The runaway success of the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid shows Australian new car buyers are hungry for hybrid SUVs.
Despite the demand, there’s a distinct lack of direct competition for the RAV4. Haval has the new H6 Hybrid, and Subaru has the Forester Hybrid.
The hybrid Forester isn’t brand new anymore, although it’s still a relatively rare sight on Australian roads. It debuted in 2020, but Subaru has been constrained by a lack of supply for our market since launch.
It’s still in tight supply, with Subaru telling customers who want a Forester they’ll have to wait until the 2023 model year to get their hands on one. We know the car isn’t going to look too different next year, however, given the range was given a mid-life refresh late in 2021.
With a new look, new interior technology, and a gorgeous new paint option, there’s no doubt it looks sharper than before. It’s also meant to ride better, and be more refined than the pre-update model.
We were left a bit cold by the last Forester Hybrid we drove. Has the update made it more appealing?
The Hybrid S is the range-topping Forester, with a sticker of $47,190 before on-roads.
That makes it $3000 more expensive than the equivalent petrol-only model, and $6800 more than the only other hybrid model in the range.
With a sticker price of $47,190 before on-roads, the Hybrid S aligns with the Toyota RAV4 XSE AWD Hybrid ($46,250 before on-roads) or Cruiser AWD Hybrid ($48,750 before on-roads).
The only other direct hybrid rival is the Haval H6 Hybrid, which isn’t all-wheel drive like the RAV4 or Forester, but undercuts both with a $45,990 drive-away sticker price.
2022 Subaru Forester pricing:
- Subaru Forester 2.5i: $35,990
- Subaru Forester 2.5i-L: $38,390
- Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium: $41,140
- Subaru Forester Hybrid L: $41,390
- Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport: $42,690
- Subaru Forester 2.5i-S: $44,190
- Subaru Forester Hybrid S: $47,190
Prices exclude on-road costs
The only thing differentiating the Hybrid from the regular Subaru range is a special display in the trip computer. Otherwise it’s business as usual, which means you’re treated to a practical, sensible interior with plenty of space for the whole family.
The seats are trimmed in what feels like high-quality leather, and neatly balance softness with support. With heating and electric adjustment, you couldn’t ask for much more.
Facing the driver is a leather-trimmed steering wheel featuring plenty of buttons. There are 17 on the wheel, and that doesn’t include the paddle shifters. Bundle in controls for the active safety down by the driver’s right knee, as well as a trip reset button behind the wheel, and there’s a bit going on.
Thankfully they’re all backlit and clearly labelled, and they’re all proper buttons instead of touch controls. With time comes familiarity, of course.
Unlike the petrol model with its switches on the transmission tunnel, the hybrid has heated seat buttons at the base of the dashboard.
The clear analogue dials flank a 4.2-inch trip computer with a huge range of layouts, including a digital speedo. At just shy of $50k though, they’re old-fashioned compared with the digital options Hyundai and Kia offer in their mid-sized SUVs.
It partners a horizontal display atop the dashboard, capable of showing fuel economy, media information, a breakdown of your active safety systems, or details about your all-wheel drive system.
The hybrid also features displays showing what’s happening with your petrol engine and e-motor, which usually serves to show you how little the electric bits are doing… but more on that later.
They’re both useful, but both have their quirks. You lose your dash-top display in favour of an EyeSight graphic when cruise is engaged, for example, and unless you’re particular with how you set the screens up it’s easy to have the same information on show in three places.
Finally, the infotainment system is functional. Wireless smartphone mirroring would be nice, given it’s rolling out in the Forester’s rivals, but you still get wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the factory system blends a logical layout with bright, crisp graphics.
It also has factory mapping. The shortcut buttons and volume/tuning dials below the screen are both welcome in a world that’s going touch-only, but the taller screens in the new Outback and WRX make the dash in the Forester look a bit old.
Like the Outback and WRX, the Forester has a facial recognition system. It can remember up to five drivers, and moves the seats and configures the infotainment system when it works out who’s behind the wheel. It also chimes when you take your eyes off the road, which sounds good in theory but tends to jump at shadows in practice.
Storage spaces abound up front. There’s a wallet-sized space below the dashboard, two cupholders, a shelf for garage keys, and a deep bin beneath the central armrest. You also get two USB-A ports up front.
The rear seats were a strong point when this Forester generation launched, and time hasn’t changed that. With a tall, boxy roofline and massive windows, it feels much brighter back there than in some of its more style-focused rivals.
Even with a panoramic sunroof fitted the Forester has enough headroom for tall teens, and legroom is good behind taller adults. The bench itself is plush, and is wide enough for three people to sit across without too much trouble.
You get air vents, two USB ports, a fold-down armrest, and two-tiered pockets behind the front seats, along with door pockets that comfortably swallow a water bottle.
Speaking of the rear doors, the fact they open to almost 90 degrees makes it easier to load a child seat into the Forester than some of its rivals.
Boot space is a claimed 509 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1779L with them folded flat.
The low, flat boot floor makes it easy to load bulky or cumbersome items back there, and the boxy body makes fitting big bikes easy.
The Subaru Forester Hybrid features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 100kW and 196Nm, combined with an electric motor making 12kW and 66Nm.
