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First drive: Subaru Forester tS coming to Aus

Forest bump: Subaru’s limited edition Forester tS is coming Down Under early next year with a dusting of go-faster mods.

STI-sharpened Subaru tS flagship heralds Forester facelift


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29 Oct 2015


SUBARU has unleashed its specialised tuning authority Subaru Tecnica International (STI) on the go-anywhere Forester SUV, producing a strictly limited edition of the high-rider that offers a more on-road and driver-focused option.

Dubbed the tS, Subaru’s performance pick of the Forester range has a host of special STI modifications to sharpen handling, road-holding and styling. Just 300 of the honed SUVs will be heading Down Under.

While the special limited version brings a selection of STI dynamic-enhancement extras, a quick blast in the tS in Japan also gave GoAuto a change to inspect the Forester’s mid-life update in the metal, ahead of the range update in March this year.

The tS examples will arrive shortly after the range update in May 2016, with all versions of the Forester receiving a sharpened exterior look and a dusting of extra kit. Australia will be – for now – the only nation other than Japan to receive the special edition car.

The tS versions are based on the current range-topping XT, but add to the recipe of 177kW/350Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre, permanent four-wheel drive system and CVT automatic transmission with 50 key STI mods.

On the outside, tS Foresters are dressed up in a choice of pearlescent white, black or World Rally Blue paint and 19-inch Enkei wheels that wear 245/45R Bridgestone tyes.

Power and performance is unchanged over the donor XT, but STI has tweaked the chassis with a series of alterations that boost “linear response and high speed stability,” while reducing body pitch and roll.

Underneath the car, the Forester tS has stiffening cables fitted to the front and rear subframes, an upper front strut brace and lower rear bracing further improves chassis rigidity, while a suspension spring rate and ride-height adjustment completes the chassis work.

Braking has also been upgraded to complement the handling and road-holding improvements, with larger Brembo brake callipers fitted in all corners and four-piston STI-branded units up front.

Bragging-right STI badges complete the exterior, while a selection of sporty upholstery treatments and more badges take care of the cabin.

STI insists that the tS is not simply a Forester with retrofitted parts, claiming that it cannot be replicated outside of the production process, with extra sound deadening material added as one of the 22 on-line operations. The remaining modifications are carried out post-production by STI.

Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said that the new addition to the more performance-focused range was likely to herald further STI-honed cars for the local market.

“Forester has always been the sporty SUV,” he said. “It has led the market with performance variants – GT, XT AND S-Edition. This is our new SUV pinnacle – Forester tS. Hopefully we can build on this in the future and look at enhancements on other vehicles.”

While visiting Subaru’s native Japan, GoAuto was given an opportunity to try out the modifications first-hand on a challenging closed circuit, to see what effect STI’s Forester fettling has had.

Right from the first turn, it’s clear the tS chassis is significantly different to the not un-athletic XT version, with a faster turn-in and greatly reduced body roll. The comparison was made easier having had a warm-up lap in a more conventional Forester XT.

Steering feel is improved, but it’s not to the same level of a more hardcore Subaru road-rocket model such as the WRX and its adrenaline-pumped STI cousin.

Grip and road-holding is surprising up to a point, but it quite suddenly drops off into the understeer one might normally associate with a large all-paw wagon at the limit – but that limit is a fair bit higher than some others in the category.

The extra braking force from the beefier Brembo set-up is welcome in a heavy car when carrying pace, and offers a more confidence-inspiring escape handle.

The tight and winding course was not originally intended as an automotive venue, so we appreciated a good set of anchors.

While 177kW from the turbo boxer four-cylinder is a decent amount of grunt in the Forester when wearing XT badges, we were left wanting just a little bit more breath in the tS’s lungs with that extra dynamic ability on hand.

While the WRX STI is offered exclusively in six-speed manual, the Forester is a CVT-only proposition. In other Subaru applications, the transmission is better than almost all other brand’s attempts, but in a more performance-focused setting we would have liked the option of a more involving cog-swap.

Manual selection of the simulated gear ratios was a little frustrating thanks to some delay, and leaving it alone is the better option. A bit more bark from the nice flat-four soundtrack would have helped determine where we were in the rev range, but the tS exhaust is unchanged for the special edition.

When pushed unreasonably hard, the Forester will complain from all corners, with tyre and brake temperatures rapidly rising to unsustainable levels. The tS is best kept like a good sake — warm but not too hot to touch.

Like the rest of the range, the tS has a very functional interior, with none of the practicalities lost in the STI transformation. Our test car’s mixture of Alcantara and leather looked great in contrast with the pearl white exterior, serving as a pleasant reminder that we were in the new flagship of the range.

Pricing and final Australian specification is still under deliberation, but with its extra trick bits and performance edge, expect the Forester tS to command a slight increase over the current range-topper, which kicks off from $47,990 before on-road costs.

Without STI’s full-blown vehicle transformation package – including a power pump-up and a manual gearbox – the Forester tS is not a true STI road-rocket, and nor will Subaru be claiming that status when it arrives.

With noticeably more chassis crispness, more involving dynamics and street-presence, the new Forester pack-leader adds a little esteemed pink-badge excitement, while retaining the Forester’s practicality.

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