There are only so many things we could glean about the all-new Subaru Forester after having only driven it for 20 minutes in Taichung, Taiwan.
Oddly enough, every single one of those 20 minutes driving Subaru's all-new, mid-sized SUV was spent on terrain that your average Forester owner—or indeed, SUV owner—would most likely never find themselves on. Well, not intentionally, at any rate.
So, about that terrain. The first half of those 20 minutes was spent on a small off-road course that comprised, among other obstacles, tall inclines, a rock garden and a gravel slalom. The rest of our time with the new Forester was spent on a short handling course built on a go-kart circuit.
The only time the new Forester’s wheels saw the tarmac of public roads is when we were ferried the short distance between the hotel and the circuit. But even without the benefit of having tested the new Forester in real world conditions, we can tell you it’s streets ahead of the car it replaced.
That’s mostly down to its new chassis. The new Forester is built on the carmaker’s new Subaru Global Platform underpinnings, touting dramatically improved rigidity for greater handling precision and ride comfort.
It has that light-on-its-feet, softly damped feel characteristic of cars with super-stiff platforms, allowing us to crash through the rock garden and attack the handling circuit’s final corner with impunity.
In short, it handles far, far better than we initially gave it credit for—a direct result of a chassis that’s some 40 percent stiffer than before, with a front-end that has twice the torsional rigidity.
You might be wondering how this translates to improved refinement.
Now, we’re over-simplifying things here, but a stiffer chassis allows the suspension to be set softer, owing to the latter not having to compensate as much for chassis flex.
There is a bit of a weak link, however, and that comes in the form of its drivetrain. The 2-litre flat-four engine with 156hp is adequate but its CVT gearbox is a bit of a letdown. Slow on the uptake with a vague rubber-band feel endemic to such transmissions.
You can use the paddles behind the wheel to take matters into your own hands, but shifts are so ponderous, you’re better off just leaving the transmission to its own devices.
But the most interesting things about the new Forester we learned during a press conference with a pair of key Subaru executives and Glenn Tan, managing director of Tan Chong International (the holding company for Subaru’s regional distributor, Motor Image).
Tan revealed the new Forester would be arriving in Singapore around October, with a tentative price of $110,000 (if COE premiums don’t spike in the meantime), which is a steal for a mid-sized SUV.
More revealing was what Subaru had to say about the Forester. It’s a hugely important model for the brand, accounting for half of its sales in some regions and its best-selling model worldwide.
Also, there won’t be any hot STI model forthcoming, with Subaru instead choosing to focus on comfort, equipment and all-terrain capability. Heck, Subaru has even axed the turbocharged XT variant, the last Forester to even have the barest hint of sportiness.
Reading between the lines, it’s pretty clear Subaru wants the Forester to be a Range Rover on a budget. Not a bad thing, unless you’re one of those enthusiast types.
But then again, there are only so many enthusiasts out there, and based on anecdotal evidence, it seems they’re a dying breed.
And on that note, the Forester is shaping up to be a success. Streets ahead of its woefully lacklustre predecessor, better equipped and more refined. With one caveat, though. We think alot of its future success is dependent mainly on if Subaru can offer it at a nice (that is to say $110,000) price.
(PS: The images above were taken off Subaru's global media site. The ones supplied by Subaru taken in Taiwan were… not up to snuff.)
ENGINE 1,995cc, 16-valves, flat-four
POWER 156bhp at 6,000rpm
TORQUE 195Nm at 4,000rpm
0-100KM/HR Not disclosed
TOP SPEED Not disclosed
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable transmission
FUEL CONSUMPTION Not disclosed
VES BAND To be confirmed
PRICE To be confirmed