The Subaru Forester came to life in 1997 as a bare-bones, no-nonsense cross-over vehicle ready to take on the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Using the Impreza platform, but built in the style of a station wagon, with a taller stance, higher hip-point seating and all-wheel drive, over the years it has gained in size, sophistication and popularity, becoming a top seller.
Indeed, Subaru recently celebrated 300,000 Forester sales in Australia.
A late addition to the small SUV segment a quarter of a century ago, the Forester, along the way, has boasted some of the Japanese automobile manufacturer’s most advanced driving aids and safety systems.
It still does.
For example, in Australia, EyeSight Driver Assist, which scans the road ahead for danger, first introduced on the range-topping Liberty and Outback models in 2012, was ahead of its time.
By 2021, 92 per cent of Subaru vehicles sold in Australia were equipped with it.
What’s it cost?
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Unlike many of its younger rivals, the latest Forester has eschewed modern design trends with a somewhat staid station wagon-like appearance.
And, with misty-eyed memories and massive sales, that is how the fans, and maker, like it.
The MY23 model has maintained a full house of information displaying fixtures and fittings of former Foresters.
With three sets of screens, it does veer on the side of over-capitalisation.
The subject of some minor design upgrades in 2022, the MY23 range opens at $37,890, plus on-road costs for the 2.5i petrol and peaks with the Hybrid S at $49,340.
Price increases range from $1900 to $2150, which Subaru Australia claims are due to production and logistic costs.
The MY23 model stays much the same except for minor specification changes, with the high-spec Forester 2.5i Sport, 2.5i-S (the test vehicle) and Hybrid S all getting an auto-dimming rear-view mirror as standard.
The outgoing Dark Blue Pearl exterior paint option has been replaced by Sapphire Blue Pearl.
Main centre of infotainment focuses on a centre-dash mounted 8.0-inch screen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, integrated satellite navigation, and AM/FM/DAB+ radio, the last from an eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
ANCAP awarded the Subaru Forester a five-star safety score in 2019, with the latest list of standard safety equipment on all models including autonomous emergency braking and steering, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, lane centring and adaptive cruise control.
All Forester variants now include Lane Centring Function, Lane Departure Prevention and Autonomous Emergency Steering, designed to avoid frontal collisions, lane drifting and low speed impacts.
It can ‘lock on’ to vehicles directly in front and, when used together with adaptive cruise control, can slow, stop and accelerate to maintain a safe driving distance.
It also recognises pedestrians, motorcycles and cyclists within its field of vision.
Depending on conditions, the pre-collision braking system can help to minimise impact and damage.
If the speed is less than 30km/h, the car can be brought to a complete stop before impact.
Then there’s the Driver Monitoring System that uses a camera to monitor the driver for signs of fatigue or distraction and warns them if it detects that the driver is not focused or keeping eyes on the road ahead.
It also features advanced temperature adjustment, allowing the driver to have complete control of the temperature through simple hand gestures.
The 2023 Subaru Forester has a 5-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with three or five-year servicing schemes, costing $1277.90 and $2422.38, respectively.
What’s it go like?
The Forester is a spacious five-seater with the 2.5i-S perches clad in quality leather upholstery.
Seating height and a good expanse of glass all round make for good visibility.
Twin cup holders are centred between driver and front seat passenger.
A large comfortable armrest is home to a storage area with USB ports. Door pockets are generous.
Rear passengers are treated to spacious surroundings thanks to the Forester’s traditional station wagon styling.
Also on hand are two USB ports and air vents.
Boot space also takes advantage of the vehicle’s square old-world character.
There is 498 litres with all seats up and 1704 litres with rear two seat backs folded.
There is room under the floor for a full-size spare wheel – an off-road bonus.
The MY23 non-hybrid models are powered by the same naturally aspirated 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine putting out 136kW peak power and 239Nm of torque.
Mated with a continuously variable automatic transmission, power is distributed permanently through all four wheels.
Fire up the engine and the cabin is filled with the signature sound of the 2.5 Subaru horizontally opposed unit – some might find it intrusive – Boxer fans not so.
There’s no mistaking the note through the whole rev range, with responsive action to the accelerator pedal.
All Foresters run on 91 RON regular unleaded fuel, with non-hybrid combined consumption of 7.4L/100km.
The test car recorded 11.9L in the daily city commute and 6.1L when cut free on the open road.
All-wheel drive has the Forester steady and reliable on bitumen business, while ventilated discs all round maintain a high level of efficiency when called on in spirited driving.
Off road going can be tamed by X-Mode, a system that has two modes – Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud – each yielding improved grip and traction in low-speed and slippery conditions, and gear selection to suit the terrain.
The 220mm of ground clearance puts the Forester up with more hardened 4x4s, tackling low-range off-roading without worries for driver or passengers.
Braked towing is rated at 1800 kg.
What we like?
Advanced driving aids and safety systems
Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
Integrated satellite navigation
Harman Kardon sound system
What we don’t like?
Somewhat staid station wagon-like appearance
The bottom line?
Subaru Australia claims 97 per cent of Foresters sold in the past 10 years are still on the road today, so that says a lot about the pedigree of the vehicle.
The addition of hybrid technology, plus the promise of turbo power, are bound to keep Forester to the forefront of responsible driving.