REVIEW | We drive the new Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport ES CVT

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MY21 Subaru Forester
MY21 Subaru Forester

• For 2021, Subaru has added a more powerful engine to its Forester line-up.

• The 2.5-litre Boxer petrol motor produces 136kW and 239Nm. 

• We drive the new 2.5i Sport ES CVT that features upgraded trim and styling features.     

Subaru has started 2021 with a bang by introducing a fresher, better and more powerful Forester locally.

Yes, finally the famous nameplate has a proper 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine under the bonnet, with 21kW and 43Nm more over previous 2.0-litre motor. Total power is 136kW and 239Nm from the direct injection unit.

On paper, those numbers don't necessarily jump out but in application it's a different story, more on that later. 

The gearbox, if I could call it that, is the familiar CVT Lineartronic unit which features 'steps' and not gears. In the Sport ES model there are paddle shifts located on the steering wheel. 

There's a switchable drive mode 'Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive)' that offers a choice between efficient and sport engine, throttle and dynamic characteristics.

MY21 Subaru Forester
MY21 Subaru Forester

Subaru says the SI-Drive system will recalibrate the engine mapping to deliver the desired output and in its sportiest setting offers a 0–100km/h sprint time of 9.3 seconds.

Fuel consumption is rated at 7.3-litre per 100km but in reality I averaged around 8.9 litres, which I thought wasn't too bad considering the engine capacity and that its all-wheel-drive system adds weight to the vehicle. 

Subaru's X-Mode has two programs to switch between, depending on what the terrain is. The system can select either snow or dirt mode for slippery or loose surfaces such as dirt or gravel or snow, alternatively the snow or mud mode is used for heavier terrain like thick mud and deep, steep ruts.

X-mode cleverly uses gear ratios and torque distribution to deliver power to specific wheels where the most grip is detected. Essentially, it does all the work to get up and over that tricky gravel or hill section. Speaking of hills, Subaru offers Hill Descent Control as standard across the range.  

MY21 Subaru Forester
MY21 Subaru Forester


The Japanese brand's safety driver assistance systems are grouped cleverly under the 'eyesight' name and this mainly has to do with the camera located next to the rear view mirror that scans the road ahead.

The Forester will apply brakes automatically if a pedestrian, animal or car if it detects an impending collision and it even notifies the driver if the car ahead has pulled away, that I found extremely helpful. 

Another piece of tech to evade embarrassing and expensive moments is pre-collision throttle management. It's a system that warns the driver and cuts power from the throttle in the event of wrong gear selection or accelerating from an intersection too early when a car is still right in front.

Radar-guided cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and automatic reverse braking is also standard specification. 

MY21 Subaru Forester
MY21 Subaru Forester


The cabin is nicely appointed with new waterproof seats, that feature orange stitching and a sport tag. There's more orange (this time plastic) bordering the gearlever section and air vents. Climate control, a large touch screen with all the bits and bobs, such as Apple CarPlay and satellite navigation is standard.

Mercifully, Subaru has placed the important buttons as buttons and not on the touch screen itself. There's also a volume knob, yay! There's an electronic handbrake button located next to the nifty automatic vehicle hold switch. 

Overall, it's a nice place to be and well-equipped. 

MY21 Subaru Forester
MY21 Subaru Forester

What's it like to drive?

The driving experience has its strong and weak points. The Boxer motor could do with more poke, that torque figure just simply isn't enough for a car of this size and application. 

With a family and a bunch of stuff in the 520 litre boot it will feel slightly under powered. Having said that, the Forester's 'gearbox' is impressive for a CVT and is one of the better examples on the market. 

In SI sport mode the steering and all-wheel-drive system come together like Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus to create a sweet experience filled with grippy cornering and a satisfying grin. 

The damping on the latest model is superb and the suspension soaks up the bumps with ease, creating a fuss-free driving experience in the city and on the highway. 

It feels like a car that's been built by people who enjoy driving cars and care about the experience of driving one of theirs.

I felt more confident each time I drove it and leaned on the steering a tad more than in the previous corner.

The Sport model knows it handles well and gives that off from the get-go, with a low-driving position, low centre of gravity thanks to the Boxer engine mounted as low down as possible in the engine bay. 

Subaru has never been about image or perception, their cars have been about getting behind the feel and relishing the combination of the Boxer engine and asymmetrical all-wheel-drive system's abilities. 

All I want is a turbo version, please!

MY21 Subaru Forester
MY21 Subaru Forester


2.5i Sport ES CVT R599 000

A three year or 75 000 kilometre maintenance plan and five year or 150 000km warranty is included in the price. 

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