New Forester and RAV4, updated Tucson front Big Apple car play

Three all-new versions of compact sports utilities crucial to their local distributors have been unveiled half a world away.

THE covers came off on the same day, but in the race to the showroom, the next-generation Subaru Forester is set to have a handy lead over its Toyota rival, the new RAV4.

Key reveals at last week’s New York motor show, the models are new from the ground up, being based on their maker’s latest platforms and, in the case of the Toyota, also branching out into an electric-assisted drivetrain direction.

Forester is also moving ahead with technology, being chosen to debut a long list of new features, including the Driver Monitoring System (DMS) - Subaru’s first-ever driver recognition technology.

Subaru New Zealand has already alerted the market to its plan for the fresh Forester, saying local market specifications for the chunky five-door wagon will be announced in the second part of the year with the car itself coming on sale in the last quarter.

The new edition is the fifth generation of a model that, globally, has been the brand’s best-seller but accedes dominance to the Outback locally.

The incoming family might make up lost ground, however, being the latest and second-last current Subaru car to transition to the Subaru Global Platform that the Outback, Impreza and XV progressively adopted over the past two years.

Subaru is claiming this update will enhance the model to become the roomiest, most capable and most versatile Forester ever made, with better comfort and safety. It also allows for physical growth, with the car being 15mm longer, 20mm wider and 5mm taller than the current version.

Gone are the 2.0-litre engines, which were available in petrol and diesel forms, replaced by a modified version of the brand’s naturally aspirated 2.5-litre flat four petrol engine.

Subaru has yet to reveal the local market power and torque but the US version offers 136kW and 239Nm. The brand claims the mill has around 90 percent new components to enhance its driveability and economy.

Forester is renowned for being more adept off-road than many modern SUVs and nothing seems to change. It retains good ground clearance and the fulltime symmetrical AWD and has picked up an enhanced X-Mode functionality. Subaru says it will provide outstanding driving, combined with the off-road drivability “expected of an SUV.”

Subaru’s crash avoidance technology EyeSight is expected to be standard across the range and has been further developed around lane centring functions and also rear cross-traffic emergency braking. The latter will brake the car if it detects rear traffic impeding its path. Eyesight is said to be standard across the range.

DMS also operates with EyeSight and works via an infrared sensor on the upper centre console to monitor a driver’s actions and reactions. It is designed to notice when a driver becomes inattentive – for example, turning around to face the rear seat, or taking their eyes off the road – and will warn them accordingly. Are you ready for such a chidingly nanny-ish device? The system will be able to recognise up to five different drivers, and change vehicle parameters like air conditioning and seat positioning for each.

Subaru of New Zealand managing director Wallis Dumper is a DMS fan, saying it is a useful technology that will help allow Forester set new benchmarks in its sector. “… the Driver Monitoring System … is actually beyond what even the high-end European brands are offering.”

Dumper says he has been fortunate enough to see this Forester develop from a clay model in the design studio to the high-specification, packed-with-technology, family-friendly model that launched in New York.

“At first glance, it retains its distinctive Forester DNA but then you step inside and are presented with the truly fantastic technology advancements.

“We believe that the extensive upgrades to the Forester in terms of safety, technology, comfort, space, style and driving enjoyment will boost Forester sales in New Zealand to new levels. Even simple things like seat height entry and exit ergonomics have been built on.”

When will the new RAV4 land? Toyota NZ resisted discussing the car when they got journalists together for a multi-subject launch event last week. Best guess, going by cited overseas’ launch timeframes, is that it will come in the first quarter of 2019.

In addition to updating – as Camry, Prius and CH-R already have and Corolla will also soon do – to Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), the big news element with RAV4 is that it is set to debut the brand’s Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine in both conventional petrol and petrol-electric hybrid formats.

Claimed to be the most thermally efficient production powertrain in the world, the engine will be delivered in 2.5-litre guise in RAV4, rather than the 2.0-litre unit destined for the Corolla. A 2.0-litre engine is also inbound for the soft-roader, but it’s thought to be the same one available in the current car, which potentially means this unit will retain a six-speed transmission, whereas the new pure petrol 2.5 steps up to an eight-speeder.

The hybrid edition is of particular interest. Petrol-electric RAV4s have been produced previously, but only for select markets. This new one is apparently approved for general export, so chances of Toyota NZ taking it would seem to be strong, given that the Palmerston North brand has high interest in this kind of motive power.

So far, no power, performance or fuel economy figures have been made public for the new engines, but Toyota is claiming 40 percent thermal efficiency due to new induction and combustion chamber designs.

Also, the hybrid uses a brand new electric motor drive, which Toyota claims uses the battery power more effectively while also using a second electric motor to drive the rear wheels on battery power alone.

At 4600mm long, the new RAV4 is about the same length as the current model, but it is 10mm wider, at 1855mm, and 10mm millimetres lower, at 1700mm. The wheelbase gets the biggest stretch, going up 30mm to 2690mm. The body is said to be 57 percent more rigid than the current structure.

The incoming edition has a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, autonomous emergency braking, all-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beam.

Although it uses a proven mechanical all-wheel-drive system, RAV4 has never been touted as a serious off-road car, but maybe that is about to change. The North American line-up includes an edition with multiple terrain driving modes and – for the first time in a Toyota – dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel drive.

The exterior design was inspired by the FT-AC, a concept that Toyota took to last year’s Los Angeles motor show.

Also revealed in the Big Apple was a mid-life refresh of the Hyundai’s entry into this key sector, the Tucson

The update, which might well be here pre-Christmas, delivers refreshed styling, more safety tech and an i30-style free-standing touchscreen in a new-look dashboard. There’s also talk of the local market edition taking a suspension retune; this as is usual being undertaken in Australia, which co-shares with New Zealand.

It’s thought the three current engines will carry over into the new range, however the diesel will drop the current six-speed automatic for an eight-speed.

The updated model adopts the same look, now, as the Kona that arrived here last year, picking up the smaller car’s cascading grille and narrow headlights, which now include LED daytime running lights, while high-beam assist renders on some variants.At the back, the only major change is to the tail-lights, now LEDs.

The touch screen is equipped with connectivity such as Apply CarPlay and Android Auto. Handy tech-associated additions are Qi wireless phone charging and a back-seat USB charging port. Otherwise the dash gains a new air vent design and restyled instruments, the seats are reshaped and the rearview mirror is bigger. Some markets will get a 360-degree monitor, but it’s not clear if NZ is on that list.

Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go is also available on some variants in some markets, along with driver drowsiness alert.