CREATE a niche within the booming market. That is the tactic behind Subaru's new turbocharged Forester.
Sports utility vehicles are growing more than any passenger car segment and have become the hot new millennium family chariot.
The Japanese carmaker says it is putting the sport back in SUVs with the XT Forester.
Compared to the outgoing model, there's more space, better specification, extra power, additional torque and greater fuel efficiency (by nearly 20%).
The XT starts at $43,490 plus on roads - $12,500 more than the non-turbo entry-level Forester.
Across the Forester range there is an airier cabin with greater peripheral vision.
It's a thoughtful yet basic cabin design which adopts a predominantly black colour scheme.
While soft touch materials are installed across the dash, some hard plastics are used in the centre console and door tops. They don't detract from the interior appeal which is functional and offers ease of living.
There are two up holders in the centre console along with bottle holders in the doors and a useful storage spot in front of the gear shifter.
Head and leg room is good, those in the back will especially appreciate the improved space over its predecessor.
The seats up front are comfortable but lack extra bolstering at the base - which results in some slide if the driver gets willing in the corners.
On the road
Strong and linear in its power delivery, the XT offers some impressive punch but doesn't quite have a knockout blow.
Overtaking is done with ease and those who like to dominate traffic light departure will appreciate the 2.0-litre turbo's immediate response.
The continuously variable automatic transmission is one of the best we've sampled. It's intuitive, smooth and quiet.
Three drive modes are available, Sport (best for the majority of conditions), Intelligent (good on the highway and when you want to be frugal on fuel) and Sport# (for when you want to unleash the beast).
Subaru has firmed the suspension to match the sporting intentions, yet the Forester XT manages to soak up the bumps well. It still can't defy gravity, and there is some body roll when you quicken into the bends while the steering feel is light.
What do you get?
On the complimentary list is a MP3 compatible CD stereo with six speakers and steering wheel controls, cruise control, sunroof, dual zone climate control air conditioning, three 12V power jacks, 18-inch alloys and full size spare.
Spending the extra $7000 for the Premium model adds an automatic cargo door, auto lights and wipers, sat-nav, EyeSight driver assist system, Harman Kardon entertainment system, heated front seats, push-button start with smart key entry and leather trim.
ANCAP testing has given all Foresters a five-star safety rating.
There really are few competitors in price and performance, the closest being the Volvo XC60 T5 ($55,490), Range Rover Evoque Si4 Pure ($59,895) and the Volkswagen 155TSI ($42,990). With the premium variant, it could even come up against the BMW X3 (from $59,000) or the Audi Q3 TFSI (from $56,000).
Braked towing capacity increases by 200 kilograms to 1800kg and it also features towing stability control. There is space for five adults, although four is a comfortable fit.
The back seats have a 60-40 fold, and the anchorage points are in the seatbacks rather than being roof mounted.
Insurance would need investigation, some companies still frown upon turbocharged petrols depending on age and history. Subaru is highly regarded for reliability and quality post-sales service.
The bonnet scoop is gone, and other than badging there isn't much to distinguish the XV from its more sedate stablemates.
Subaru believes this broadens its appeal to the target market of mums and dads.
Subaru has targeted families seeking some decent shove from a turbocharged engine and bypassed the performance-focused. The Forester XT is extremely capable on the open road, on testing gravel surfaces or in the city with impressive dynamics and a practical cabin suitable for the growing family.
The writer was Subaru's guest in Victoria.
What matters most
The good stuff: Punchy acceleration, good reputation and reliability history, interior space and improved vision.
What we'd like to see: Soft-touch materials on the doors, greater steering feel, more external bling to show off its force-fed credentials.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is every six months or 12,500km. Servicing is not capped, but Subaru's suggested retail prices average at $397.46 per service over five years.
Model: Subaru Forester XT.
Details: Five-door medium-size all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder horizontally opposed boxer producing maximum power of 177kW @ 5600rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 2400-3600rpm.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 8.5 litres/100km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.5 seconds.
Towing capacity: 1800kg; tow ball 180kg.
Bottom line: XT $43,490; Premium $50,490 plus on-roads.
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