By Christopher Tan
We are often cautioned to not judge a book by its cover. After going through three states and one mountain range, it evidently rings true for cars too.
It will not be the most attractive ride you will see on the potholes-filled Malaysian roads this year nor will it be the most fashionable. Although she would likely not win any beauty contest, three days with her on a mountain retreat and I found it surprisingly difficult to let her go.
“The design looks rather dated and boxy,” commented my wife candidly on her first sight of the new Subaru Forester 2.0XT. That was before she looked up and saw the glass sunroof that comes standard with the vehicle. “Ah, that’s quite cool,” she said trying her best to reverse her initial reaction.
While my wife spent the next three days admiring the birds and counting the stars through the panoramic opening above her head, the rest of the car’s occupants discovered the many positives and near-negligible negatives of Subaru’s latest sport utility vehicle.
When mum, who suffers from motion sickness, found out that we were headed for a car journey to the winding roads of Cameron Highlands, she was understandably not overly enthusiastic. While we will come back to mum’s appraisal later, Dad on the other hand could not stop grinning from the moment his hands touched the leather wrapped steering wheel and his legs stepped on the responsive metal pedals.
Under the hood sits an impressive 2.0-litre direct injection turbo-charged engine that seems to top many of the other SUVs in its range, particularly in terms of handling. Dad found himself exceeding the speed limit on many occasions throughout the 4-hour drive up the highlands and has the pinch marks by mum to show for it.
Having learned the easy-to-use Subaru Intelligent Drive feature, he was like a kid in the candy store adjusting the drivetrain, throttle response and automatic-transmission shifting behaviour to support various driving style and road conditions, even though I am quite sure he did not entirely understood most of what he was doing with the feature.
As for me, having yet to fully recuperate from the elevated admiration from my recent experience with a certain Swedish marque SUV, I found myself unfortunately comparing the Forester with its rival. After about an hour before I finally decided to stop comparing it with a much superior and more costly opponent, I still found myself a tad unease at the car’s much lighter feel especially at high speeds and when taking sharp bends.
The most fun I had was the Forester’s X-Mode feature. Once I got over the initial struggle to understand its capabilities, I found myself fiddling with it relentlessly over various road conditions throughout the trip; bumpy roads from previous landslides, slippery surfaces in the rain and even the death-defying narrow slopes leading up the famed Boh Tea plantations.
I was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that the X-Mode also incorporates hill descent control, which automatically maintains the car at a constant speed when the car was moving downhill, without having me to depress the accelerator or brakes. This set-up allows the driver to steer safely through any slopes or downhill whilst leaving the braking to the car itself.
Another safety feature is its Vehicle Dynamics Control that assists to monitor and analyse if the vehicle is following the driver’s intended course via an array of sensors. If the vehicle approaches the limits of stability whilst cornering or avoiding an obstacle, the AWD torque distribution, engine output and brakes at each 18-inch wheel are adjusted to assist in keeping the vehicle on course; comes in handy when you are playing peek-a-boo with the kid seated behind.
“It’s definitely a lot more comfortable and gives me less headache than our previous trips,” said mum. Granted that her last trip was in a much smaller car from almost two decades ago, still it was reassuring to hear that she came out of the 3-day trip in good health and full of praise for the RM206,481 (with insurance) vehicle.
A large part of mum’s wellbeing was down to the Forester’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system, which in a nutshell kept the car’s gravity low resulting in reduced body roll and greater stability, as well as reduced engine vibrations and quieter interior experience. Kudos to the designers at Subaru on getting this spot on.
A feature of the Forester that I found convenient particularly when driving in the city is its increased visibility, beating even the Swedish make that I have been goggling over. By redesigning the A-pillar and integrating the partition windows into the front doors, Subaru has made it easier to see both the front and rear directions and greatly reducing the size of blind spots.
When it came to storage and luggage space, the SUV came up commendable as it comfortably tucked away four adults and a toddler’s essentials for a road trip. With a large cargo capacity and very vital wide door openings to put in and take out things without bumping our heads, it allowed passengers to sit back and enjoy the view without having to battle our luggage for seating space.
As the family drove away from Cameron Highlands with our cabin full of strawberries reflecting on all the wonderful memories and most of all, kept safe and contented with our journey, the folks at Subaru would be glad to know that they have indeed successfully converted one more family towards their brand.