Australia

Tested: New Subaru Forester Hybrid

Hybrids are all the rage these days, nearly every car maker is producing a fuel efficient vehicle using a combination of petrol and electric power. Subaru is the latest to join the growing horde of green machines with the Forester Hybrid.

Here are five things you need to know about the Subaru Forester Hybrid.

IT’S HYBRID LITE

Subaru’s first hybrid runs a series/parallel drivetrain, in which — according to the theory — the vehicle can run on electricity alone, or petrol and electricity together. Subaru claims the Forester can operate in electric mode up to 40km/h. In practice, though, the Subaru’s limited battery capacity and low power (12.3kW) electric motor are unable to shift the Forester more than a few metres from rest, on a very gentle throttle, before the 2.0-litre petrol engine kicks in.

THESE FUELISH THINGS

As a result, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are only marginally better than the equivalent petrol-powered Forester, and much higher than the Toyota RAV4’s figures. Forester S hybrid averages 6.7L/100km and 152gkm of CO2; the 2.5-litre petrol Forester S averages 7.4L/100km and 168gkm. The Toyota RAV4 all-wheel drive hybrid averages 4.8L/100km and 109gkm. The difference is explained by Toyota’s more fuel efficient 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine, its larger capacity battery and more powerful twin electric motor/generator system, which can often provide motive power without assistance from the petrol engine at low speeds and is particularly effective in stop/start city traffic.

BE PATIENT FOR A PAYOFF

Forester Hybrid L, at $39,990, carries a $3050 price premium over its petrol counterpart; Forester Hybrid S, at $45,990, is $3000 more expensive.

If we take the hybrid’s 0.7L/100km better economy (on regular unleaded) and apply that to an average annual distance of 15,000km, you will use 105L less each year. Working on a petrol price of, say $1.20 per litre, you’ll save $126. So it will take about 24 years to get your $3000 back.

There’s no performance pay-off, either. The 136kW 2.5-litre petrol Forester goes all right, but the hybrid’s 110kW 2.0-litre/12.3kW electric motor combination, with the added burden of an extra 67kg to drag around, is sluggish and unresponsive in comparison.

IT’S GOOD IN THE DIRT, BUT …

Forester hybrid retains Subaru’s full time, high range all-wheel drivetrain, supplemented by X-Mode which recalibrates the drivetrain and traction control to provide optimum go-forward on loose or slippery unsealed surfaces and steep hills. It also has hill descent control and 220mm of ground clearance. So Forester hybrid is as capable off road as its petrol counterpart, except for the fact that it has no full size spare wheel under the boot floor, as the petrol models do. The battery lives there instead and the hybrid gets a puncture repair kit.

THE LOGIC IS HARD TO FOLLOW

I’m not quite sure what Subaru is trying to achieve with the Forester hybrid. The point of the technology is better fuel efficiency and lower emissions, but compared with the petrol Forester, and with Toyota’s hybrid drive in the RAV4, the gains in both are minimal, while performance has actually gone backwards. There’s simply not enough battery capacity or electric motor grunt available to make much of a contribution. Forester’s best in class off-road credentials have also been severely dented by the absence of a spare wheel. So why would you want to spend an extra $3000 on the hybrid? I don’t know.

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