IN Singapore, there's hardly any real need for an SUV or sport-utility vehicle, or shall we say, a proper SUV with off-road prowess and high ground clearance. After all, most SUV owners never drive their vehicles on anything but good old fashion bitumen.
However, for some strange reason, SUVs are rather popular on our tiny island, with European, Korean and Japanese manufacturers offering them in a myriad of shape and sizes.
On paper, the SUV doesn't make much sense as it only seats five and doesn't boast much more cargo capacity, so owners probably like the high seating position, the ability to beat speed bumps into a pulp, and yet drive like a regular sedan.
With that in mind, the all-new fourth-generation Subaru Forester should fit the bill nicely. It's bigger and taller than its predecessor and looks more like an SUV than ever. Whereas earlier generations of the Forester looked like a toss-up between a station wagon and an SUV, the new Forester 2.0 XT has decidedly more masculine sheetmetal. The rump of the car remains largely similar with vertical tail lamps, but the front looks rather different with vertical slots on the extremities of its bumper. Regrettably, the boy-racer hood scoop on turbo models has been binned.
Power though has not diminished and Subaru's signature boxer engine is force-fed air by a turbo and produces 237 hp and 350 Nm of torque.
Power from the direct injection, 1,998cc horizontally opposed "flat-four" is more than adequate and with a heavy right foot, you can solicit "wow, your car is quite fast" comments from passengers, thanks to ample torque from a low 2,000rpm.
While most people generally don't like the elastic band feel of Subaru's Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), its performance is class leading. It keeps the engine revs at a comfortable level and yet when your right foot commands more power, it allows the revs to rise while raising a racket. In fact, enthusiasts who hope to hear the classic boxer engine note will be disappointed as little engine or exhaust noise permeates the cabin. Even under hard acceleration, all you'll hear is a light hiss as the turbo spools up.
For drivers who desire a more sporty drive experience, an SI-Drive button on the steering activates the "S" mode that makes the CVT hold the revs at a higher rpm, while selecting "S#" allows one to shift through eight "virtual" gears (versus the normal six) via the paddle shifters.
Despite its rather utilitarian exterior, the new Forester is surprisingly quiet and refined on the inside. Fit and finish is much improved from the previous generation and there nice touches including an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, keyless entry/start, a six-inch centre display that can toggle between a myriad of trip computer information, status of the symmetrical AWD (All Wheel Drive) system as well as the reverse camera.
With a 25 mm longer wheelbase, the cabin is spacious with ample leg, shoulder and head room and it will make a good long-distance cruiser, thanks to the excellent noise insulation.
The ride is supple with relatively tall sidewalls on the 18-inch tyres but the downside is a fair bit of roll. Coupled with a relatively high stance, the Forester feels more cumbersome in corners than the BMW X3 or even Honda's CRV.
For those keen on using the Forester for some real "off-roading", there is HDC (Hill Descent Control) - a la BMW and Land Rover - which helps maintain a constant speed when travelling downhill.
Ultimately, the Forester ticks most of the boxes for those in the market for an SUV. It looks and feels big on the road, offers a commanding driving position, comfortable ride without being floaty and plenty of power in reserve.
More importantly, it is refined enough for the urban jungle and doesn't come with a hefty price tag.
Subaru Forester 2.0 XT
Engine 1,995cc flat-4 turbocharged
Transmission Lineartronic Continuously Variable
Max power 237 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Max torque 350 Nm @ 2,400-3,600 rpm
0-100 kmh 7.5 secs
Top speed 220 kmh
CO2 emissions 197 g/km
Average OMV $19,500
Price $160,400 (with COE)
Distributor Motor Image Enterprises
Tel 6417 0300