Skid Marks

Subaru Forester is better than ever

THE FORESTER shows off its impressive all-road, all-terrain capability.

THE FORESTER shows off its impressive all-road, all-terrain capability.

The Subaru Forester, now in its third year in the Asean market, has finally reached its mid-cycle period. Perfect time for a proper update and facelift.

Motor Image Pilipinas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Motor Image Enterprises Singapore and part of the Tan Chong International Limited Group, invited media to experience the latest upgraded and updated Forester in Thailand.

The 2016 Forester receives a raft of new changes. The biggest change that will be felt is the revamped front suspension.

The cross-member and sub-frame have been stiffened further, and suspension arms have had their geometry tweaked with slightly stiffer dampers and springs to provide far better control on the road, and off it.

The front windshield has also increased in thickness, improving NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) isolation, and also helping to stiffen the front end further.

The interior has also received better furnishings. Additional sound deadening has been installed in key areas to further reduce NVH permeation inside the cabin.

Piano black wood inserts replace the easily scratched silver inserts, and six airbags are now standard across the range.

The seats now come with a memory function, handy if the Forester is shared in a household.

The steering wheel, shared with the Legacy and Outback, is also a welcome addition to the Forester, and with it, paddle shifters behind and auxiliary buttons for the infotainment system.

You also get a new PIN-code access at the tailgate that allows you to leave your keys inside the car should you go off and enjoy some high-energy adventurous endeavors like kayaking or marathons and don’t want to risk losing or damaging your keys.

THE STEERING wheel is shared with the Legacy and Outback.

THE STEERING wheel is shared with the Legacy and Outback.

The exterior gets new headlamps and tail lamps, plus the headlamps are steering responsive, i.e., they follow depending on where you point the  steering wheel, which improves nighttime driving.

You also get LED DRLs shaped like a big C to provide added safety and visibility during the day.

New bumpers front and rear, a new grille, plus new design 17” and 18” (for Turbo XT variants) round out the visual changes.

So how is it to drive? Better than ever!

Though we were only driving the 2.0i Premium, it was an impressive experience nonetheless, one which allowed us to sample the Forester’s repertoire of driving abilities on- and offroad.

Day One of our road trip saw us drive from Bangkok CBD all the way to the royal seaside town of Hua Hin, a popular tourist destination not just for foreigners and locals alike, but for the Royal Family of Thailand.

THE FORESTER carved in between the cones with surprising accuracy.

THE FORESTER carved in between the cones with surprising accuracy.

We took a very long detour, racking up close to 400 kilometers on a mix of jam-packed city streets, elevated expressways, highways, B-roads, mountain passes, plus a light offroad trail, followed by two rally-cross venues that allowed us to get the Forester’s tail out, and enjoy some scanty flicks and four-wheel drifting.

In the city, our brand-spanking new RHD Malaysian-built Forester was fresh off the assembly line with only 12 kilometers on the odometer.

An engine this new tends to be a tad noisier, emits a bit of smoke, and feeling somewhat lazy. Additionally, the brakes would need some bedding in and thus feel somewhat inconsistent.

But as the mileage piled on, the improvement in performance, reduction in engine noise, and engine response improved dramatically.

In the city, the Forester, with its oodles of rear seat space, felt comfortable, and the added windshield thickness also kept the interior calm and quiet.

As speeds increased on Bangkok’s elevated expressways, the suspension came alive.

The stiffer front-end felt more controlled and confident, which improved steering feel and response, giving it improved feedback and accuracy as our 20-car convoy snaked through notorious Bangkok traffic.

Comfort was also better, allowing the suspension to operate from a stable base.

On the highway, the Forester’s brakes took some getting used to as the newish brakes had yet to bed in properly, thus making modulation difficult.

But the brakes were powerful enough to keep us from rear-ending our driving companions while giving fade-free performance.

ON AUTOCROSS dirt surfaces, the Forester shined bright.

ON AUTOCROSS dirt surfaces, the Forester shined bright.

Under the guidance of a police escort, we were instructed to keep pace with their cruiser, and saw us regularly travelling at 120-140 kilometers per hour.

Boxer engines tend to emit a bit more mechanical noise than regular inline engines, but the FB20 four-pot which remained unchanged, felt serene and smooth after a continuous 150 km. It gave us an impressive 8 km per liter considering the engines were new and how hard we were driving them just to keep up with the police escorts.

After stopping for a brief lunch of Thai seafood, we headed out to some farmlands to try the Forester’s X-Mode, which allowed us to clear modest obstacles with ease. X-Mode controls the vehicle dynamics system (traction control, ABS, Symmetrical AWD and throttle/ignition control) to improve offroad ability and traction.

The Forester definitely did not disappoint in tough terrain as it slowly but surely climbed and conquered large dips, uneven surfaces, and slippery ascents.

After the short offroad jaunt, we were led to a slalom area on an unused airfield to give us a chance to sample the Forester’s improved responsiveness on a paved yet slippery surface.

Together with VDC and Symmetrical AWD, the Forester carved in between the cones with surprising accuracy that belied its size, weight and ride-height.

We were going faster and faster through the cones—much to the panic of our driving instructors—and stepping closer and closer to the safety boxes designed to slow us down before exiting the course.

The stiffer front-end allowed the rear to rotate better through the twisty bits with far more confidence and stability—traits usually not mentioned when the words crossover SUV are mentioned in the same breath as performance.

From the slalom, we tried out two autocross dirt surfaces, and the Forester shined far brighter than the midday sun.

On very soft beach sand, the Forester found traction in places we never knew existed; the highway-terrain tires would simply dig in and catapult us to the next corner with confidence while allowing brief tail-out action.

Moving onto the harder surface course, it was here that many understood Subaru’s mastery of rally racing. The Forester would easily hold a drift on hard clay with a sprinkling of sand on top.

The front-end remained controllable, and while the rear would step out, it was very easy and intuitive to hold a counter-steer throughout the long sweeping sections, drifting the Forester in a glorious spray of sand and dirt.

Even when the tail stepped out, the Forester was easy to control and recover from, showing off its impressive all-road, all-terrain capability.

It was a beautiful, enlivening, and rejuvenating driving experience that allowed us to gel with the Forester and understand its true real-world capabilities.

Alas, the experience was all too short and left us wanting for more.

On the return trip to Bangkok the next day, the engines had loosened up from our offroad rally antics the day before, and the trip meter returned an improved 8.8-9 kpl on our equally high-speed run back. Yesterday’s previous adventures and antics didn’t make any significant difference to the Forester’s solid C-ring structure, which felt stable, composed, robust and solid as ever.

Truly, the Forester remains the standard by which this segment is judged in terms of driving dynamics, practicality and versatility.

For the Philippines, we will still continue to get the Japan-made Foresters, and prices will remain unchanged despite the increase in performance, standard equipment and safety features.

The face-lifted Forester will be launched this week at the 2016 Manila International Motor Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay. Three variants are available: the 2.0i L, 2.0i Premium, and top-of-the-line turbocharged XT retailing for P1.398 million, P1,598 million, and P1.868 million, respectively.

Book a test drive soon because a quick drive will really be eye-opening!

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

latest stories