• All-terrain wonder

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    The shape and overall design of the Forester remains the same, but the overall performance was much improved.

    The shape and overall design of the Forester remains the same, but the overall performance was much improved.

    SUBARU FORESTER 2.0iP

    When Subaru started their operations in the Philippines back in 2006, we have always had a soft spot for the Forester. And why not? It was clearly the most exciting to drive of the lot back then, what with its boxer engines and all-wheel drive made famous by rallying around the globe.

    The current generation of the Forester has been on sale since 2012, and now Subaru has updated its hot-selling crossover for these highly competitive times, and we got behind the wheels of it in Thailand.

    Unusually enough, the Subarus we’re looking at are not top-spec XT variants but the new 2.0i-P versions, but the look is that of the previous XT. Also, these right-hand drive models that we’ll get behind the wheel of are not assembled in Japan; instead, they come from Motor Image’s plant in Malaysia. The 2.0i-P cars the Philippine market will be getting will have a different fascia, and will be built at Subaru’s factory in Japan.

    One thing “Subarists” will notice is the virtual lack of cosmetic changes to the Forester when this generation debuted four years ago. Granted, Subaru did alter the grill somewhat and changed the wheels and taillights, but that’s it.

    Subaru is, in a way, like Porsche; the shape and overall design remains the same, but what they work on is improving overall performance. They improve the recipe but retain the presentation, so to speak, focusing instead on reducing noise vibration and harshness (NVH). They did this by making the window panels thicker and adding sound insulation materials in key locations on the monocoque. Engineers also reworked the suspension with a beefier front crossmember, revised shocks and springs, and enhanced rear suspension alignment.

    When I finally got behind the wheel of the Forester, the difference became apparent as well. They may have kept the exterior changes as subtle as possible, but the cabin certainly feels more premium from the driver’s seat. The steering wheel feels better and has a new set of control buttons. The new projector headlamps are interesting, and they’re tied in with the steering. The gauges have been upgraded, along with revisions to the material for the trim and a newer, more sophisticated audio unit with navigation; that last one will be extremely handy in Bangkok traffic.

    240 Horsepower on tap
    Once on the road, it’s easy to get familiarized with the Forester. The ones I’ve become accustomed to are the top-tier XT variants, but this one is the mid-grade Premium variant. The difference in performance is huge as XT versions get the FA20 DIT, a direct-injection turbo intercooler flat-four that makes 240 horsepower, while the mid and lower grades get the naturally-aspirated FB20 with 150 hp. Still, the power is more than sufficient for this crossover and in typical Subaru fashion, all models get their proprietary Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, X-Mode integrated off-road drive system, as well as their Lineartronic continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

    The elevated Sri Rat expressway heading out of the city is a perfect place to stretch the Forester’s legs. I prefer the power of the turbocharged XT, but this 2.0i-P will do. And fuel economy is decent too given that we weren’t really being economical; 9.5 kilometers per liter at 99 kilometers per hour with plenty of overtaking and some traffic.

    Now well outside of the city, we pull into what looks like a massive pineapple plantation, and here amid the plots of farmland and dirt trails did we get reacquainted with Subaru’s X-Mode system. X-Mode is a drive system that has programs to manage the traction control, stability control, transmission, engine response, the all-wheel drive system as well as the CVT. Under normal driving conditions, the Forester’s S-AWD has a 60/40 front/rear torque split, but X-Mode changes that, optimizing the split so that traction is improved. The throttle response is also managed for a more linear delivery of torque, and if one or more wheels start slipping, X-Mode will kick in to send power to the wheels that can use it. And there’s also Hill Descent and other technologies to get you through a rough spot.

    After another hour of driving, we arrived at a nondescript seaside location. It’s a simple place with no structure in sight, and it’s here where Subaru arranged a neat little dirt course. And we were told to go all out.

    Lap after lap, we started to get a feel for what this Subaru can do. They made their name rallying around the world and winning championships, and it still shows in the Forester’s DNA. The controllability of this heavy crossover around such a tricky course is it’s best characteristic, able to get sideways if pitched right, and able to minimize the understeer on the loose surface. When that was done, we went to another course, and were told to go even faster still. We obliged, with our confidence engaged with such a well sorted crossover.

    The changes made by Subaru to the Forester may not be cosmetic, but the improvements are certainly meaningful. Sure, I still wish the company revised the look a bit and changed more than just trim, but this revised Forester still has the goods where it counts the most.

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