I recently surveyed the latest of the Japanese Big Three contenders in the compact sport utility market: Honda CR-V vs Toyota RAV4, with the RAV4 a clear winner on value. Now let’s take a look at the Japanese manufacturer I liken to Audi against BMW and Mercedes-Benz: Subaru.
Subaru has had some interesting corporate times, having recently been part-owned by GM, and now by Toyota. The GM marriage resulted in the Subaru Impreza being rebadged as a Saab 9-2x to fill a gap in that late, lamented line-up. The new owners seem to have a marriage made in automotive enthusiast’s heaven with the first new model being the tantalizing BRZ marketed by Subaru and its kin under the skin known as the Scion FR-S. These back-to-basics but by no means plain-Jane vehicles have lit a fire in the youth market, and might be single handedly responsible for getting Generation X interested in cars. Just try to get near one of these vehicles at an auto show. You can’t, you’ll be elbowed out of the way by a twenty-something with his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones slung around his shoulders and his iPhone’s camera on full panorama mode.
But you can only sell so many sports cars. Indeed, Subaru will only be bringing in 500 BRZs this model year. What’s a manufacturer to do? In Subaru’s case, it’s to rely on the ‘one that brung ya’, and that is its stellar Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, mated to a functional two-box design that will carry a family of five deep into cottage country or help launch the latest shopping excursion to Costco. The Subaru Forester has quietly gained a loyal following, and Subaru has now seen fit to launch an all-new Forester for 2014.
There are two major breaks in the Forester’s lineup. The majority of the models have the 2.5 litre four cylinder Boxer engine. All manufacturers are obsessed with balancing fuel economy and performance, and as the Forester grows, it’s more difficult to keep the spirited performance of its predecessor. For a literal boost, the 2.0 litre turbocharged engine offers 250 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, more than enough for Forester to get out of its own way.
The 2.0 XT models are also distinguished with a more aggressive grille and bumper treatment. The overall styling is more mature and less reliant on a tapered, rounded nose to accentuate the view from the front. A character line breaks up the expansive side, missing the door handles and fading into the front fender without being picked up by the front bumper. A rear hatchback opens to a spacious cargo area, with the second row seats folding flat for even more cargo capacity.
On the inside, the expansive dashboard is accented with bright trim, and the most-used knobs are large and will be easy to use even with gloves on. The height of the opening of the power rear hatch can be memorized and set to keep it from hitting low ceilings. This feature is also found on RAV4.
Let’s see how the the two vehicles face off. Remember, Toyota owns part of Subaru. How will this affect the value equation?
Here is the equipment common to both vehicles:
The value story:
A few things of note. RAV4 gets credit for active-brake limited slip. This uses the ABS and driveline traction control system to keep wheels from spinning in low friction situations. Forester’s system diverts torque to any wheel that has grip without using the ABS system. Technically, RAV4 shouldn’t get credit for a feature that will increase brake wear, and Forester shouldn’t be penalized for having a superior all-wheel drive system. Forester’s AWD can even direct torque to a single wheel with traction; RAV4 can only shift torque from the front wheels to each rear wheel in equal amounts.
The rest of the story:
Even though the Subaru and the Toyota are corporate cousins, the vehicles themselves couldn’t be more different. Subaru utilizes its traditional boxer engine; Toyota goes with an upright in-line four cylinder. Subaru has Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive; Toyota uses an electromagnetic clutch plate rear differential to transfer power from the front wheels to the rear. Forester is larger in just about every passenger dimension, yet RAV4 trumps it in cargo space. Subaru has smooth side and hood lines; RAV4 is highly sculpted.
The value story is almost a draw. In the past, Subaru seemed to always be more expensive than its closest competitors. Check the value story and price of a comparably equipped 2010 Forester:
Even five model years later, Forester has increased the value of its equipment with a minimal price increase. The value equation demonstrates that not only is Subaru able to compete on price, it also competes on value. Forester has earned a spot on the mainstream compact sport utility buyers’ shopping list.