What is it?
Fans of the quirky old Subaru Forester won’t recognise its replacement when it goes on sale here in April. This latest version has moved up a class. Subaru is launching a much larger soft-roader that’s set to compete in the growing compact ‘crossover’ SUV segment, instead of a quirky all-wheel drive estate. And this is our first chance to drive it in Europe.
Your immediately struck by the latest Forester’s size – it’s a very significant 75mm longer, 45mm wider and 110mm higher than its predecessor, dimensions that pit it head-to-head against Toyota’s RAV-4, Honda’s CR-V, the Nissan X-Trail and the forthcoming Ford Kuga. It’s got unashamed, functional, simple SUV styling too, moving away from the quirky but likeable looks of the old model.
To compete as a more premium car, this Forester has a more spacious, comfortable cabin and comes more generously equipped than before, though you have to go for the higher-end XS model, for example, to get alloy wheels, leather trim, a panoramic sunroof and electrically adjustable seats as standard.
It’s also been developed with more focus on driver enjoyment and on-road refinement, says Subaru. But it can still plod through the mud with 10mm more ground clearance than before and the symmetrical all-wheel drive system from the Impreza.
What’s it like?
At launch a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated boxer engine will be on offer with either a four-speed auto ‘box or a six-speed manual. A diesel boxer version will be available later this year, but sadly we won’t get the rapid 2.5-litre turbo because it doesn’t meet modern emissions regulations.
As you might imagine, the 146bhp 2.0-litre isn’t very quick, dispatching 0-62mph in 10.6 seconds, despite the Forester’s relatively light kerbweight of 1465kg. Progress is further impeded by the low—tech auto box, which makes getting at what top-end power there is a coarse, thrashy, noisy hassle.
We wouldn’t recommend it, and there will be another auto option with the diesel engine. So the six-speed manual is a must-have, and it comes with dual-range for low-ratio gears, useful for off-roading and towing. However the engine’s 144lb ft torque isn’t satisfactory for a functional car like this, especially when the Forester’s maximum towing load is an impressive 2 tonnes.
On the road the Forester’s ride is exemplary, thanks to longer springs and improved damping. There’s much more body roll than in the old model, and this takes getting used to, but the handling is surprisingly entertaining, because the Forester shifts its weight predictably and consistently if you corner it hard.
This is partly thanks to the boxer engine’s low centre of gravity, which in turn helps offer more grip. On serious off-road terrain, it’s unlikely that this 4x4 would be a match for a Nissan X-trail and certainly not a Land Rover Freelander. But on wet and loose surfaces it’s very stable and capable and has greater ground clearance than many soft-road rivals. It’s sometimes frustrating that, on very slippery surfaces, the DSC can’t be disengaged. Subaru claims the 2.0-litre unit will return 33mpg combined, although we only managed 25 mpg on an admittedly hard test drive. CO2 emissions are 199g/km.
Should I buy one?
It might depend on what you think of the Foresters’ bland looks, but overall this is a very capable soft-roader and is well priced and equipped for the more premium market it’s now in. However, this particular model is let down by its lacklustre 2.0-litre engine. So would we buy one?
Not yet. The excellent new boxer diesel unit from the Legacy will be available before the end of the year, and that should make the new Forester a genuine competitor.