The Forester has always offered a wide array of driving options among its variants and, with a $20,000 price gap between the SUV's entry-level and top-spec models, that trend has certainly continued. The lower-spec models remain as functional, affordable and as likely to please as other popular mid-sized SUVs, but Subaru has gone for something a little more ambitious with the top-range XT this time around.
The XT has always had an eye on performance and while elements of that remain, Subaru has aimed to put it alongside its more illustrious European competitors, at least in terms of price.
The top-spec XT Premium has a list price of $50,490, placing it near or alongside entry-level options for the Range Rover Evoque Coupe, BMW X1 and Audi Q3. For your money, you'll get Subaru's Eyesight safety technology, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, powered rear gate and more.
Gadget-wise, it makes up for its lesser brand appeal, but comfort-wise it doesn't hit the same heights as its Euro competitors. The interior finish is serviceable, but lacking the sumptuousness expected in this price range.
The ride is a bit stiff and is also one of the factors which diminish the new XT's performance credentials. It's not a sporty handler, there's a lot of roll around corners and the overbearing Eyesight is constantly in your ear should you try to put your foot down through twists and turns.
You can easily turn off lane departure and obstacle warnings, but they will be back on when you restart the car.
However, the XT will still leave cars in its wake at traffic lights. Its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine might be smaller than its predecessor, but with direct fuel injection it still produces 177kW of power and when in Sport-Sharp mode, which makes the CVT act like an eight-speed auto, it provides good acceleration and a pleasing engine note when given some humpty.
I found Sports mode the most effective of the three on offer, as it eliminated the sluggishness of the economic Intelligent setting without using much more fuel.
Further down the Forester spec-line there's a lot to like, including the $35,990 2.5i-L offered for testing.
Coming in above the entry level 2.0i or 2.5i variants, the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre Boxer makes it a sprightly drive, and also doesn't shirk the features.
Electric folding rear seats, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, stop-start technology and reversing camera are standard on all models, with the i-L also getting privacy glass, front fog lamps and leather steering wheel and gear shift.
That said, the reversing camera on the lower-spec models is set in a display at the centre and top of the dash, and is so small as not to be worth it.
There's an abundance of room throughout the interior for heads, legs, and cargo, and the engine noise is uber-quiet in the cabin.
Whether people will fork out premium-European-brand money for the XT considering it's a less-stylish SUV and has reduced performance results than in the past remains to be seen. But even if it doesn't bring in the hordes of buyers, the quality to be had at the lower end of the Forester line up makes it just as worthy to look at as the RAV4s and CX-5s of this world.
For its price, the XT Premium may not be sporty enough for the speed freaks nor luxurious enough for those looking for a premium ride. The 2.5i-L, however, is as good as any other in its segment.
- SUBARU FORESTER * (all variants have five-star safety rating)
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder Boxer petrol
Model: 2.0XT Premium
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Boxer petrol