It's been a while since I've been behind the wheel of a Subaru, but I have to say, the evolution and improvements they've made during my absence have been quite outstanding.
My case in point is the new 2022 Forester. It's got a refreshed new face, a variety of different terrain modes, countless driver and safety aids, and it even makes sure you're watching where you're going.
Regulars to the brand would argue that not that much has been done for the refreshed 2022 model, but I haven't tested the 2021 model so it's all new to me.
To bring you up to speed, the Subaru Forester first came into production in 1997 and back then was more of a high-riding wagon. However, over the years it has morphed into an SUV and now, in its fifth generation, it has a more traditional, medium SUV silhouette and less elevated estate car - yet throughout its adaptations the Forester has remained a Kiwi 'all purpose' favourite.
Its footprint is around 4.6m-long-by-1.6m-wide and 1.73m tall, but for those that like to travel on rough stuff, the good news is that it comes with a 220mm ground clearance - even when riding on 18s.
Now whenever possible, I tend to ask the sales person 'what they like' about the vehicle when picking them up. In the case of the new Forester X Sport, they had plenty to say. The X Sport sits high up in the Forester food chain and is the perfect 'premium' option for those that aren't worried about leather seats and higher-end stereos, they reckoned.
Much of the change for the 2022 model has been cosmetic, in particular the face. It has a redesigned, chunkier front bumper and sharper, squintier LED headlights. The grille also has new graphical elements and the fog lights are LEDs. Apparently there are less orange trim parts inside and out, but if so, there would have been tons as there's still a fair amount - not that I mind, I kind of like the sporty contrast.
The rear bumper has received a few minor tweaks: There's more orange trim back there and the electric tailgate opens up to around 500L of luggage space.
As expected, there's more orange on the inside, including the contrast stitching on the seats and dash and some on the steering wheel, but they've also included it on areas that require special attention, such as the gear stick and X terrain dial.
The cabin itself is spacious and full of robust materials, such as a stain-resistant fabric on the furniture and hard-wearing plastics in well-used areas. You get the feeling it'll just need a wipe down after a day out in the bush or on the rugged west coast.
There are three screens in the Forester delivering plenty of data, particularly to the driver. The instrument cluster is traditional in its layout and easy to read. The Infotainment screen comes with a multitude of apps and a very clear reversing camera. What's more, when in reverse, images of the passenger side wheels flash on the smaller screen on top of the dash. This screen doubles as a fuel-efficiency metre, triples as a camera that monitors your attention to the road ahead, and quadruples as a screen that shows your pitch and lean degrees when engaging the X (off road) mode heading into the snow, mud or 'deep' snow or mud. This is clearly an adventurous vehicle.
Under the bonnet (which has a bit of an overhang as you raise it) lies a tried and true 2.5L flat-four Boxer engine (136kW/239 Nm) that sits very low in the engine space, and is married to a Lineartronic CVT (with seven 'gears') which combined, gives you 7.4L/100km fuel-efficiency (I managed 9.9).
I had the pleasure of the 2022 Forester's company for around a week and what a week it was in terms of weather. It went from late summer sun to rain and then one of the biggest downpours on record.
Early in the week I headed out to Woodhill Forest to gauge how this 'off roader' managed the corrugated roads that surround the trees. I have to say, it acted like a champ, and without the slightest hint of needing to turn the X Mode dial. The Subaru's Symmetrical AWD system simply welcomes the uneven terrain.
On the tarmac and around the corners, the Forester is a little soft in the ride and I guess that's the compromise for having an SUV that's so good on gravel, sand, snow and mud. Visibility is excellent, with big windows all-round, large mirrors and even a big sunroof, but the seats were a little uncomfortable for my soft rear - I think it's more me than the Sube.
The engine feels powerful although I'm not a fan of the CVT (it still feels a bit droney - even with seven 'gears'), but there's a confidence in the powertrain that lets you know it can do more than you ask of it.
Having the 220mm of ground clearance came in handy, as when I was due to return it, there was a river of a puddle at Greenlane that I had to venture across. The bow wave was great and the Forester simply forged ahead.
The changes for the 2022 model Forester may be minor with small aesthetic tweaks and additions to the 4th Generation eye-sight tech, but together they make this Kiwi family fave Forester rather tremendous.
Why you should: It's a very competent ride, particularly when you head onto the gravel. It's a Kiwi fave and feels more like a smaller crossover to drive.
Why you shouldn't: Some of the finishing is less than upmarket and the orange accents are not going to be everyone's cuppa (nor that CVT). If premium sound and leather is your thing, head for the premium model.
What else to consider: It's quite a busy segment and as such quite the choice. However, depending on how you intend to use your Forester, the field can be narrowed down. Areas to begin would be Ford Escape, Toyota RAV 4, Jeep Cherokee, VW Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson, Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sportage.