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|Subaru's fourth-generation Forester is equipped with All Wheel Drive technology to keep going when the going gets tough. Photos supplied|
The Subaru Forester's DNA goes back to 1997 and some 16 years later it has left its boxy awkwardness behind to emerge as a fully fledged all-wheel-drive SUV.
Subaru is pushing the Forester's off-road and rough-road presence, sticking solely to AWD models and not bringing in any 2WD offerings.
Arriving in four petrol variants to begin with, Subaru expects a turbocharged 2.0-litre manual diesel to be in showrooms by about April for $49,990 (about the same time as the Outback diesel with Subaru Lineartronic transmission. An order is in for an auto diesel but there is no time frame yet).
Forester's 2.0-litre base spec, six-speed manual will retail for $39,990. The rest all carry an automatic transmission - a 2.5-litre for $44,990 (or $45,490 with alloys), the 2.5-litre Sport for $47,990, the Premium for another $7000 and the XT Premium for another $5000 again.
Subaru New Zealand's managing director Wallis Dumper said the company listened to the collective grumblings that the top-of-the-line XT was ''a bit dear'' and dropped it down a couple of grand to $59,990.
The flagship's 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer motor is a development of Subaru's BRZ sports car and has direct fuel injection. The power is boosted by 51kW@ 5800rpm and the torque magnified by 115Nm@4200rpm, compared with its non-turbo 2.5-litre counterparts.
Mr Dumper said he wanted the pricing to reflect Subaru's status as a ''premium-positioned niche brand'', slotting the Forester in below Euro cars but slightly above other Japanese manufacturers.
Standard features on all models include air conditioning (with dual-zone operation on all models except the 2.0-litre and the diesel), Bluetooth capability, a reversing camera, USB and auxiliary capability, cruise-control, roof-rails and headlights that automatically turn off when the engine is turned off.
Extra features in the Sport, Premium and XT models are the paddle shift, front fog lights and privacy glass.
The latter two upmarket models are also decked out with satellite navigation, heated front seats, leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlights, electric sunroof, adaptive cruise-control and electrically adjustable front seats. They also boast push-button stop/start and an electrically operated automated rear door.
The new X-mode AWD transmission in the automatic models has a Lineartronic gearbox, which includes a hill-descent function that you can set to control the speed you travel downhill.
A 220mm ground clearance helps the Forester straddle the bumps.
Mr Dumper said at the presentation that the Forester would ''go the most amazing places'' and the launch drive duly delivered. It took us predominantly on dirt roads from Bannockburn to behind Clyde and then from St Bathans thoroughly off road over Thompsons Track to Tarras.
The route book was riddled with cautions and we did get to test the AWD capabilities in the many ruts, mud holes and river crossings. All models I drove performed admirably, with the many stability features stepping in to rectify a slippery situation if the car got even remotely sideways.
The five-star Euro NCAP safety rating was certainly reassuring should things have turned pear-shaped, but, thankfully, it was not put to the test.
Subaru's new ''driver assist system'', called EyeSight, is in the Premium and XT models and is basically a second pair of eyes monitoring the road ahead and recognising potentially dangerous driving situations. Using 3-D images captured by cameras mounted at the top of the windscreen, EyeSight does things like beep should you stray over the centre line.
This latest Forester is moving with the times in terms of fuel economy and has adopted an auto stop-start system - standard on all but the XT and diesel models - that rests the engine and saves petrol while stationary.
The gruntier XT is naturally the thirstiest with a 8.5l/100km fuel consumption and the diesel the lowest at 5.9l/100km.