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.