There are four trim levels called X, XE, XC and XT, with 17-inch alloys, front foglamps, heated door mirrors, black roof rails, air-con, Trailer Stability Control and Bluetooth standard on the entry-level model. XE and XC models gain auto lights and wipers, a reversing camera, leather steering wheel, dual-zone air-con, silver roof rails, cruise control, electric driver’s seat, multi-function display and folding door mirrors. The XT range-topper has 18-inch alloys, twin exhausts, privacy glass, sat-nav, sports body kit, keyless entry, powered tailgate and an engine start button.
Since the Subaru Forester first went on sale in 1997, it has never been a vehicle you chose because of its looks. It has been almost deliberately sketched to be the antithesis of a style-conscious Chelsea Tractor, with almost every line and feature serving a practical purpose. The impressive 220mm ride height (as much as in a Toyota Land Cruiser) allows for true off-roading, while the upright windows and new front quarterlights improve all-around visibility. The iconic bonnet air scoop is sadly gone, with the turbo on top versions now fed through the front grille. Aerodynamics are improved as a result (a figure of 0.33 Cd is good for a 4×4), while the Turbo model regains some visual attitude thanks to its wider front bumpers, complete with side-gills and fog lights. Now in its fourth generation, the Forester has evolved from an estate car on stilts to a true SUV, and this is the best-looking yet.
Subaru has come under fire over the years for designing interiors which are solid, but lack the visual appeal of German counterparts. The Forester is still more utilitarian than the class average, but there is a new-found level of quality. The leather steering wheel is good to hold, with precise stitching, and splashes of metal trim around the cabin lift its ambience. The stereo in the entry-level model looks dated, but works well enough, while the sat-nav in top trims looks more aftermarket than the best integrated systems.
There’s a 2.0-litre petrol engine with 148bhp and 146lb/ft or (in the Turbo model) 237bhp and 258lb/ft, as well as a 2.0-litre diesel engine with 145bhp and 258lb/ft of pulling power. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard with the diesel and entry-level petrol, while a Lineartronic CVT transmission is fitted to the turbocharged petrol. The latter works far better with the more powerful engines, their substantial dollops of torque allowing the CVT to provide a wave of acceleration. In contrast, the 148bhp petrol can sit noisily at high revs if you ask for increases in speed, while joining a motorway or dual carriageway, for example. The diesel manual can hit 62mph from rest in 10.2 seconds, while the turbo petrol takes 7.5.
This latest Forester is 20mm wider than its predecessor, has a 25mm longer wheelbase and A-pillars which have been moved forwards, to improve interior space and aerodynamics. The result is a car with plentiful interior space and headroom for front and rear occupants. All four side doors now open a further 135mm, making getting in and out easier, while the anti-slip door sills are designed not to leave a muddy streak on your trousers or dress. The boot has increased in size from 450 to 505 litres, with 1,595 litres if you drop the rear seats with a handy button inside the boot. It’s a good size, with no loading lip, but the Honda CR-V trumps it with 589 litres.
Subaru markets the Forester squarely at rural folks who need dependable transport which can take some punishment. Its engines and four-wheel drive system are well tried and tested, while the company is ranked a decent 11th out of 39 car makers by Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. Last, but not least, all Foresters are sold with a five-year/100,000 mile warranty, which should give plenty of peace of mind.
Ride and handling
Subaru engineers are obsessed with keeping weight low down for optimum handling, and rightly so. In the Forester, this means the engine is a compact Boxer design, mounted – along with several other mechanical parts – as low as possible. An aluminium bonnet and thin, but strong, window pillars add to the effect. The result is a 4×4 which can be driven with surprising gusto, with a planted stance through corners and very little body roll. If you need a big vehicle, but don’t want to sacrifice driving fun, the Forester is worth a look. The ride is supple, too, with its 17 or 18-inch alloy wheels and tyres soaking up bumps and road noise quite well. We took the Forester off-road and were impressed with its ability to conjure grip out of thin air, even with road tyres fitted. Full-time four-wheel drive and a new system called X-Mode (standard on models with a Lineartronic CVT gearbox) enhance the time it takes for each wheel to regain traction.
Improvements over the outgoing Forester are substantial, but this is still one of the thirstier cars in its class, largely because of its permanent four-wheel drive. The 2.0-litre petrol manages a claimed 43.5mpg and 150g/km of CO2 (with the Lineartronic gearbox), or 33.2mpg/197g/km in the turbocharged model. The diesel is more competitive, averaging 49.6mpg and 150g/km of CO2 with a six-speed manual.
Euro NCAP crash tests proved the Forester has excellent safety, with a maximum five-star rating and a 91 per cent score for adult occupant safety. It’s fitted with front, side, curtain and knee airbags, as well as two ISOFIX child seat anchor points and Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC).
Because you live off the beaten track and you need a car which is rugged, but still drives well, and offers comfort and up-to-date equipment. Yes, the Forester is a niche vehicle, but a loyal band of owners will love it.