Subaru to fore with Forester at-traction
- Credit: Subaru
Subaru's new Forester gets to grips with the popular SUV sector, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
Mention Subaru to anyone with a interest in cars and motoring and it conjures up images of its world-beating rally cars alarmingly blasting along dirt tracks, often sideways in a shower of gravel, but always making progress and so often leading from the front.
Such is Subaru's reputation for four-wheel drive expertise that, with the growing popularity for sport utility vehicles and crossovers, it is hardly surprising that its Forester should be the most popular model in the Japanese company's range.
But for all its reputation Subaru is not a big player with only 15,000 Foresters sold in Europe last year.
Subaru will be hoping to build on that – with sales of mid-size SUVs increasing eightfold in Europe, since Forester was first introduced in 1997 – with the new fourth-generation model which is more practical and more spacious thanks it being longer and wider.
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This well-proportioned SUV has strong lines and styling so boasts the look that, along with the high driving position, is a key factor in attracting buyers.
Three 2.0-litre engines are offered – all flat-four cylinder Boxer units in true Subaru tradition. Joining the 150PS petrol and 147PS turbo diesel – a popular choice – is a new 240PS direct injection turbo petrol engine engineered for high power, responsiveness and efficiency which will put a big smile on the face of loyal Subaru fans.
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In everyday driving it's refined and quiet but unleash its performance by booting the Lineartronic CVT gearbox or shifting down via flappy paddles on the steering wheel and the Forester XT snarls into life and becomes decidedly brisk without being a real handful like some of the turbo petrol Subarus of old. I was also pleasantly surprised by the fuel consumption – 30mpg overall was better than expected and, with a light foot on a run, it was mid-30s.
The ride is firm which make it over sensitive on poor road surfaces when progress become restless with feedback through the seats and rather too much tyre noise for my liking. On the upside, the suspension makes for good handling given that this is a largish SUV – it corners confidently with plenty of grip from the standard four-wheel drive system, body roll kept in check and responsive steering feel.
The Forester is not an out-and-out 4x4 but is proficient in slippery conditions with its all-terrain ability enhanced with automatic models getting X-Mode, a new all-wheel-drive control system including hill descent control for better traction.
The longer, wider body and longer wheelbase combines with clever interior packaging to create a considerably roomier interior with more than enough head and legroom for six-footers to stretch out. The rear seat is flat and slabby and, with leather seats, passengers tend to slide around on twisty roads if as exhuberant driver gets carried away.
The boot has grown from 450 to 505 litres but the high floor makes loading large, heavy items trickier than in a conventional car, but there is a useful underfloor storage tray over the space-saver spare wheel.
Reclinable rear seat backs drop flat 60/40 via buttons on the seats or releases in the boot compartment but lay slightly proud of the boot floor but at least it is covered by a flap so large items can be pushed in relatively easy and it will take a large mountain bike without having to remove the front wheel.
The quality and ambience of the interior has been improved with more upmarket materials but it is still not as inviting as class-leaders. That said, it is difficult to fault its user-friendly nature and simplicity with big dials, clear driver information systems, chunky rotary knobs for the heating and ventilation and sensible switchgear with a smart touchscreen display. Storage space for cabin clutter sees four big doorbins, glovebox and a lidded locker between front seats.
All Foresters get automatic air conditioning, alloy wheels, front and rear fog lamps, roof rails, heated door mirrors, USB and auxiliary audio input jack, vehicle dynamics control with trailer stability control, hill-start assist, Bluetooth and a multi-function display. Range-topping XT includes 18in alloys, privacy glass, leather seats, keyless entry and ignition, satellite navigation, power tailgate, aluminium pedals and a revised front sports bumper.
Subaru's Forester is very capable, as you would expect given the brand's four-wheel drive expertise, and most likeable SUV which, because it's not a huge seller, will stand out from the ever-growing crowd.