It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… for the car industry over the last two years. With or without the pandemic, in the United Kingdom, Subaru is often viewed as a specialist car brand bought only by farmers and rally drivers. This myth has been perpetuated by a generation of motoring group-think journalists. Conversely, Subaru enjoys much more prolific and normal sales in America, it is literally a tale of two continents. It need not be that way because the fifth-generation 2022 Subaru Forester, introduced in 2018, has transformed into a decent package, the best Forester to date. But how does it stack up to rivals?
On first impressions, externally, the Forester appears to be around the size of a BMW X5. In actuality, it is slightly less wide, and slightly less long than a BMW X3, but slightly taller. Let’s just say, it’s around the size of a Skoda Kodiaq. The Forester’s exterior design language has evolved from the 4th generation, I personally like the pre-post-modernist industrial look.
The interior receives the biggest attention, immediately it’s much more premium and solidly built than before. Much better use of materials, softer plastics etc, better seating comfort, good driving position and excellent visibility all around. As a comparison, its luxury compared to the bloody awful Volkswagen Tiguan. The tall roofline and windows allow natural light to flood into the cabin so even on a dull day the interior feels light and airy.
The only issue I had with the interior was the steering wheel. I could not decipher if it was plastic or leather lined, either way, it felt cheap which slightly dulled the premium ambience Subaru is going for.
Modern car design is trending for much simpler interiors with a single digital infotainment screen and maybe a few physical buttons for the heating controls. The 2022 Subaru Forester features a 8.0-inch main central screen and a smaller secondary 6.3-inch screen above arranged in a stack. It looks a little out of date, and really the secondary screen, which is used to display performance stats etc, isn’t really needed.
As for the infotainment system software, the built-in Sat-Nav is the highlight of an otherwise clunky and dated UI. It’s functional for accessing basic vehicle settings. Thankfully the integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto makes up for the standard UI. The built-in voice assist function works well enough but is limited to increasing or decreasing the heat.
While the Forester is viewed as a compact SUV, it actually feels quite large from behind the wheel. Passenger space upfront and in the rear is excellent. And of course, the rear boot space of 509-litres is more than enough for a nuclear-sized family. Boot capacity is vastly increased with the rear seats folded down and you get up to 2-metres of length… you can do a lot with 2-metres.
As part of Subaru’s electrification strategy, the naturally aspirated 2.0.-litre, 4-cylinder engine is fitted with an electric motor, and a small 0.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is located at the rear. Total system power equates to 150bhp and 196 Nm of torque. It isn’t a full hybrid, more of a power assist, I would say a cross between an electric turbocharger and mild hybrid system.
So, if you are coasting the engine will switch off and drive will be provided by electricity. If you floor the throttle, you will get an assist from the electric motor. Or if you are in stop-start traffic you will get fully electric drive, but only for less than a mile. Braking and coasting charge the battery. Because the battery pack is so small it charges fairly quickly so you never run out of that small amount of electric juice. It’s all so seamless you will never notice.
Subaru’s SI-Derive feature is a drivetrain management system. With a push of a button throttle and gearchanges improve, become that little bit more snappy. In terms of fuel efficiency, the Forester managed 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on a combined cycle which is a reasonable rate of return. It’s also worth noting that the 2022 Subaru Forester has a 13.5-gallon fuel tank, which gives it a range of around 450 miles on a single tank of gas.
It’s debatable whether Subaru’s electrification technology is any better than a mild hybrid. Going for a full hybrid would have made more sense because Subaru does partner with Toyota and therefore has access to Toyota’s hybrid tech. And the Toyota RAV4 hybrid easily manages 50mpg. One assumes Subaru does not want to lose the marketing value and unique selling point the signature boxer engine bestows.
The eBoxer engine is mated to CVT transmission. CVTs have a different characteristics to other automatic transmissions. A CVT uses two pulleys connected via a steel band, rather than employing fixed gears. As a result power delivery and drivability feels odd. When accelerating hard you feel very little force, it’s almost like you are being pushed by a gentle breeze. I don’t mind the accompanying drone because the engine noise is moderately well suppressed. Revving any engine above its parameters will generate noise, pleasant or otherwise. But I did find myself preferring to apply the throttle smoothly so as not to encounter it too often.
As for the ride and handling, it’s good to go, the 2022 Subaru Forester doesn’t wallow too much when encountering a series of bends and the ride quality is good. It feels composed and secure and that’s what I want in any SUV. As a comparison, it is much better dialled in and much more rounded than the bloody awful Volkswagen Tiguan. The steering is OK and comes equipped with lane steering assist as standard. Subaru’s steering assist isn’t the best I have encountered and really the underlying software code needs improving.
The Forester also features an eye-tracking function that continuously monitors and tracks your eye movement. It seems to be most active when you are driving on the motorway/highway. The system beeps an alert if you’re not looking straight ahead. The trouble is, it’s so sensitive that if you glance momentarily down towards the speedo dials, the system will beep. And even if you look to the right or left to mirror-signal-turn, the system will beep to warn you. I could find no way to turn it off, most will find it deeply irritating, in the end, I decided to live with it.
So, as of 2022, for the UK market, the Forester is offered in three trim levels, XE, Sport, and XE Premium. Prices start from £37K for the base model and max out at £40k for the range-topping XE Premium. Standard equipment is generous and includes permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, X-MODE with Hill Descent Control, Rear Vehicle Detection, Side View Monitor, Reverse Automatic Braking, Reversing Camera, Keyless Entry, Automatic LED Steering Responsive Headlights and High Beam Assist.
When it comes to safety, the Forester is loaded with driver safety features. These features include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and more.
The real question is should you buy a Subaru Forester? Other reviews say you should go for the Ford Kuga Plugin Hybrid or Skoda Kodiaq over the Forester. While the Forester isn’t perfect neither is the Kuga or Skoda. Plug-in hybrids? they are akin to stealth tax and I simply do not buy Ford… any Ford. Despite the Subaru’s quirks and features, I would still opt for it over the latter two. Indeed you would have to spend at least £7k extra to get an equivalent spec Kodiaq.
The Subaru Forester is much more rounded than ever before and has substantial AWD capabilities. It just needs a little bit more finesse, and fine-tuning in a number of areas to elevate it to another level. The Forester has certainly received harsh reviews by established UK media outlets. But that’s probably because Subaru isn’t doing a BMW or Land Rover by paying backhanders to the established media for favourable coverage;)
But as it stands for now, the 2022 Subaru Forester has its flaws but it isn’t as bad as mainstream media says it is. I would be perfectly content owning one, more so than a Ford Kuga or Skoda Kodiaq and definitely over the bloody awful Volkswagen Tiguan.