The roads of Johannesburg are at best loathsome – if not for the Jacuzzi-size potholes and assortment of debris strewn across them, then for the idiots that drive them, the taxi drivers and the overloaded bakkies that somehow defy the laws of physics, teetering towers of furniture and other items piled metres high on the back. But when the February torrential downpours hit, potholes go from puddles to ponds and then some, patches of dirt multiply into sand banks worthy of an appearance in oceans somewhere in the Caribbean, and although you know that somewhere beneath the swathing torrents of water rushing past lies a piece of dark grey tarmac, you’d be forgiven for thinking Joburg had been converted into a ramshackle Venice, fit only for boats. It is in these times the sure-footedness of the Subaru Forester shines, with Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system and the unflappable ability to conquer all.
I’ve never seen the value of owning an SUV when you live in the city, it’s something I swore I would never understand – yet this morning when I could almost swear I saw a crocodile cross the road in front of me, I was thankful I was behind the wheel of the Subaru Forester 2.5 XS Premium. Amidst the tumultuous mess that is known as the Johannesburg road network, the Subaru cruised effortlessly through all that it came upon. Within 2km of leaving home I encountered 3 cars stuck, with water halfway up the doors, in the middle of what I was certain was a road last week Friday. The Subaru didn’t flinch, casting an arc of rainwater across the stuck cars with utter disregard for their inability to traverse such a “puddle”.
I was happily going about my business in my own little world, isolated from the chaos outside thanks to superb cabin insulation in the Forester. The volume on the radio was set moderately, although I did have to put up with 5FM rather than my own assortment of music, as the Forester’s Bluetooth connection setup process is one that tests human patience far too much for a Monday morning. I was even able to watch the raindrops plummet from up high through the sunroof, standard kit on the XS, while I was stuck in morning traffic.
The drive was rather relaxing, despite the chaos around me – but such is life in the Subaru Forester, with its wonderfully tractable suspension making any dirt road a smooth ride. The comfort extends inside too, with leather seats (electronically adjustable for the driver), dual-zone climate control, a leather armrest, cruise control, a sun roof, reverse camera, USB/auxiliary/Bluetooth audio inputs, automatic tailgate, keyless entry, push-button start, auto-headlights – bright enough to light up even the darkest rainy nights – and the CVT automatic transmission bestowed upon this variant of the Forester.
The CVT, when operated correctly – it takes a bit of getting used to accelerating to highway speeds at only 2500RPM – is smooth and efficient. If used with a touch of finesse, it rewards the driver with comfort and efficiency, to the tune of 8.6l/100km in the fuel consumption stakes. It’s not going to win any performance battles, nor will it rocket from 60km/h to 100km/h, but under light load, in combination with the torquey 2.5-litre boxer motor, it drives in a most gentlemanly manner, with controlled power, a quiet ride, and smooth “shifts”, if you could call them that. But the CVT abhors heavy handedness, as becomes apparent with the 4000RPM drone that remains constant until you’re up to speed, which feels as if it may take an eternity. No, the Forester XS, with its CVT transmission requires a gentle touch, although the 2.5 boxer would respond far better with a manual transmission from the base level 2.0 X variant.
However, the overall appeal wasn’t spoilt by the transmission, it simply added to the comfort in the torrential conditions facing Johannesburg, where speeds could be no more than 80km/h at most. In these conditions, the well damped suspension and firm steering held the Forester firmly on track, the cabin insulation proved a pleasure, as did the comfortable seating position. Despite its seemingly large footprint, the Forester shrinks around the driver, feeling nimble and light-footed through traffic and over all terrain, yet at any given time I had enough load space for a full load of grocery shopping, 3 kids in the back, and a dog or 2 – or for the more adventurous at heart, a few mountain bikes and some hiking gear, along with a couple of mates.
The Forester makes life easy. It drives with all the comfort and simplicity of a car, none of the heaviness of an SUV, and yet offers all the practicality of a station wagon and more. The comfortable interiors lends itself to homeliness rather than luxury, but that’s OK – the Forester is built to be enjoyed in the same way your favourite armchair at home would be – and while I feel the 2.5 XS would have been better off with a manual transmission, the CVT does its job with reasonable self-confidence and comfort.
The Forester, my trusty companion in the monsoon that has been Johannesburg since last week, has proven the need for SUV’s in urban situations. Whereas before I despised the idea of an SUV in the city, this week I’m grateful such things exist – though not the monstrous SUV’s that can’t go off-road though, as the Forester is every bit as capable off-road as it is on-, as seen in the Forester XT. I have a newfound respect for the Forester, and SUV’s in general, and next week, when I’m likely to be driving some sedan or another, I’ll pack my armbands and oars in the morning and wish that I had the Subaru for yet another week.
|No. of Cylinders:||
4 (horizontally opposed configuration)
126kW @ 5800RPM
235Nm @ 4100RPM
6-speed CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission)
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||
|Fuel Consumption (Combined cycle):||
Active Torque Split AWD
|Price (as tested):||
Author: Roger Biermann