Early look at NZ's 2013 Subaru Forester

23:45, Dec 19 2012
2013 Subaru Forester
Familiar look: A complete redesign, but you can still tell it's a Forester.
2013 Subaru Forester
Rear view: A little more resolved than the nose.
2013 Subaru Forester
Leading with its chin: Not the most engaging face, but neater elsewhere.
2013 Subaru Forester
Classy dash: Better materials and a more thoughtful layout transform the Forester's driving environment.
Subaru Forester
The 2013 Subaru Forester.
Subaru Forester
High on a hill: The 2013 Subaru Forester on its launch test drive in the South Island.
Subaru Forester
The 2013 Subaru Forester on its launch test drive in the South Island.
Subaru Forester
The 2013 Subaru Forester on its launch test drive in the South Island.
Subaru Forester
Off the beaten track: The 2013 Subaru Forester on its launch test drive in the South Island.
Subaru Forester
Inside: The 2013 Subaru Forester.

Making up the numbers at the New Zealand Subaru BRZ launch this week, was an extra drive car in the form of the 2013 Subaru Forester, a car that's not due in this part of the world until the first quarter of next year, though dealers Australia will probably be selling the model before we do.

Information on the New Zealand model Foresters is pretty thin on the ground, even at Subaru New Zealand.

We do know that new Forester has grown. At 4595mm, it's 35mm longer than before, while it's 15mm taller, at 1795mm and at 1695mm across the beam it's 20mm wider. The new car also rides on a 25mm longer wheelbase of 2640mm, which certainly explains its new found space and airiness out back.

Cosmetically, the new model has a distinctive crease running down its flanks, just under its waistline, while the new grille introduced with the latest Impreza is also included, along with solid-looking squared-off new bumpers and alloy wheels. Over all it's a much neater, less quirky design, though from the front in its paler tones, it isn't the prettiest of recent Subarus.

Equipment changes include a new infotainment centre with smartphone integration, along with sat-nav, a reversing camera and, in most markets, an upmarket Harmon Kardon sound system.

The 2013 Forester will be available with two petrol engines for New Zealand. The base 2.5-litre boxer four will make 127kW and drive through a six-speed manual in the entry-point model, with a seven-step third-generation Lineartronic CVT also available.

A new 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged flat-four, as in our briefly-driven review car, producing 186kw will also be available, but with the Lineartronic transmission only.

The fourth generation Forester will also get a modified version of Subaru’s popular 2.0-litre turbodiesel, putting out 112kW and for the first time this will also be offered with a Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) option.

The Forester went on sale in Japan in November, and made its first public showing outside its native market at the Los Angeles Auto Show three weeks ago.

The Forester XT turbo is the first Subaru Turbo I've driven with a CVT. I had mixed feelings about how such a transmission would work with the turbo, but I guess that the fact that Subaru's new Lineartronic is going to be used with its new range of European market turbodiesels in both the Outback and Forester later in the year means that it will take the torque.

I noticed no disconcerting flare - often a bugbear with CVTs and more powerful engines - and loved the way the car stepped smoothly off the line, settling into low-revving cruise mode for town and around work, and open-road driving very decorously.

Well-chosen gearing allows the Forester to surf along on its low to mid-revolution biased torque curve, which will allow pretty useful economy in normal running, while the surge of energy on tap when you mash the throttle is very pleasing. With a rise in engine pitch, the Forester XT quickly catches up with itself in that distinctive CVT way, and dispatched overtaking manoeuvres with great aplomb.

Ride quality appears improved, with attention obviously focused on impact damping, so any bash and crash over potholes is well insulated from the cabin.

The car feels as roomy inside as a generation old Legacy/Outback, with particularly useful rear legroom.

This shows that the Forester is placed to slot in neatly ahead of the XV, though with the extra space, Subaru may see the car cannibalising Legacy/Liberty/Outback sales.

The car's dash treatment is an improvement, with better choices of texture and a simpler layout than the old car's. Particularly useful are the dashtop mounted readouts. My preview car had Eyesight as standard, and though it's a nice accessory, it does get confused with paint spills!

Most disappointing is the car's styling. It doesn't look too bad from the side and rear, but the off-white car seems too busy in the jutting front bumper area. From rear and side-on, you can tell it's a Forester and that's no bad thing, though we'd make ours charcoal, or even darker, thanks.

No pricing has been released in New Zealand for the 2013 Forester nor even the final specifications, but if the range's 'hero' car is anything to go by, it's a big improvement on the current model which was always a little unresolved in terms of its styling and detailing, and not much bigger inside than the newer XV Impreza.

The new car seems to have resolved most of those issues, though the jury's still out on its Bruce Forsyth chin. While its non-turbo petrol engines will obviously offer less in the way of outright grunt compared with our review car, the genuinely 'just right' or Goldilocks car in the range is likely to be the turbodiesel CVT version, which arrives much later in the piece.