What is it?
This is the new, third-generation version of one of Subaru’s cult favourites, the Forester. While the old model was an engagingly boxy and quirky 4WD wagon, the new one is a much more mainstream soft-roader – bigger and more conventional looking – to run against the likes of the new Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CR-V.
The Mk3 Forester is 75mm longer, 45mm wider and not inconsiderable 85mm taller than its predecessor, while the wheelbase stretches 90mm. Underneath, it sticks with Subaru’s trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive, while borrowing its platform and strut/multi-link suspension straight from the controversial new Impreza as it effectively moves up a class.
In Japan, the naturally aspirated and turbo 2.0-litre flat fours are basically improved versions of the old car’s engines. Meantime, the big news for Europe will be the fitting to the Forester of Subaru’s new 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which will be with us “within a year”.
What’s it like?
Different, in a word. The new Forester is a car current owners would barely recognise, the new design ploughing a safe, middle-of-the-road furrow. Cabin space enters a new league, especially in the back, as does luggage room, which is now vast.
In Japanese spec, the new Forester is surprisingly soft to drive, with plenty of body roll through bends (very un-Forester-like) which takes some getting used to. Fortunately, Subaru will do a different set-up for the UK with stiffer front suspension and self-levelling rear dampers to make the Forester point and react much better.
The 146bhp 2.0-litre normally aspirated version is smooth and refined but not terribly fast. But it does get electrically assisted power steering to give sharper on-centre feel than the XT Turbo, which uses a conventional hydraulic system.
The turbo, packing 227bhp, is much quicker and more satisfying to drive, also getting the Impreza’s SI-Drive to vary throttle settings. There’s good low-down torque and strong, progressive boost from 3000rpm and like the atmo model it cruises brilliantly.
Transmissions are five-speed manual or four-speed auto, which are smooth and effective but rather old-school. Braking is strong and progressive, imparting real confidence, and the Forester also comes with an impressive, well damped, high-quality ride.
Inside, the new Forester gets exactly the same ‘wave’ dashboard as the Impreza – and also the same hard plastics and cheap-looking trim. Some might question if this is an ‘improvement,’ but seating is big and comfortable and the driving position is first rate.
Should I buy one?
Hard to say, right now. The Forester has long been a unique vehicle. Now, bigger and more normal looking, it’s not as characterful as it was, but it’s roomier, safer and kinder to the environment. Maybe the market for it will also be bigger.
At the same time, by moving it up a class, Subaru has surely brought the Forester closer to the attention of the UK’s anti-SUV lobby (the first two generations slipped below the radar). In Japanese spec the Forester isn’t that involving to drive, but it is comfortable, refined and feels like it will do long distances without sweat.