We get to grips with the Subaru Forester which received a hybrid system a while back and find out if electrification is the way forward for the Japanese maker.
Regular readers will know that I have a huge affection for the Subaru brand which stems from my time following and competing in rallying. It’s a brand that has always produced cars based around performance, agility and a rugged ability.
In recent years, however, the performance aspect has been lacking. And although I was very critical of the self-charging hybrid’s performance in a previous first-drive article, but I take some of that back after spending two days chasing this year’s Circuit of Ireland Rally during my week with the car pictured.
Subaru have mostly used a ‘boxer’ engine, which keeps the centre of gravity low and it’s an engine type that isn’t too common these days as in general, they are very uneconomical and with tighter restrictions on emissions, high costs of tax ensued.
Perhaps the combined reasons mentioned, is why Subaru has developed the e-BOXER, a self-charging hybrid, to work towards the goal of a better carbon footprint. Let’s be realistic, until recently, they haven’t done a great deal other than produce fuel guzzlers.
Retaining the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system this latest Forester’s 2.0-litre petrol Boxer engine has binned its turbo in favour of some battery powered supplement instead. Combined with the award-winning ‘eyesight’ technology, it keeps the Forester in contention for one of the most practical and safe cars in its class.
When it comes to people carriers, there are many around, but when it comes to people carriers that add extra purpose for those living in rural areas, or that enjoy some extreme sports, few can add up to what the Forester can deliver both on-road and off-road.
Inside this model tested is awash of black leather and durable plastics that are far removed from Subaru’s of old, and the Forester is actually quite a nice place to be when driving or as a passenger, for which there is plenty of room no matter which seat you opt to sit in.
Comfort on this model helped with heated seats front and rear.
An electric open-close tailgate adds a lot of convenience, whilst a suitably sized colour touch screen on the dash is the home of the infotainment which provides AM/FM/DAB radio, satellite navigation, app connectivity, Bluetooth and streaming.
Above this, on top of the dash in its owned housing, is a second colour screen which displays the climate control settings as well as the status of the engine and hybrid system and shows the transition of power from petrol or battery as well as the regeneration status of the battery along with other car settings.
Whilst at press launches in the past, when Subaru’s eyesight technology was first demonstrated, I experienced it in several clinical situations and it seemed to work well, so well in fact that many other brands are now incorporating the exact technology into their own vehicles.
It was only during my week long test of this Forester however, that I was able to see first-hand just how good a system it really is. One example would be when I was scouting out a possible location for a photoshoot of a local artist.
I was on private land and whilst driving quite slowly I was looking around me to see if my idea would be achievable, when all of a sudden the car beeped and a message popped up to say something along the lines of pay attention and keep your eyes on the road.
Big brother is watching you!
An X-mode dial allows switching between normal, snow and dirt, or deep snow and mud settings, which will alter how the car drives to best suit the terrain under you, meaning the Forester’s capability off-road and agility on-road is never in doubt.
The symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is fantastic as I have experienced several times in the past on some gruelling off-road tracks in England. And even the lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox is one that I warmed to the more miles I covered when I got used to it mannerisms.
Compared to previous turbocharged generations, the e-Boxer is by no way comparable. Again, I was perhaps a little hard on it in the past, but I will say that if you live your life in a hurry, then this isn’t the car for you.
Whilst researching this article, everything became apparent as to where Subaru are headed, as it has removed all diesel engines from its range, removed all turbochargers from its petrol engines and the XV and Forester now come with the hybrid self-charging power-train. They have even added an all-electric SUV to their small fleet which I hope to test in the future.
Subaru are now all about high specifications and comfort, with safety of paramount importance to the brand. Which in this day and age, were a mixture of technology and daydreaming can distract us so easily when driving, you’ll always have confidence in motion with a Subaru.
The e-BOXER Forester produces around 145bhp with similar lb/ft of torque and is equipped only with the auto ‘box which will see a combined return of about 35mpg.
Prices start from £37,895 for the XE model which provides as much as most would ever need from a vehicle in regards to specification. For those wanting a little more however, a SPORT starts from 39,995 whilst an XE Premium, as tested, can be bought from £40,895.
Subaru’s Forester is covered by a 3-year/60,000 mile warranty whilst the battery gets an extra 5-years up to 100,000 miles, proving the confidence the Japanese maker has in its product.
Words and Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
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