There’s a lithium-ion battery pack feeding the electric motor, and the drivetrain transmits power to the all-wheel drive system through a CVT.
Claimed fuel economy is 6.7 litres per 100km, and the Forester drinks 91 RON regular unleaded. It has a 48L fuel tank, down from the 63L unit fitted to petrol-only models.
We saw close to the official claim during our time behind the wheel, with a mix of city and highway driving.
In town, where the electric motor can shoulder more of the load, the fuel use figure quickly dropped towards the official claim. On the highway, it quickly starts creeping closer to 7.0 or 8.0L/100km.
It might be a hybrid, but the Forester starts with a familiar Subaru flare of revs.
The electric motor isn’t particularly powerful, so it can’t propel the Forester far without the petrol engine getting involved. Where you’ll hit around 30km/h in a RAV4 with a light right foot, even treating the accelerator like glass you’ll only get to around 10 or 15km/h in the Subaru.
Lift off the accelerator at speed and it’ll cut the engine, and it generally coasts silently to a stop from below around 15km/h… but that’s nothing the mild-hybrid systems in modern German cars can’t do, so it’s not necessarily something worth crowing about in a RAV4 Hybrid rival.
When the petrol engine does fire, it does so reasonably smoothly and quickly. It’s quiet and smooth on light throttle inputs, but put your foot down a bit harder and it gets noisier.
The electric motor kicks in to help when you mat the right-hand pedal, but it never offers enough punch to deliver anything other than adequate performance. The base petrol engine isn’t what you’d call fast, but even it offers more grunt than the hybrid.
It’s a shame the electrified powertrain is so underwhelming, because there are plenty of good bits about the of the Forester package.
Even on the biggest, most style-oriented wheels and tyres available in the range, the ride is impressive. It keeps out the worst the city can throw at it, soaking up speed bumps and potholes without too much stress, and at highway speeds it feels nicely planted.
The extra weight that comes with adding an electric motor and battery hasn’t turned the Forester into a boat. It doesn’t put the sport in SUV, but the steering is reasonably direct off-centre, and the all-wheel drive system provides excellent traction in any weather.
The steering requires a bit more muscle at low speeds than in some of its rivals. Of course, it’s light enough for anyone to park without breaking a sweat, and a kerb-side camera (paired with the reversing camera) makes avoiding gutters a breeze.
Wind and road noise are well suppressed on Australia’s typically poor country highways, provided you’re not asking too much of the engine.
Subaru was early to the active driver assist party with EyeSight, its stereo camera-based safety suite. That experience shows in the Forester, which has one of the smoothest and smartest adaptive cruise control systems you’ll find in a mainstream car.
New for 2022 is an active steering system designed to actively keep you between the white lines on the highway, rather than sitting dormant until you drift towards the edge of the lane. It’s activated with a button on the steering wheel, and defaults to on when you start the car.
It’s quite hands-on, and won’t be to all tastes, but it’s handy to have on long highway drives.
Forester 2.5i highlights:
- 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (wired)
- DAB+ digital radio
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Reversing camera with washer
- Keyless entry and start
- Dual-zone climate control
- Automatic, active cornering LED headlights
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Front fog lights
- Paddle shifters
- 6.3-inch multi-function display
- Six-speaker sound system
- One-touch electronic folding rear seats
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter
Forester 2.5i-L and Hybrid L add:
- Driver Monitoring System
- Reverse AEB
- Adaptive high-beam
- Front and side cameras
- Heated front seats
Forester 2.5i Premium gains:
- Satellite navigation
- Sport mode
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- Power tailgate
- Eight-way power front seats with driver’s memory
- Metal pedals
Forester Sport adds:
- LED front fog lights
- Orange and gunmetal interior highlights
Forester 2.5i-S and Hybrid S add:
- Leather upholstery
- Eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system
The Subaru Forester wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on tests conducted in 2019.
It scored 94 per cent for adult occupant protection, 86 per cent for child occupant protection, 80 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 78 per cent for safety assist functions.
All Forester models come standard with:
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane centring
- Adaptive cruise control
All bar the base 2.5i come standard with a facial recognition camera to detect driver drowsiness or distraction, as well as reverse autonomous emergency braking.
The Subaru Forester has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, plus an eight-year and 160,000km warranty for the Hybrid’s lithium-ion battery.
Subaru offers three- and five-year servicing plans, which cost $1279.49 and $2430.85 respectively in the Hybrid.
If you want a solid, practical family SUV with all-wheel drive, buy a Subaru Forester. If you want a hybrid SUV, you’re better served looking elsewhere.
The hybrid system in the Forester feels well off the pace set by the setup in the Toyota RAV4, or even the Haval H6. There are some efficiency gains over the base 2.5i engine, but they aren’t significant enough to offset the extra $3000 you have to spend.
The smaller fuel tank slashes your real-world range, which means you won’t necessarily be spending less time at the bowser than in the petrol, and the fact an electric motor hasn’t improved performance is disappointing.
It’s good to see Subaru getting into the world of electrified vehicles, but anyone desperate to get behind the wheel of a cleaner, greener car from the brand would be better served waiting for the Solterra.
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MORE: Everything Subaru Forester