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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Road test: 2019 Subaru Forester

The fifth-generation Forester favours gadgets over grunt

Though the Subaru Forester may have fallen into shadows cast by the Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V in the Middle East, it would be wrong to downplay how ­successful the Japanese crossover has been in the past seven years. The fourth generation has been responsible for 58 per cent of Subaru’s sales globally, and has sold more than the first three generations of Forester combined. So in true “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” fashion, it hasn’t been the most revolutionary of changes for the fifth-gen new boy.

The Forester’s revised styling has been conducted with the lightest of brush strokes, priority instead being given to improving ­aerodynamics – the hexagonal front grille, for example, features active shutters in an effort to reduce fuel ­consumption. The direct-injection, 2.5-litre four-­cylinder engine, with moderately upped horsepower and torque, is the only engine option.

As well as its Japanese rivals, stiff competition is expected from the popular Chevrolet Equinox and, to a lesser albeit more premium extent, the Jeep Cherokee. Relying solely on an established ­fan base to ­improve regional sales isn’t going to cut it.

Two potential trump cards might make the difference, though. The first is driver-assist technology. Stuffed to the LED headlights with automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and more, the new Forester also features Subaru’s new fatigue alert, a segment first and an updated carry-over from the ­rally-stage-pummelling WRX and WRX STi. Standard on the Premium trim model – a car with an estimated price tag of about Dh106,000 – the system uses facial recognition to warn the driver, audibly and ­visually, of potentially distracted driving. The system is a bit of a faff to set up via Subaru’s multi-function steering wheel, but it is ­clever and effective.

The other ace is the new Sport trim. Yes, the trim is primarily cosmetic, meaning the extra Dh10,000 or so on top of the Premium’s standard price will buy you a black-gloss-­infused sport grille, 18-inch alloys and a rear roof spoiler, plus some orange detailing around the air vents and gear lever. Fortunately, the Forester’s newly minimalist but ­fully loaded interior saves things from being too chav-tastic.

The continuously variable transmission remain unchanged, though, and while Sport Sharp mode does sharpen acceleration somewhat, there’s not much more performance at the top end. This could be considered a ­disappointment, but in shifting a 1,551-kilogram ­crossover, the 2.5-litre unit offers solid and ­responsive, if slightly undramatic, acceleration.

Where the Forester regains brownie points is its handling. The revised steering is quick and pleasing, if still light, although heft starts to build as you approach full lock. There’s little feel for the front end, but an impressive lack of bodyroll. Indeed, only the sharpest of turns will begin to flummox the new stiffened chassis.

The roomiest cabin to date in the Forester also proves to be one of the quietest and most comfortable. Some additional lumbar support wouldn’t have gone amiss in the new front seats, but with wind noise and road roar reduced, you’re only likely to hear the disgruntled sound of the drivetrain when you really push on.

Is all this enough to overhaul its rivals in this country? The Forester can’t exactly rely on character to push sales and the engine could prove a let-down for those looking for a little additional welly. The Forester’s tech-heavy nature – in addition to a competitive starting price – could prove a game-changer, however, and push Subaru out of the shadows.

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Read more:

Road test: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Road test: 2018 Mazda CX-5

Road test: 2017 Honda CR-V

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Updated: January 13, 2019 05:32 PM

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