We all have that friend who owns a Subaru Forester. They didn't want to be embarrassed and drive an SUV, yet owning a low-slung station wagon like the Legacy GT-B wasn’t practical enough — and they also wanted horsepower. NZ Performance Car's Rene Vermeer nearly made that decision once.

The earlier SF chassis Forester, that was first on sale in 1997, was built based on the very popular Impreza platform. It featured all-wheel drive and a vast array of engine options, including the turbocharged 2000cc four-cylinder found in the WRX. Sharing the same engine with the WRX meant people who did want to modify their Forester had plenty of choice.

An older model shape of the STI Forester

Subaru took notice of the potential of their new platform and made some significant changes for the second-generation SG Forester. This time around the SUV/wagon crossover received weight-saving refinements such as an aluminum hood, perforated rails, and a hydroformed subframe. This improved performance and tuning potential even further.

Inside the new STI model

What Subaru did have in the works however was a high-performance ‘STI’ model. With power increased to 206kW and the usual chassis, braking, and interior upgrades, the STI proved extremely popular indeed. This trend carried through right up until 2013 with the third-generation SH Forester, which included some very uninspiring diesel options alongside Subaru's increased capacity 2500cc turbocharged models.

The fourth-generation is where some huge changes were made — the engine no longer an EJ series, but instead from the later more refined FA series. The high-performance 2500cc engine has been replaced with a smaller capacity 2000cc engine, but power remained the same with a slight decrease in torque.

Fast forward to 2015; we’ve all driven and loved the previous models and we've been wanting more from the popular brand. The latest high-performance Subaru Forester is dubbed the tS model and with STI badging throughout I had to take a closer look.

Having just driven the MY15 WRX STI and reviewing it, I was excited to see how much of the STI pedigree would be found in the latest Forester. It has 19-inch STI wheels, restyled front and rear bumpers, lower and firmer suspension, but best of all it features the STI-enthused interior. The seats appear to be very similar, but probably won’t offer nearly as much support, the digital boost gauge is in place and the grippy leather (with red stitching) steering wheel made it in there too.

The tS Forester will feature the FA20 turbocharged engine, rated at 206kW. Unfortunately, the new tS Forester will only be released with the CVT-style gearbox released in the lower-spec models — until the hate mail kicks in and they release a six-speed manual (I wish). Subaru will be doing a very limited run of these with numbers as low as 300 and only sold in Japan, so it might be a few years before we get some sent over as a used import, or until Subaru New Zealand sees the value in releasing another high-performance Forester on New Zealand’s roads.

For now though you will have to enjoy your easily modified, first-, second-, third- or fourth-generation Forester, which isn’t really a problem as getting power out of these is easier than putting your socks on in the morning.  

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.