Forester Fire - Chevrolet Forester

So there you have it. I have just tested one of the best cars I have ever driven and have been allotted just 1,250 words to describe it.  And I thought I edited this magazine! So let’s cut to the chase and get on with the facts first. 

As we told you in the September 2002 issue of Motoring, General Motors India is indeed getting the Subaru Forester here via the CBU route. We had also reported well over a year back about the Chevrolet brand making its entry into India. So put both these solid facts together and you get the car you see here – the Chevrolet Forester. 

Well, actually when we tested the Indian-spec Forester, the Chevy badges were still being readied, so we got a Subaru. Now, enough of playing Tarzan and let us get on with the Forester.The Forester is the Gerard Depardeau of cars. Huge, not handsome in the conventional sense of the word, but burly and even sexy in a quirky kind of way. However, in the world of Porsche Cayennes and Hummer H2s, the Forester will be happy just playing Lara Croft.
The lines are sharp and bold and even angular in many ways. Subaru gave a facelift to the Forester only a few months back and what we will be getting is the same package currently on sale around the world. Hints of happy-go-rally cousins like the Impreza can be seen here and there, and that is only good news. 

As an automotive sub-species, the original Forester can be credited as being the forerunner of most of today’s crossover vehicles, but it was always something more than an Estate with all-road ability. It is a shrunken SUV with monocoque innards, with the ability to traverse most road conditions and boasting a facet that no bread and butter SUV can match – the ability to go around corners.

So what is it, a car or an SUV? The best of both worlds, while being a cliché, sums it up perfectly. But then, this is not what you expect a road-tester to say, right? Let us get behind the wheel.To begin with, while you crawl into most cars and clamber into most SUVs, you walk into the Forester. Once inside, the interior is a pleasing mix of top grade synthetic materials. The seating position is good, the seats are firm, and the instrument console is beautifully thought out.The Forester is a comfortable fit for four adults, but there is enough room for that pest you couldn’t shrug off. An automatic air-
conditioner and a six-CD changer are standard. Its designers have not wasted any space available around the front passengers and that means a total of eight cubby holes. What is amazing is even without smelly leather, the cold feel of metal inserts and shiny fake wood, the Forester’s interior feels sophisticated and contemporary. I am in love with it already and I am yet to turn on the ignition.

Along with all-wheel drive, there is another ingredient that makes the Subaru name extra special in the crowded world of automobiles. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the boxer engine. Yup, the Forester comes with a horizontally opposed four cylinder engine. Turn the key, blip the throttle and you will hear... put two index fingers in your mouth, bite on them, and then let out a blurrrrrrr. Now, that is exactly how this boxer motor sounds when it is excited. (For best results try doing that under a shower... seriously!). VW Beetle enthusiasts will identify with the sparing exhaust note immediately. On the move, it does not even take a minute for you to be familiar with the Forester. Before I knew it, I was reversing the car with ease, dodging traffic and even parking without a hitch... now which SUV behemoth lets you do that? 

What GMI has homologated for India is the base 1994 CC petrol version of the four pot boxer engine. This single cam sixteen valve job manages 125 bhp at 5,600 rpm and 18.5 kgm of torque at 3,600 revs. There is also a 168 bhp 2500 CC unit, and a few other turbocharged beasts in the same engine family.
The current motor is a minnow in its own stable, but GMI thinks it will be good enough to haul the Forester on Indian roads. Mash the throttle and the engine sounds as if you’ve pressed the self-destruct button by accident, but yet the one and half tonner manages to touch 60 kph in a shade under five seconds in first gear itself. Second gear will take you all the way to 98 kph and despite the shift to third, 100 kph comes in 10.5 hairy seconds. Now this is not your average front-wheel drive sedan but a pretty heavy all wheel drive vehicle, and those timings are nothing short of brilliant. We managed 170 kph before we ran out of road, but the claimed top speed of 185 kph is certainly achievable. 

You will be missing the point if I waste more words about its drag-ability. The Forester, dear friends, is all about all-roadability. We gunned our road test car to Sindhrot near Umatha, 10 km off Baroda in search of terrain the Forester was built to handle. Fine dust, river beds, gravel  trails... the erstwhile kingdom had all of this in abundance. The Forester came alive in such surroundings. We tried our best to get it into a spot of trouble or two, but failed miserably. It may look as if it does not have the kind of ground clearance most SUVs possess, but there was not a single occasion when we came anywhere close to touching its bottom down. With gravel crunching under the 15-inch 207/70 Bridgestone Duelers and the boxer singing loud, the Forester dismisses dirt tracks with consummate ease.Even while cornering hard, you don’t really worry about losing traction in the most slippery surfaces, the Subaru patented AWD system – featuring  the R152 Limited Slip differential at the rear – ensures that the right amount of power goes to the right wheel at the right time. Skimming over dry river beds at three-digit speeds is an experience automobile lovers shouldn’t miss. 

The Forester AWD system ensures that you have fun – the right side up. If the going gets trickier than just loose gravel and no-road situations, you can still wriggle your way out, thanks to an auxiliary low transmission ratio. All you need to do to engage the low ratio is to lift an innocuous-looking lever while engaging the clutch pedal. Sure, it is no match for burly military tanks and ‘proper’ 4WD systems, and a Pajero will out-boulder it in a 4x4 one-to-one combat, but then this is not the car you would want to take for the Paris-Dakar raid in any case.

Back on twisty tarmac, the Forester is as good as any good sedan when it comes to straight-lining corners. Actually, it is a better bet, since most sedans don’t come with the reassurance of all-wheel-drive systems. A firm and taut ride means you have to really struggle hard to get some body roll out of this machine. Now, this is the area where the Forester will score over its CBU counterparts like the Mitsubishi Pajero. A lower centre of gravity and an all independent suspension aided by AWD means the Forester is the ideal automobile for carving mountain ranges. 

Add to that a hyper ABS system and passive safety features such as driver and co-driver air bags, and you will realise that we are talking about one of the safest vehicles ever to have landed on our shores. I can go on and on. But I have already crossed my word limit. At  Rs 17,00,000 (approx.), the Chevrolet Forester (it will take time for us to forget that it is a Subaru underneath) is in the same price bracket as the Opel Vectra and Ford Mondeo, but it is any day a more capable car and one that is more ideal for a country like ours. Ask JD Power and they will tell you that Subarus are among the best built
cars in the world today. What next GMI? A Chevrolet Impreza to address the performance niche?