse to say: this isn’t perfect; let’s move on to the next one. When I got the chance to take the Subaru Forester 2.5XT home, my frame of mind was no different. But no matter how hard I try, it’s very hard to fault this car.
What turned me on immediately is the Forester’s single-minded focus in design and execution. Instead of using a modest front-wheel driven sedan as its platform, Subaru engineers fitted something extra-special: the Impreza WRX. You heard that right; the same Initial D beating, WRC-winning all-wheel drive machine formed the basis of the Forester. In other words, the Forester was designed from the ground up to be a highly capable all-wheel drive powerhouse. Needless to say, they slotted in the same 230 horsepower 2.5-liter flat-4 under the aluminum hood.
In the flesh, the Forester looks taut and butch, with just the careful amount of lines and curves to make it well-proportioned. Although based on the model launched in 2002, it was re-skinned to carry modern touches such as the new headlamps, bumpers and the chromed grille. Currently, there are two variants of the Forester available; both with all-wheel drive. The only way to tell the difference visually, aside from the wheel size, is the muscular gaping turbo hood scoop on the 2.5XT.
Ingress and egress is great with the Forester’s raised hip point. Once inside, you’ll be greeted with a logical cabin that’s fitted with the best materials found in a compact SUV. Overall, the build quality is hard to fault with great soft, feel plastics throughout and great supportive seats. The perforated seats may look normal, but they’re actually treated to make them water repellant. The only minor quip I had was that some interior trim reminded me too much of the Chevrolet Optra (Subaru was after all, once owned by General Motors).
Unlike the towering ride height of other SUVs, the Forester actually has a low seating height, maybe just a tad higher than a conventional car. The dash and controls are more car-like compared to other SUVs with the steering wheel and gear shifter within perfect reach. Space is a bit of a premium, but it’s adequate fore and aft, the rear passengers getting individual headrests and three-point seatbelts for all.
With its family-friendly configuration, the designated driver won’t feel left out at all. Driving fun is still the main draw here thanks to the most balanced and vibration-free four-cylinder engine I’ve ever tried. At idle, the 2.5-liter “boxer” never hints at its performance potential, but bleep the throttle at bit and there’s an immediate surge. Could this be the turbo? No, the initial sensation’s the 2.5-liter at work. Once the Forester reaches 3,600 rpm there’s a powerful tug as the engine unleashes 326 Nm of torque. At 5,600 rpm—it literally reaches warp speed. Before you know it, you’re hitting 140 km/h and simply running out of road.
Once you turn the corner though, the Forester manages to obey—feeling surefooted and confident. Aside from the engine’s low center of gravity, Subaru employs symmetrical all-wheel drive that delivers unbelievable grip making the Forester a sturdy companion whatever the weather, whatever the corner. There’s some tire squeal, but it’s down to the nature of the M+S tires. Perhaps a switch to performance radials will quell this. On the road, the Forester feels mightily composed and softly sprung, surpassing the ride quality of any other compact SUV out there.
Ultimately what gains my respect for the Forester is that Subaru didn’t take any shortcuts in developing it. Other companies may skimp on here and there, but true to the brand, it’s one engineering marvel. It blends the best attributes of a compact SUV with those of a sports car. In the end, this singularity and focus in design is what draws me to any car. And the Forester delivers that. At the same time, it doesn’t remove flexibility out of the equation, as it’s a commendable family car for any sort of occasion. What do I think about the new Subaru Forester 2.5XT? A Crystal Gray Metallic, please. I sure hope Subaru accepts souls as I’m a bit wee short on cash.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang