Subaru Forester XT

Recreational vehicles are very popular all over the world, and Thailand is no exception, with Toyota having numerous variants of the Sports Rider and Sports Cruisers on offer. Subaru has one type on offer only, the 2 litre boxer turbo Forester at just under 2.2 million, but it has already made many coverts to the marque.

Our Down-under correspondent, John Weinthal has been a Subaru fan for many years, especially of the potent Subaru Impreza WRX, but has spent a week with the Forester and claims that it is a totally deserving multi-award winner. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

“We start the year 2004 with one of the most awarded cars in Australian motoring history - the latest edition of the excellent Subaru Forester. Forester has won Australia’s Best Recreational Vehicle award in the national motoring organization’s Best Car Awards for the fourth consecutive year.

“As an aside it is worth noting that Subaru also share the Best Sports Car under AUD 60,000 award with the Falcon XR6 Turbo, and the AUD 24,000 Impreza GX was named best mid-size car under AUD 28,000.

“Our test Forester was the turbocharged XT standard model which sells for AUD 41,490 (converts to under 1.2 million - thanks to Thailand’s import duties we pay 2.2 million for the detuned version).

“All second-generation Foresters are larger, a mite more stylish and pack increased comfort and safety features plus a much more up-market look and feel to the interior. With prices starting at AUD 31,000 for the 112kW 2.5 litre Forester X they are all strong on safety features with full-time four wheel drive, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and driver and passenger airbags. On the comfort side there is standard air-con, cruise control a fine sound system and a plethora - of very useful storage bins, lockers and under cargo floor hideaways - Subaru says there are 30 in all. There is a dedicated umbrella holder, retractable cargo area side hooks, under cargo floor storage spaces. On top of that Forester retains its supreme user-friendliness at all times and indefinable but very real driving satisfaction.

“The XT is yet another story. Combining all of the above its 2.5 litre 155 kW turbocharged boxer engine turns this into perhaps the most unlikely pocket rocket on our roads. This is one of those true wolf in sheep’s clothing vehicles - an inoffensively styled spacious family wagon which can embarrass many sporting cars in acceleration off the mark, overtaking ease and in-gear flexibility. Yet this Forester XT remains totally undemanding, but is instantly responsive when required.

“In manual transmission form the XT has a dual-range transmission for true off-roading ability limited almost solely by its 200mm ground clearance. The automatic XT’s, as we tested, do not have low range and add AUD 2000 to the manual wagon’s AUD 39,500 price tag. Manual and automatic Luxury Pack XT’s cost an extra AUD 3000 and have one of the largest electric sunroofs around plus leather seats and trim. All Forester XT Turbos also feature self-leveling rear suspension and roof rails.

“My one ongoing criticism of the Forester is the degree of tyre squeal from the dual-purpose Yokohama Geolander tyres. It is notable with all Foresters but is inevitably magnified in the higher performance XT. Tyre squeal is a rarity these days and nobody needs the attention which it attracts from bystanders and other drivers.

“As ever, Forester comes across as being designed by people who actually drive and live with their creations on a daily basis; people who have families to haul around. They recognize that, for most people, one vehicle must meet all their needs from the daily rounds to holiday cruising and the occasional recreational bush bash or beach cruise.

“Forester meets all these requirements with barely a compromise. Of course the automatic models are distinctly less handy off-road and a mite more thirsty. That said, their relatively compact size, overall agility, superb vision and practicality will win over many people who simply want a safe, undemanding yet satisfying family carry-all. Forester continues to deserve the heaps of praise and awards which still flow its way.”

(You will still enjoy the smaller-engined version here, if you can forget the 2.2 million price tag. Dr. Iain)

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that pit stops are part of F1 racing these days. In fact it seems like the only place some of these turkeys can actually pass each other is in the pits, but that is another story! The mechanical attrition these days is such that a fair percentage of cars don’t make it to the finish line either. Then the drivers seem to like trying the crash barriers too. However, there was once a World Championship F1 Grand Prix where no drivers retired and the drivers had no pit stops. 15 cars started and 15 finished, with 8 on the same lap as the winner. I asked what was this GP and wanted the GP, the year and the winning driver. The only clue was that he was German.

The answer was the 1961 Dutch GP and the driver was Wolfgang von Trips in a Ferrari.

And so to this week. An easy one for the New Year. Which famous Italian marque also produced spark plugs?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania

Good luck!

