The West

Subaru widens attack
For off-road use, a system called X-mode takes overall control of engine, all-wheel- drive, the hill descent function and vehicle stability.

The XT version of the Subaru Forester brings a new engine to the line-up with a twin-scroll turbo, higher compression ratio and intercooling ducts glued to the underside of the aluminium bonnet.

The turbo is now beneath the engine and most engine internals and accessories are new - either lighter, stiffer, stronger or more efficient. Roller rockers, chains instead of belts and a charging control system all combine to make the FA turbo engine a further evolution of the new FB series of Boxer engines.

But it is the electronics that steal the show. For off-road use, a system called X-mode takes overall control of engine, all-wheel-drive, the hill descent function and vehicle stability. Below 40km/h the throttle is dampened and the traction control unit shares the drive more evenly between front and rear wheels, plus vehicle dynamics juggle brake pressures between left and right wheels to improve traction.

When speed drops below 20km/h, hill descent control kicks in. It's activated by speed rather than the slope, so you can set it before you tip over the edge rather than waiting for your knees to turn to jelly as the road turns to sky.

But the biggest noise made by Subaru is the Lineartronic CVT transmission. Although it's a CVT, it has six speeds, unless you select "S#" mode, then you get eight.

Click a paddle and you're in manual mode. Calm down and the system will revert back to "D" (for Drive) range.

The AWD system splits torque 60/40 front/rear by default, then adjusts things from there, keeping traction on the wheels that have grip but using steering wheel angle, yaw rate and sideways G-force to do its sums.

Suspension changes take up nearly two pages of technical blurb from Subaru so it's best summed up as "faster, flatter and better traction on any surface".

The SI-Drive function has three modes - average, dumbed down, and sharpened up. Subaru prefers the terms Sport, Intelligent and Sport-sharp.

The EyeSight system costs $1500 more and uses stereo cameras to manage safe driving distances, but a throttle management feature is a great idea. If a driver mistakenly hits the throttle close to a large barrier or object, it jacks up and says "no".

No more Foresters making surprise entrances in people's front rooms via the garden wall, especially as there's a control that gives priority to the brake if a big foot pushes both throttle and brake simultaneously.

Seven airbags and a brake-pedal retractor lower the risk of serious injury and VDC (vehicle dynamic control) mixes ABS (anti-lock braking system and TCS (traction control system) with power and torque to enhance stability.

As is essential these days, the Forester is a mobile entertainment centre, with USB, iDevice and Bluetooth across the range, plus eight Harmon Kardon speakers in the Premium version, powered by an eight-channel power amplifier under the front seat.

It's good enough to expose the strangled sound of a compressed MP3 file that a hot speaker system brings to the fore, so a Sound Restorer function beefs it up again. But if you hate your music interfered with, or you're borrowing the Forester from your grandkids, there's storage for up to 46 CDs.

So much is done for you by the smarts in this latest Subaru there's barely enough left to keep you awake.

But I found a couple of really good ideas that will never need plugging in. On the rear hatch, there's a hook attached to the lower trim so you can string up a towel, or fins, or your boyfriend, when it takes your fancy.

There's even a couple of shopping-bag hooks on each side of the cargo area. No more lemons, eggs and milk cascading across the floor when you're testing the stability control on the way back from the shops. Four metal cargo hooks add to the common-sense collection.

The Premium XT sells for $50,490, which is $19,000 more than the 2.0i manual at the bottom of the Forester food chain, but the non-Premium version is $43,490.

For the performance and features, both represent good value for buyers who want a mix of practicality and performance that won't break the bank.

It's the fourth-generation Forester and it's poised to make a bigger impact than its predecessors.

On the 40th anniversary of Subaru in Australia, the company has sold just over 170,000 of the car that started life as a downsized Liberty wagon, but is now widening its attack on the rapidly growing SUV market.

But one thing the Japanese builder is not going to do is sell a two-wheel-drive el cheapo version of its all-wheel-drive technology.

All Foresters have the same grip on the road and, although that feature hasn't contributed to the five-star ANCAP rating, it's a vital part of Subaru's primary safety package.

Subaru Australia's managing director Nick Senior reckons the Forester XT is a "game changer".

I'm not sure I'd go that far, but if this new performance-oriented Forester does to SUVs what the WRX did for small sedans, then we have a new market segment opening up.

The West Australian

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