MILTON KEYNES, Buckinghamshire, England — Somewhat surprisingly, given the jaunty tone of its sales releases, Subaru Canada is having a slightly down year. Sales have tumbled 1.1% year-on-year, but for a brand that relishes at boasting about soaring sales results, Subaru Canada’s stumble is striking.
Perhaps the new Forester will reverse the tide.
Subaru’s most popular model, a crossover aimed at Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V has been redesigned this year, with a price starting at $28,000. That’s not exactly a bargain, but in line with the RAV4 base model ($27,990) and the CR-V (from $29,610).
Subaru says the fifth generation Forester is a reinvented gem, riding on a global platform and available in six trims, the priciest topping out at nearly $40,000. There’s a new lot of goodies, including an improved driver nanny system – EyeSight – and there are new electronic aids to keep you from crashing by distraction or falling asleep behind the wheel.
In a nutshell, the Forester is bigger inside, more nicely fitted and the road manners reflect a tighter body and chassis. Of course, all-wheel-drive is standard, but somewhat surprisingly, the only engine is a rather dated 2.5-litre boxer or horizontally opposed four-banger.
All nice enough, but a question: why don’t Canadians get the Forester hybrid that’s on sale in Europe and, for goodness sake, Australia? The answer: Americans don’t want it, and in Canada, car companies jump whenever and however high their American counterparts say.
Shame, really. The Subaru Forester e-Boxer is being pushed vigorously here in the United Kingdom. Dealers are so confident; they are asking prospective buyers to secure their new ride by plonking down a 1,000-pound non-refundable deposit.
This Forester is a mild hybrid, which means the 10kW electric motor — integrated into the Lineartronic CVT — is there to give you an acceleration boost and slightly improve the fuel economy of the gasoline engine, a 2.0-litre boxer four. Subaru killed its smelly diesel in Europe, and I suppose you could argue the hybrid is its replacement.
The hybrid adds 110 kg to the Forester and you pay a small penalty in storage. That is, the 118-V lithium-ion battery and some hybrid odds and sods are tucked into the below-floor cargo space at the rear – where once there was a spare and room for things like the fluorescent roadside vest that’s mandatory in the UK.
It’s a shame to see Subaru Canada decline to sell a hybrid Forester. Anything that helps reduce the CVT whine under heavy acceleration would be welcome by Canadian buyers, who would also applaud a hybrid’s fuel economy bump. Perhaps the cost of offering a second, more complicated powertrain which in Europe is sold with the smaller 2.0-litre gas engine is too much.
That said, we can expect Subaru to sell in Canada and the U.S. the battery electric sport-utility vehicle (SUV) being developed with Toyota Motor. In June, Subaru and Toyota said they will team to produce an SUV using a new platform. Toyota will supply the electrification piece, Subaru the all-wheel drive technologies and each will sell the new EV under its own brand.
Several key takeaways about the Toyota-Subaru partnership:
- On the electrification front, Toyota is anxious to catch up with its rivals, such as Volkswagen, Geely and General Motors. The plan is to have an electrified version of every Toyota and Lexus model by 2025 – with a goal of selling some 5.5 million traditional gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2025. About 20 per cent could be pure EVs.
- Subaru, a tiny automaker, needs Toyota to help offset the staggering costs of developing electrified vehicles – and even a car company as rich and sprawling as Toyota is looking for ways to share the costs of electrification and autonomous drive by spreading them across as many brands and models as possible.
- Currently, Toyota owns about 16 per cent of Subaru Corporation and has a partnership that dates back to the mid-2000s.
- To date, the partnership has produced a sports car – the Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ. As well, a Subaru Crosstrek plug-in hybrid uses technology adapted from Toyota’s Prius Prime. Alas, the Crosstrek plug-in isn’t sold in Canada, either.
So, to sum up: Subaru is coming late to the electrification game, which means the company is playing catchup – and racing to gain on the competition with Toyota, which while a global leader in gasoline-electric hybrids, is also an overall laggard in electrification.
Indeed, why hasn’t Toyota managed yet to sell us something to compete with even the Chevrolet Bolt EV, much less any Tesla model? And while we’re at it, why isn’t Subaru Canada offering the Forester hybrid?
Time for both to get with the electrification program.