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

With the New Year upon us, I thought we might look at one of the cars we don’t get in Thailand, but can dream about. We do get the ‘cooking model’ Alfa 147 which has a 2 litre four cylinder in the sharp end, but the one our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal has just spent a week with, the 147 GTA version, has a 3.2 litre V6 delivering a very healthy 184 kW.

John heads his write-up with “Driver fatigue will never occur in this one!” Here are the Words from Weinthal on the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA.

***“Like a long planned holiday there can be much anticipation of a drive in what seems to be a particularly exciting new car. As with holidays, the anticipation is often better than the reality. Such was not the case with the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA.

“Back in May I drove its bigger brother and declared it one of the great drivers cars even at a seemingly implausible AUD 90,000. After a week in that car the price seemed wholly reasonable and I knew I had driven another of those rare cars to be remembered forever.

“This has been a good year for excitement machines - the brilliant-for-the-money Ford Falcon XR6 Turbos and GT, Nissan’s delicious 350Z, Suzuki’s astounding top-value Ignis Sport and the fascinating Mazda RX8 among them.

“But one of the best came right at the end - the Alfa 147 GTA with the same outstanding 184kW 3.2 litre V6 powerplant as the 156 GTA in a smaller, lighter package. It had to be good - and so it proved.

“At AUD 60,000 it makes a heap of sense for anybody who wants to carry four people in a stylish, always exciting machine without, say, the bulk of a Camry - and dare I say it, with the supposed prestige attaching to a heritage-laden badge like Alfa’s.

“This car whips its class against the clock with the 0-100 kph dash taking just 6.4 seconds and a top speed of around 240kph. Never was the term pocket-rocket more aptly applied.

“The GTA brings the number of stylish Alfa 147s available in Australia to six including the three and five-door offerings with Alfa’s confusing Selespeed manual-automatic transmission - a choice I would forego were it my money on the line. (We get only the 3 door and 5 door variants with the 2 litre and Selespeed (Sillyspeed) in Thailand and costing around 2 million baht. Dr. Iain)

“This car responds almost telepathically to any driver input. The car almost appears to anticipate the driver’s intent, which is wonderful provided you give 100% attention to your driving at all times.

“Rolls-Royce used to refer to their building in a ‘sneeze factor’ to the steering and other controls - an allowance for the fact that the chauffeur’s intent might be considered momentarily by the car so as not to upset Milord and Ma’am in the rear. Sorry folks, Alfa does not subscribe to that theory. This car is fabulously nervous. Keep your eyes on the road, your mind on the job and your reflexes primed at all times.

“Of course such sheer driving joy involves some compromise. The ride is firm at all times, but surprisingly bump absorbent at the same time. Never harsh, one is nevertheless always aware of road imperfections. Rapid progress through less than excellent hill country can see your Alfa twitch offline, but it is always easily caught adding to the great driving experience. In this car one comes alive and stays that way. So-called ‘driver fatigue’ will never assail the pilot of a 147 GTA!

“There are, as ever, a few beefs about the Alfa as with so many Italian cars. Driving satisfaction clearly has priority over user friendliness in some areas. The most notable problem - and it IS a problem - is an absurdly large turning circle, just like other current Alfas. Ordinary streets in which one can perform an easy U-Turn in a Commodore (Chevrolet Lumina here) become three-pointers with all that implies for traffic hold-ups and even potential danger or damage to the expensive alloy wheels.

“It takes a while to achieve a totally satisfactory driving position in the 147 and there are inadequate storage spaces. The excellent 8-speaker sound system can be confusing to operate. By day there is bad reflection in the instruments although they are an exemplar of clarity by night.

The cruise control switches and lever are hidden by the steering wheel and the speedo has ridiculous 30kph interval numbering.

“Ah, such mild complaints against the backdrop of the sheer guaranteed driving pleasure. This is a stunning smile-a-mile experience - all the more rare in a roomy, hugely stylish sedan!

“The engine has seemingly endless torque at all times. It will pull strongly from as low as 60 kph in sixth gear. It is so tempting to skip 2nd, 4th and 5th gears in everyday driving, while 6th can still be used around town while ensuring safe, rapid autobahn-style overtaking.

“The Alfa is strong on safety with front, side and window airbags, electronic vehicle stability control and huge ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution. It has climate control air-con, remote central locking and power front windows, a powerful 8-speaker sound system with CD player, central rear armrest and five-hole design 17 inch alloy wheels. Xenon headlamps and a sunroof are optional.

“This was another week to remember. For AUD 60,000 this 147 GTA would be a fine fit in any driving enthusiast’s driveway. This car was long anticipated and the experience more than matched my high expectations.