Buying a soft roader has become harder than ever. Not only are they all starting to become extremely capable off road, they are also becoming more frugal on fuel, so that has to count for something. This article was never intended to be a ‘which one is better than the other’ article, but merely an indication that you should choose the right vehicle for your needs. They are both at the top of the food chain for their range and both cost a fair bit of money.
The Forester XT is probably known as the street racer of all softies. With previous models known to be quicker than certain hot hatches, this model is the latest model and makes 177kw and puts its power down via a fantastic CVT gearbox and the magical Subaru symmetrical all-wheel drive.
On the other side of the scale, we have the Suzuki Grand Vitara Summit 2.4, with a naturally aspirated 2.4l engine, making 122kw, which puts its power down through a 5 speed manual and Suzuki’s own variant of all wheel drive.
Build (interior / exterior)
Both cars are made in Japan and, even from the outside, this is very easily noted. Things are more about function than aesthetics and this carries through to the inside, where things like leather and electronic gadgets are added to make it a little bit more luxurious. The Forester is, however, R160 000 more expensive and it shows. Things like electronic adjustable seats are present on the Forester but lacking on the Grand Vitara. There is also a rear view camera with park distance control on the Forester. Each to their own though; would you rather pay the extra money for a couple of added electronic features? Both vehicles are fitted with a sunroof, single xenon headlights for added visibility at night and they work very well.
Let’s be honest. Looking at the Forester or the Grand Vitara, one could never really assume that they could be at all competent off road. They both run low profile tires with 18” rims and while the ground clearance is good, I’ts by no means Toyota FJ or Jeep Wrangler good. Even the approach and departure angles aren’t magical by any means.
However, things aren’t always what they seem. The Grand Vitara is actually very good off-road, with its low range transfer case and the very effective traction control system that brakes the individual wheel which is spinning to push power to the other wheels which do have traction. It’s a loud and mechanical noise, but it really works well off road. The Grand Vitara impressed us so much off road, we even threw some pretty crazy cross axle situations in its face and it kept on impressing us. There was very little that would stop the Grand Vitara on the 4×4 obstacle course. If anything I would only change the tires to more dual purpose type all terrains.
The Forester XT, as previously mentioned, is really a performance activity vehicle and I knew from the start that things could get a little hairy. Also fitted with performance street tires, the muddy conditions made it work a little harder off the tar. With its wonderful XMode, which also has an intelligent hill decent control system, coming down steep hills was a breeze and very little phased the Forester.
Only the really big ascents, which needed momentum, put a wind in the side of the Forester with the CVT gearbox having a difficult time of know what to do. Slow going was not really the answer in this case. A little bit of momentum on the hills that gave it trouble previously, were eventually conquered with persistence. It was relatively clear. The Forester was totally out matched in this situation.
On road is where the Forester turned into a Jekyll and Hyde. The stiffer suspension eliminates most of the body roll and also helps with the acceleration. The Forester is surprisingly quick and will run onto a top speed of about 218kph. It is also so composed on a bad gravel road you might as well think you are driving on tar. Speeds above 100kph is very common and yet very stable. Even our 80kph braking test on gravel really did not phase it one bit and we also averaged a best of 8.2l/100km on the road and 10.5l/100km on gravel. After our off road testing, it crept to 12l/100km, which really isn’t bad at all.
The Grand Vitara, which lacks the outright performance of the Forester, still did well on the road. It had marginally more road noise, but also handled very well. It was near identical to the Forester on gravel with it being a tad more oversteerish on the sharp corners. The stability control was also present and would interfere every now and then. The suspension, which admittedly is also stiff, is a little softer on the Grand Vitara than that of the Forester. The Grand Vitara does have more body roll; but it’s hardly noticeable. Our fuel economy testing put the Grand Vitara back a little with its 9.6l/100km on road and 11.2l/km on gravel and our off road driving increased it to 13.2l/100km. The latter, one must realise that we were driving in thick sand; with low range engaged.
It’s a hard choice to start with when choosing the right soft roader. After all, you want something that is capable, good on fuel and reliable. You can’t really go wrong with either of these vehicles as they are both very reliable brands. It all comes down to what you need in a vehicle and where you intend spending most of your driving. If you plan to do more extreme off-roading, the Suzuki Grand Vitara would be the better one of the two due to its low range and great traction control system. The Forester is as capable but would need to be driven faster in certain situations. As the saying goes, as slow as possible, as fast as necessary.
The Grand Vitara 2.4 Summit retails at R362 900
The Subaru Forester 2.0 XT CVT retails at R529 000