As the effects of global warming are making themselves more evident with each year, there’s increasing pressure on car makers to clean up their emissions and make more efficient cars. Recently applied local taxes on our vehicles have been helping to turn the tide, with tariffs much lower on hybrid cars and completely absent for electric cars. In order to take advantage of this new development, many car makers are seriously considering offering hybrids in the Philippine auto market. One of these brands is Subaru, formerly known for fast, furious, and fun turbo-charged cars and SUVs.
Integrating hybrid power into its vehicles seems out of character for ‘fun’ brand like Subaru. As such, it’s likely why Motor Image Pilipinas, distributors of Subaru in the country had flown us into Singapore to be better acquainted with the upcoming model.
Many fans of the brand may presume that the introduction of hybrid power dumbs down the enjoyment of a Subaru, with its low-center of gravity flat engine and symmetrical all wheel drive. Yet Subaru has endeavored to make the integration as seamless as possible.
First off, the Forester e-Boxer looks no different from the regular pure petrol-powered Forester (due to be introduced to our market very soon). The only indications are e-Boxer badges, while the rest of the electric powertrain is hidden out of sight.
The layout is pretty much the same. The hybrid Forester still uses a 2.0-liter boxer engine that drives all four wheels. The difference is that the electric assist motor is fitted on the transmission side, allowing the vehicle to retain its trademark all-wheel drive, but powered by an electric source if desired.
Because of this setup, the hybrid Forester can run on pure petrol (when cruising), petrol with hybrid assist (when accelerating), or pure electric. Pure electric mode is good for 50 kilometers of travel on a full charge; more than enough for the average Philippine commute to work. The battery pack is situated in the rear cargo area, rather than the floor like most hybrids. Placing it hear helps maintains the car’s even weight distribution, and helping it handle better than most hybrids.
With their power combined, the Forester e-boxer petrol and electric motor produce 145 PS and 188 Nm of torque. This is paired with a continuously variable transmission for smooth acceleration. It still drives all four wheels all the time, ensuring there is always sufficient grip in any condition.
Inside, the Forester gets a more impressive cliff-face dashboard with more screens to display all the added info. There’s an LCD screen between the dials, one on top of the center dash, and a large screen for infotainment, which can also display hybrid info. Added screens aside, the rest of the cabin doesn’t feel any different from a regular Forester, no doubt designed to encourage customers to shift to the greener model.
Naturally, the real proof of the pudding is in the drive. For this, Motor Image has set up a test track that demonstrates how the e-Boxer accelerates, brakes and handles. Dry and wet corners were even thrown in to show the advantages an all-wheel drive hybrid can have over a conventional front-wheel drive hybrid.
Being a hybrid paired to a CVT, there was little excitement to be gained from flooring the throttle. The Forester e-Boxer accelerates smoothly but not in much haste. Glance down the speedometer and you’ll realize it hides the sensation of speed surprisingly well, already travelling at 100 km/h while still feeling like 60 km/h.
The real revelation is how the Forester e-Boxer handles. Typical hybrids feel heavy — unavoidable due to the amount of electronics and batteries — lumbering around corners, leaning heavily and screeching tires at the slightest turns. The Forester hybrid, on the other hand, felt no different from the petrol version, ably taking on the same tight corners at speed with little extra effort.
What was truly convincing was taking the final wet turn where water was sprayed over steel sheets. There was just a moment where the vehicle slipped before regaining control and rounding out the corner.
Of course, after the exciting course was a shorter course demonstrating the various elements of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology. These too will be fitted on the upcoming Forester e-Boxer. It featured situations like a slow crawl in city traffic, a car ahead suddenly pulling away, and a car ahead suddenly braking. In all of these situations, EyeSight cleverly followed at a distance, warned the driver, and even applied the brake to come to a full stop, respectively.
Making the shift to a hybrid or electric cars can be quite intimidating for any driver that’s used to a conventional powertrain. By cleverly integrating it into a model we’re already familiar with —like the Forester — Subaru hopes it’s a change we will look forward to rather than fear. It will still take some time before the Forester e-Boxer will be offered in Philippines, 2020, at Motor Image’s estimate. Yet, with its abilities and features, it’s a change we’re definitely looking forward to.
By Iñigo S. Roces