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At only a 200k price difference between the Subaru XV and Forester, which is the way to go?
Subaru's headquarters in this region must be desperate. There was a time when they had to sell cars imported in completely built-up forms from Japan to the Asean market.
If they wanted to take the fight straight to mainstream players building their vehicles in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, Subaru had to sacrifice margins to help offset the inevitable high prices caused by those countries' outlandish import taxes.
That's why Subaru started building the XV in Malaysia some three years ago so that it could be in a more comfortable position to price the compact SUV against the likes of the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5.
And just last month, Subaru decided to build a second model at the same Asean plant. Guess what? It's another compact SUV called the Forester which wasn't previously promoted heavily in Thailand due to it coming from Japan.
With these products generally overlapping each other in substance and price -- the XV is only 200,000 baht cheaper than the Forester spec on spec -- how is the buyer going to decide what to buy with a budget between 1-1.5 million baht, you may ask?
At a glance, some might be quick to point out that the Forester is fresher off the shelf of Subaru's current offerings. But the truth is that the Forester, like the XV, has already reached midlife in its current generation.
Also, some may suggest that the XV is for buyers putting an emphasis on styling and the Forester for those prioritising interior practicality instead. This is quite true. Although the two SUVs share the same basic platform, also used by the Impreza saloon/hatchback and Levorg estate, the Forester is the slightly bigger vehicle of the two and has a front end made more pronounced with garish-looking LED lights.
It's the Forester's considerably taller height that really tells it all by being able to take taller persons in all perches and more cumbersome stuff in the boot. It appears Subaru has stolen the lead over Mazda in spotting the trend for sporty and functional SUVs coexisting together in the same market place.
Just to refresh some minds, Mazda is launching the all-new CX-4 -- a sleeker-looking version of today's CX-5 -- in China this month before rolling it out into other markets within the next two years. Which is to say that the Forester is finally Subaru's proper riposte for the CR-V and CX-5 in Thailand.
The boxy styling of the Forester helps for a cavernous and airy cabin. You can especially feel these aspects from the driver's seat, whereby the upright pillars help provide a good view of the outside.
The Forester's fascia is virtually the same as in the XV with most controls tidily laid out, although the good-to-hold steering wheel feels a bit busy with an array of remote switches to control various functions. But the door panels are different in the two Subarus.
The Forester's interior tone leans on the sporty side of things, thanks to black leather and plastics, as well as some metal trim. Although they may look good on the eyes and feel good on the fingers, some places aren't bolted together that solidly. Although rear occupants don't get separate air-con ventilation, they can increase their comfort by reclining the back rests. And if users opt for outright cargo space, those bolsters can easily fold flat via electric buttons placed in the sidewalls of the boot. Opt for the 2.0i-P spec, as tested here, and you get more convenience items like electric tailgate operation and rear centre armrest. This trim also gets more visual zest in the form of chrome-rimmed fog lamps and side sills, and alloy-studded pedals. And while Subaru still hasn't gone the extra length in giving the Forester some driver-assist tech from its so-called Eyesight safety package, passive safety peaks out with a knee airbag for the driver.
As Forester uses the same 150hp 2.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-four and CVT automatic with six-speed manual shift as in the XV, owners of the latter model will find the driving experience very familiar.
Performance is linear and refined at most times, but the porkier Forester does feel more breathless when the driver asks for more oomph. The fuel economy rating of some 12kpl isn't that splendid, either. Maybe it's time for the Forester (and XV) to get the downsized 1.6-litre turbo unit -- even if not without flaws -- from the Levorg we tested earlier this year.
As the Forester is more likely to attract restrained drivers than those going for the XV, Subaru has tuned the chassis for comfort rather than driving finesse. The ride is comfy and absorbent, but the downside is soggy handling in the twisty bits or when executing quick changes in direction.
At least, the brand's fabled all-wheel-drive system and low placed flat-four engine contribute to an enhanced grip on the corners, slippery tarmac and gravel roads. The only way you can make the Forester feel a little sportier on the move is to engage the drivetrain mode into Sport or shift gears manually via the steering-mounted paddle-shifters. Even so, don't expect things to be vastly transformed.
A rival that possibly comes closest in matching the Forester's driving manners is the Nissan X-Trail, which also has a CVT gearbox and comfort-oriented chassis set-up. The CX-5, for another, is the better choice for the keener driver.
At just under 1.5 million baht, it doesn't make the Forester an outstanding or bad choice in the Thai compact SUV class. As said earlier, this particular Subaru highlights practicality and comfortable road manners -- things not held in excess in the XV.
Thus, that could arguably be a good thing for Subaru customers by having two types of compact SUVs with similar prices in Thai showrooms to choose from. Generally overlapping they may be, a wider choice can never be a bad thing.
There's a commanding view of the outside from the driver's seat.
Rear has good seating comfort and space.
Subaru has tuned the chassis for comfort rather than driving finesse
12/17, Serithai Rd., Khlong Kum, Bangkok 10240 Thailand