The Subaru Forester is the bread-and-butter and staple of the Japanese brand and continues to be the bastion and shining beacon of its entire range. It remains a global bestseller, particularly in the US, while it remains the marque’s bestseller in Mzansi, too. The Fozza, as it's affectionately known among aficionados, is that middle-order product that competes in one of the most hotly contested SUV segments in SA. As it rivals some esteemed automotive nameplates from VW, KIA, Hyundai, and even Toyota, it certainly has its work cut out for it.
When the current Subaru Forester was launched in 2018, the line-up only comprised a sole 2.0-litre, normally aspirated boxer engine. It was quickly apparent that for a good chunk of the market, more power was needed, but in addition to more power, the Forester had little other than the flagship ES and a base spec version in the way of derivatives. Fast-forward a few years and Subaru SA managed to sweeten the pot by successfully adding a more powerful 2.5-litre option to the mix in both a Sport and Premium derivative. All of a sudden, the line-up had doubled in size overnight.
The Forester Sport, the subject of this article, is essentially the penultimate model in the line-up, donning cuts of outdoor sportiness compared to its more classic sibling, the ES Premium. High-sheen alloy wheels are replaced by black items, while body-coloured or chromed panels make way for vivid orange plastic inserts, which contrast so well with the white hue of our test car. These are discreet embellishments, but enough to give it a more outdoorsy look that will appeal to those with a penchant for adventure. Perhaps not the most stylish offering in the segment, the Forester’s charm remains its capability and overall packaging.
Think functionality and the Forester has that thoroughly licked. Roof rails with added attachment points? Check! Wide-opening doors for easy access? Check! Fast-closing electric boot lid! Tick. Waterproof seats? Yup, you get that too! It is, in our view, one of the most practically engineered cars, where form follows function to the nth degree. So, if you’re buying rationally, the Sport is a tough choice to go against.
What is the biggest change to the interior of the Forester Sport? More orange – in trim pieces that differentiate this from the Premium specification - and the addition of the aforementioned waterproof cloth on the seat and door trim. It adds to the Forester’s overall practical appeal. As a parent, I can see the need but it also fits the bill to those who take adventure more seriously and traverse to places where water, sand and mud are more than likely to creep into the cabin.
All round passenger space is ample at worst, with headroom, in particular, being a moot point. There are also USB and 12V sockets in the rear to ensure the kids’s mobile devices are always juiced up, particularly on those long sojourns. The wide-opening boot lid aperture makes loading cumbersome items a cinch, but I’d opt out of the rubber mats that Subaru throws in as items such as groceries tend to skid around the boot than is necessary.
That said, the new Forester Sport in this ES trim is a full-house offering, now with the most advanced level of EyeSight ever seen on offer. It is a step further in driving autonomy and at this price, you’d be hard-pressed to find a car with as much function and ability as this system. New on the 2022 Forester Sport is the addition of active steering with the system actively keeping you in your lane. It’s the level of autonomy found on much more expensive cars. I would only suggest caution on EyeSight functions around intersections where ‘street sales’ take place – the system can read these as pedestrians in danger, and take accident-mitigation steps to prevent a crash.
The new, normally aspirated 2.5-litre isn’t the last word in power, but it is a noticeable leap better than the 2.0-litre offering, thanks to a fatter seam of torque. This is allied to a CVT gearbox, something we aren’t quite enamoured with here at TopGear SA.
Even over surfaces that are far from ideal, the Forester feels planted and confident with the suite of electronic aids kicking in rather early on as soon as the symmetrical all-wheel drive system senses any traction loss. When things get a bit more difficult, the Forester’s party trick is a nifty X-Mode system that works off the vehicle’s traction control to mitigate brakes and torque distribution to where it's required the most, while the Hill Descent Control ensures that you can venture a little further off the beaten-track than most of its close competitors.
I’m unashamedly averse to CVT boxes and I must admit that seeing Subaru continue on this path had me scratching my head in confusion – but, to the outfit’s credit, this CVT coupled to this 2.5-litre powerplant is the best pairing around. It may not be as resolved as a dual-clutch transmission or most conventional torque converters, but for what it's worth, it does a respectable job here. The paddle shifters work well enough too, if you’re looking to mimic conventional cog swaps, where there are brief pauses between “shifts”
At R611 000 the Forester Sport is par the course and ticks most compact SUV boxes, particularly for those with a penchant for the outdoorsy, active lifestyle. It might not have the perceived quality of some of its rivals, but everything has been hewn together, giving an air of solidity and dependability to cope with rigours of daily use. The model also enjoys quite good residual values, as owners tend to hang on to their models as long as possible and only consider trading a Forester on a newer Forester, further testament of customer retention and repeat business that the brand enjoys.
The Subaru Forester Sport might be a left-field, niche product, but I get its appeal. It gives more differentiation and more choice to a slightly wider customer group with its own styling and its own sense of adventure. It is really one of those products that one needs to experience to understand. It might sound cliche, but it really makes a strong case for itself in a rather cut throat SUV segment.