The new hybrid technology which trails old-school engine
Last month there was a changing of the guard.
Toyota’s HiLux was ousted from top step on the national sales dais, replaced by its RAV4 stablemate.
There has been a long queue for the RAV4. Playing a pivotal role in the new SUV’s success has been its hybrid option — which is responsible for about half of all RAV4 sales.
That means the recent arrival of Subaru’s hybrid power arsenal is beautifully timed.
Buyers are increasingly interested in the growing electric market, but for those not willing to take the leap of faith, hybrids are a prudent choice.
There’s no need to plug in, no requirement to switch modes … rather just a combination of electric and petrol power with no change to traditional refuelling at the petrol station.
Unfortunately for Subaru, there is a but. This system struggles to meet the hybrid benchmark set by Toyota.
Our experience was in the Forester L, which starts from $43,860 drive-away.
Wholesale changes under the skin don’t translate to the interior. And in the Forester, that’s a good thing.
This latest generation offers brilliant space, common sense design and storage smarts across the range.
Among the feature highlights of the mid-spec L variant are a 6.5-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 4.2-inch LCD driver display, dual zone climate control with rear vents, heated front seats, 17-inch alloys and keyless entry with push button start.
Service plans are available for maintenance annually or every 12,500km, and they are slightly more expensive than pure petrol alternatives with $1293 covering three years or $2433 for five.
Warranty coverage meets the mainstream standard of five years and unlimited kilometres — only the likes of Kia, SsangYong and MG offer seven years across their range.
External colour options include white, silver, bronze, red, green, blue, grey and black.
Five stars were awarded to the Forester by crash authority ANCAP in 2018, and that accolade is carried across to the hybrids. It achieved an impressive result of 94 per cent for adult occupant protection, and 86 for children.
Vital expectations are met, like autonomous emergency brakes to step in when the driver fails to act fast enough to help avoid or lessen the impact of a frontal collision, radar cruise control that maintains the Forester a preset distance from other vehicles, blind spot monitoring and a lane departure warning system as well as automatic braking if cross-traffic is detected while reversing.
When first getting behind the wheel, cameras scan the driver and if their eyes divert from the road for more than a few seconds a warning is displayed in the instruments. Another alert comes up when stationary if the vehicle in front moves away and the driver hasn’t reacted.
Growing families will find the Forester a haven for travel. Ample space front and back makes for easy driving, with three adults across the rear pew possible with good knee, leg and head room.
The busy dash and steering wheel design requires initial analysis, although the toggles, dials and buttons are easily deciphered.
Infotainment and car operations are separated between two central screens, the vehicle information sits high on the dash while phone, radio and other settings are found in the primary touchscreen. It’s one of the more simplistic and functional systems we’ve seen in recent times.
Using the smartphone mirroring apps makes things even better and there is a handy spot for your phone or device just in front of the gear shifter.
Black cloth trim is the only option, and collectively the Forester feels as tight as a drum with soft materials used in the areas touched most.
Among the primary reasons for hybrid are emission reductions and improved fuel efficiency. Often that also translates to improved performance courtesy of some extra electric punch or close to on-par with petrol rivals — not the Subaru system.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is required to do the bulk of the work, with the electric assistance providing limited support.
Running on pure electric mode can be done, but it only happens when travelling at under 40km/h — and even then you have to feather the throttle. Ask for any meaningful acceleration and the petrol engine provides the grunt.
Many keen drivers are critical of continuously variable automatic transmissions, yet Subaru does one of the best examples of mimicking conventional self-shifters. Unfortunately when mated to the hybrid its performance feels doughy and often lifeless.
Not that the Forester is horrible to drive, it’s just that the petrol variant sets high standards.
Average fuel consumption promises from Subaru are 6.5 litres for every 100km, although we could only manage 7.6 with a good mixture of rural, highway and metropolitan conditions. Interesting on a road trip in the base petrol model last year, we managed 7.4 from the 2.5-litre four-cylinder.
Taking the official figures, the fuel consumption gains of less than 10 per cent mean a long pay-off for the extra investment of about $2740.
Stepping off the bitumen is not beyond the Forester. Ground clearance of 220mm is good enough for some battered tracks, and X-Mode provides all-wheel drive which helps negotiate slippery conditions and steep hills with the assistance of console switches.
Unfortunately, the full-size spare is ousted in favour of an inflation kit due to the hybrid battery.
Alternatives fuels are the way of the future and I’m not quite ready for the electric revolution. And the wait for a RAV4 was too long.
Impressive functionality and ample space ticks all the family boxes. Slightly better fuel consumption and environmental factors sweeten the deal.
TOYOTA RAV4 HYBRID GXL $43,250 D/A
Our car of the year for 2019, it’s powered by a 4-cyl 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine with an electric motor which combined offers 163kW/221Nm and has average consumption of 4.8L/100km. It has a larger battery for improved all-round performance. The benchmark in SUV hybrids.
HYUNDAI IONIQ ELITE $39,030 D/A
While not an SUV, there is surprising space in the Ioniq — which is available in hybrid, plug-in electric and full electric option. Powered by a 1.6-litre 4-cyl petrol engine and small electric motor which combined deliver 104kW/265Nm, with average fuel consumption of 3.9 litres/100km.
Excellence becomes mediocre. Subaru has a fine car in the Forester, but the hybrid fails to deliver sizeable savings which would lure buyers away from the standard petrol engine.
AT A GLANCE
SUBARU FORESTER HYBRID L
PRICE $43,860 drive-away ($2.7k more than petrol)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5yr/unlimited km w’ty, $2433 FOR 5yrs (fine)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/196Nm; electric motor 12.3kW/66Nm (average)
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, active cruise, lane keep assist, reverse auto braking, driver monitoring (excellent)
THIRST 6.5L/100km (7.6 on test)
SPARE Inflation kit (not good)
BOOT 509L, seats fold (great)