Subaru Forester really cuts it

Don't be fooled by the Subaru Forester's soft curves. This sport utility vehicle can happily take the rough with the smooth, says Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer

Ever since Subaru changed the format of its Forester from rugged wagon to a more family-friendly sport utility vehicle it's opened the car up to a wider buyer profile. Tapping into the demand for such 'soft-roaders' has proven to be a lucrative business decision but the Forester is anything but soft.

The Japanese car-maker has made a good living out of producing left-field cars offering all-wheel drive and genuine off-road abilities. Oh, and the super-quick Impreza. But with the demand for high-performance cars waning and interest in high-rise family holdalls on the up, it made sense to make the switch from worthy wagon to SUV.

Subaru's decision to update its Forester in light of increased competition from all sides is both timely and welcome.

Unlike the vast majority of SUVs, the Forester really can walk the walk. Subaru's trademark all-wheel drive system offers genuine all-terrain capability. As with all 4x4s, the only limiting factor off-road is ground clearance, and the Forester has enough so traversing rutted paths and rocky trails can be done without damaging the underside.

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The engine line-up, like its transmission, is peculiar to Subaru. By opting for a 'flat-four' boxer engine, with horizontally-opposed pistons, the Forester boasts a lower centre of gravity – good for cornering and stability. The slightly fruitier exhaust note of the petrol motors is another pleasing quirk.

But introducting a flat-four diesel broadened the appeal of the Forester and the Subaru range. Here was an engine offering good levels of power and torque in the same familiar package as the petrol engines, thus helping to maintain the car's solid handling and ride characteristics.

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Fuel economy was important, too. Subaru's recent update also saw welcome tweaks to its 2.0-litre diesel. The default manual transmission boasts six forward gears up from five previously. Just as slick as before, the extra ratio does much to improve refinement, promote a more relaxed gait and reduce engine speed when cruising on the motorway.

Detailed changes to the diesel have resulted in small but important reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Up 7pc to 47.9mpg and a more tax-friendly 155g/km, the improvements can largely be credited to changes to the fuel injection and cooling systems, a more efficient turbocharger and a handful of other tweaks.

Those are the changes you can't see, yet to mark the Forester's various improvements Subaru has chosen a typically low-key approach to the stuff you can see. Those with a keen eye will spot the new grille and slightly smaller door mirrors. Inside there are changes to the fascia but the layout stays familiar.

The Forester has never been a car for speed freaks but it's able and willing on the road. Around town the torquey diesel ensures you don't have to be constantly changing gear, while the lofty driving position remains a welcome plus for spotting parking spaces and generally helping to boost forward visibility.

With its self-leveling rear suspension and ability to tow, it is also a great car for active types. And don't let its posh exterior fool you, as it's also a fine working vehicle.

It's largely the same story off road. It can't compete with genuine all-terrain vehicles, but the Forester offers much more grip and security than your average SUV.

Generously equipped, the base specification includes leather trim for the steering wheel and gearlever, electric windows, a decent audio unit, split-fold rear seats and air-conditioning. XC adds roof rails, larger wheels, reversing camera and colour display plus a powered sunroof and audio upgrade. XS NavPlus adds sat-nav plus leather seats and keyless ignition.

Although now more conventional looking, the Forester is still an informed choice among SUV buyers. That's a good thing, as unlike some rivals the Subaru is capable of much more than simply posing around town. Underneath its soft curves is a tough work ethic and a usefully revised diesel engine.

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