What is it?
REMEMBER that song: Seven little girls sitting in the back seat?
It was a catchy number by Paul Evans, back in 1959 and it came to mind while driving Subaru’s latest Forester, the one with ‘e-boxer’ badges on its flanks and tail.
Part of the chorus goes:
Keep you mind on your drivin’.
Keep you hands on the wheel,
Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead,
We’re having fun sitting in the back seat kissing and a-hugging with Fred.
I’d spotted a colourful garden on the right side and pointed it out to True Love, when ding-dong, a warning bell sounded and a message popped up on the dash telling me to keep my eyes on the road.
I didn’t have one little girl in the back seat, let alone seven.
It’s part of Subaru’s great EyeSight system, which apart from its myriad safety features, now has driver face recognition — and it scolds you if you glance away.
What’s it cost?
The ‘e-boxer’ is Subaru’s first hybrid and it’s available in the compact XV and mid-sized Forester.
Those badges aside, our Forester looked like any other of the popular model and buyers can choose from two spec levels: L and S, priced from $39,990 and $45,990.
They have identical drivetrains but the S jobbie adds an integrated infotainment system with 8.0-inch LCD touchscreen, satnav, an electric sunroof, powered tailgate, leather accented seat trim, an octet of Harman Kardon speakers, plus subwoofer and amplifier and two-stage X-Mode.
Power is from a 110kW/196Nm 2.0-litre boxer four-pot mated to a 12.3kW/66Nm electric motor that runs on lithium-ion, rather than nickel-metal hydride battery technology.
It recharges itself via kinetic energy from regenerative braking and coasting and never needs to be plugged in for a recharge.
Still, 12kW is a scant increase from a battery.
So it gains a bit of fuel economy, but loses its spare wheel and a fair slice of fuel tank capacity in the process of fitting that battery.
What’s it go like?
It also loses quite a bit of performance compared to the conventional Forester, which has a 2.5-litre engine with 136kW/239Nm petrol engine – and costs $3K less.
The brand’s smaller model, the XV, has the identical hybrid power unit and it’s a similar story, although without loss of power.
I first drove a pre-launch one in Japan in late 2011, I think. It had a 2.0-litre motor then and apparently it’s still the same 110kW unit.
Despite little nips and tucks and detail upgrades, the vehicle has not changed much since then, although now in its third generation.
Subaru made a big thing of the original XV’s orange colour, and now it’s offering the XV in lagoon blue, a shade exclusive to the hybrid.
Does colour have much to do with car sales?
Well, True Love was smitten by the jasper green metallic of the Forester – and it’s a fact that appearance is the number one factor in car buying.
The XV in lagoon blue? Hmmm. The French might like it, though it’s a couple of shades deeper than French racing blue, and I recall writing at the time that the orange ones should be a hit with the Dutch.
The XV Hybrid, which runs on rather ugly alloys, is priced at $35,580, about a grand under the top-of-range $36,530 2.0i-S.
Again, it is a little more frugal in fuel use, but doesn’t have some of the goodies that are standard in the 2.0i-S.
The XV felt a tad nippier than the Forester but both models are pleasant enough to drive, especially in urban areas, which is what they’re really all about.
All Subarus have all-wheel-drive which gives them an edge over front or rear-drive competitors in handling prowess and safety on poor surfaces.
Transmission, in both cases, is by CVT style auto.
Subaru says the hybrid Forester should return 7.5L/100km in city traffic and 6.7 on the combined cycle and the XV also 7.5 in the city and 6.5 combined.
We couldn’t match either claim.
Best we got on an open road was 6.6L/100km, but even with pussyfoot driving the combined figure after a week was 7.7L.
Warranty is five years unlimited distance and eight years and 160,000km for the battery pack.
What we like?
- EyeSight system
- Build quality
- Jasper green metallic paint (Forester)
- Pleasant glasshouse
- Good comfort
- Easy driver
What we don’t like?
- Lack of spare wheels
- Chunky alloys (XV)
- Smaller fuel tanks
The bottom line?
The hybrid Soobies puzzle me in that they cost more than the petrol-powered ones, but offer less in equipment and, in the Forester’s case, also performance.
They’re still fine, practical machines and might have an edge in economy, but the hybrids seem to be a half-hearted exercise for the respected Japanese manufacturer.
CHECKOUT: Subaru Outback: Oldie but a goldie
Subaru XV Hybrid (from $35,580); Subaru Forester Hybrid (from $39,990)
Looks - 7.5/10
Performance - 7.5/10
Safety - 8/10
Thirst - 8/10
Practicality - 7.5/10
Comfort - 8/10
Tech - 8/10
Value - 7.5/10