2011 Subaru Forester Review | National Post
2011 Subaru Forester Review
Graeme Fletcher, National Post, Toronto
For 2011, the Subaru Forester, which was introduced in 2009, earns a minor makeover aimed at keeping it contemporary. The cosmetic changes are minimal – a new grille, new colours and a new seat cloth that is more water repellant. The latter is good news for anyone that uses its off-road ability.
Throughout the model range, there’s also more content – everything from 10-way driver’s seat to a Pioneer audio/navigation system, depending upon the model. The bigger news is that the 2.5-litre single overhead cam engine makes way for a new twin-cam engine of the same displacement. While power and torque remain essentially the same – 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, which is up four – the advantage is that the power shows up for work earlier in the rev range. The credit goes to the addition of variable valve timing on the intake cams. This version is smoother, especially at idle, and it revs more freely, which puts a little more urgency in the drive. It takes 9.4 seconds to accelerate the automatic model to 100 kms an hour. The better news is that the fuel economy has been improved. Consumption drops from 10.4 litres per 100 kms to 9.9 in the city and by 0.2 L/100 km to 7.5 on the highway.
The primary reason for picking Quebec City to showcase the Forester went beyond the changes – the venue was used to demonstrate Subaru’s superior traction abilities. The snow, which was falling throughout the program, provided a winter wonderland and a truly tough challenge. It also served to prove why Subaru’s all-wheel-drive systems are held in such high esteem – only the systems featured in much more expensive vehicles such as the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series come close to offering anywhere near the same level of traction.
The Subaru advantage boils down to two key elements. First, the system is symmetrical, which means everything is oriented about on the longitudinal centre line of the vehicle. This balances the system from a mass perspective and it allows the use of equal-length driveshafts, which eliminates the usual vices – the complete lack of torque steer, even on a snowy road, being the most notable. Second, the system is proactive. This is an even more important consideration. The problem with slip-first-grip-later systems is they must lose traction before providing it. In simple terms, the vehicle must go out of control before being brought back under control. In the worst case, powering up the rear wheels when the front wheels lose traction because of an understeer condition actually makes things worse. Hardly the best plan of action.
As employed in the Forester, there are two different AWD systems. The first is teamed with the manual transmission. It splits the power evenly front to rear and relies on a viscous coupling to lock the centre differential should the front or rear wheels break traction. It’s good, but it doesn’t compare with the version married to the automatic transmission.
By monitoring a number of inputs (throttle and vehicle speed), the system begins to shuttle the power around before a potential problem arises. Under normal circumstances, the system sends 60% of the power to the front wheels; the rest is directed rearward. If the system sees a matted gas pedal and a stationary vehicle, it knows wheelspin is highly likely. Rather than letting the rear wheels break traction, the computer that oversees the system locks the centre differential before the problem arises. Simple. Control without having to lose it first. That’s the theory. In practice, the system works wonderfully well, especially when it is teamed with a proper set of winter tires. Even during an off-road excursion in deep snow, the system shuttled the power around such that the Forester kept plodding along. Out on the road, it made light work of the changing road surface.
The key advantage here is the manner in which the power is put to pavement. In a front- or rear-drive vehicle that is trying to lay down 120 hp, each of the tires must handle 60 hp. On a snowy road, this is enough to overwhelm the tires and get the traction/electronic stability control system all lathered up. However, splitting the workload among all four wheels, each has to deal with only 30 hp. It’s not enough to spin the wheels, which reduces the risk of over- and understeer. It inspires driver confidence, even in the worst conditions.
All of this explains why AWD is growing in popularity – it delivers much better traction without exacting a fuel economy penalty when it is done properly. In 1999, there were 39 models and/or trim levels offered with all wheel-drive. Today, there are more than 250 choices – and counting.
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