Off-road parks are a novel idea – you have off-road trails designed specifically to be conquered, within a short drive of the city, and you have experts to help you out along the way should something go wrong. But off-road parks are tried and tested; everyone knows they can be conquered. So what would happen when we deviated from the norm and decided to take on a construction zone and some naturally occurring terrain in an unlikely candidate, the Subaru Forester XT?
Let’s step back a bit, shall we? The Forester XT isn’t exactly an aggro off-roader. Sure it has permanent all-wheel drive, and sure Subaru has the rally heritage, but this is more a robot-to-robot slayer than an all-terrain conqueror, right? The 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer motor is a turbo’d version of the one found in the BRZ, with outputs of 177kW and 350Nm. It’s capable of a 0-100 sprint in 7.5 seconds, and has the ability to scare the daylights out of many an unsuspecting hot hatch owner – believe me, I did so on a few occasions. The CVT gearbox has 2 sport modes, S and S#, with the latter re-arranging the cogs to create an 8-ratio sports gearbox. The extra torque generated is monumental in the grand scheme of things, and the 7.5 second sprint time is well within sight at any given moment.
It handles like a hot hatch competitor too! Much to my surprise, despite being a high-riding SUV, the XT was able to handle bends with aplomb, racing from apex to apex and pivoting around sharp bends with all the attitude and aggressiveness of a Jack Russell. Despite the AWD, the Forester even affords the driver the opportunity to eke out bits of oversteer around sharp corners – something that will no doubt be drawing naughty smiles from the aggressive drivers reading this. But as much as it handles with such ability, it is superbly smooth. Subaru do pay careful attention to the ride comfort and it shows on poor road surfaces (pronounced Johannesburg), where the ride remained stable and soft the whole time.
The Forester XT takes place at the top of the spectrum of Forester variants, and as such comes fully kitted. The list is long, and includes automatic headlights with excellent visibility, automatic wipers, a massive sun-roof, cruise control, a reverse camera, electronically adjustable driver’s seat, full leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a tailgate that closes at the push of a button, keyless entry and push-button start, and paddle shifters, to name but a few. The interior is classy as ever, comfort reigning supreme in the grand scheme of it all. The exterior looks great too, with an extra dash of manliness in the bumpers, dual exhausts, and on our test car, the black paint.
So what would all this luxury and sportiness amount to in a world of dirt and mud, rocks and construction? Well, the Forester XT has an ace up its sleeve – the little button labelled “X-mode” in front of the gear shifter, which when pushed re-arranges the CVT ‘box for low down torque – a substitute for a low range gearbox. The change appears on the dash display with an image showing power to all 4 wheels, and then you’re ready to go. Attempting any and all obstacles I could find, the XT demolished the unknown in one fell swoop. Rocky veld-like terrain was a breeze, sand and mud even more so, with power being shifted where necessary, and when I encountered ruts that were too narrow to traverse, I mounted one side and let the Subaru soldier on ahead, tipping and see-sawing diagonally where necessary, but finishing the task before I had a chance to doubt its ability. Inclines, too, were handles with an uncanny ability. The X mode enabled steep climbs to be conquered as if they were speed bumps, and the high ground clearance meant surmounting peaks of large hills was no problem. The Hakuna Matata attitude of the XT was confidence-inspiring at all obstacles – but there were times when I was worried that the sporty front bumper might catch on particularly high mounds of dirt. This was perhaps the only chink in the armour of the Forester, as it flew past all other challenges without a hitch.
It proved itself more than capable, and as I rolled off the dirt and onto the tarmac, at the push of the S# button, the XT went from uber-offroader to hot hatch slayer in an instant. The two faces of the XT were those of completely opposing worlds – on one side an all-conquering, down and dirty machine, and on the other, a machine worthy of a trip around a racetrack. Yet it was the middle ground that further separated it from all competition. The CVT gearbox allowed for everyday travel to be a breeze, with slick gear changes and power when needed. The down-shifts were a little sluggish, and initial pull-off had a split second of lag before the turbo kicked in, but a slightly heavier foot – by a millimetre – was all that was needed to counteract both these “problems”. Furthermore, despite being man-handled both on-road and off, the Subaru yielded fuel consumption of only 10.4l/100km, which could be easily improved should you not feel the need to be wrenched into the leather seats from a standstill at a traffic light.
The Forester XT is the three-pronged SUV that leaves no territory undiscovered – performance, off-road ability, and sheer luxury all rolled into one. The flaws that can be found are so few and far between that I would have to nit-pick to actually come up with anything major. Perhaps the lack of lane change indicators could be addressed – but then again, are we that lazy that we can’t disengage an indicator ourselves? The Subaru Forester XT is the complete SUV, the ultimate vehicle for the active lifestyle – for the guy that goes trail-running, off-road cycling, 4x4ing, child-fetching, and on the odd occasion feels like being youthful and taking on a hatchback or two. Subaru have encompassed everything that man would ever need!
|No. of Cylinders:||
4 (horizontally opposed configuration)
177kW @ 5600RPM
350Nm @ 2400-3600 RPM
Lineartronic CVT Automatic
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|Fuel Consumption (Combined cycle):||
|Price (as tested):||
Author: Roger Biermann
Photography: Roger Biermann