I’m a big fan of the Subaru Forester.I love its engineering, its versatility, its reliability, and its sheer indefatigable spirit. It is, in my opinion, one of the great automotive bargains, which is why Ive owned two, the second of which sits in my garage as I type.
Yet even I have to admit that the older ones arent perfect. Spending on the engineering (and some of engineering, not least the Boxer engine, is sublime) left little in the coffers. So the interiors tended to look and feel cheap; previous Foresters had massive showroom appeal – right up to the point at which the prospective owner opened the drivers door.
Airfix plastics and a scattergun approach to ergonomics might have been forgivable but the tinny clang as the door slammed shut sent too many running to the competition.
So the launch of the new Forester was, at least for me, a very welcome event. Lets see if its worked, shall we?
The new Forester is, of course, bigger than the old one. (Which was, in turn, bigger than the one before. And the one before that. You could probably fashion a Russian Doll set of Foresters if you were so minded.) So the new model is a commanding SUV now rather than a four-wheel-drive estate car.
The new Forester looks tough and premium and classless. It looks, in fact, exactly as youd expect it to; school-run mums obviously like to blend in if they cant afford an Evoque, and few cars are as discreet as the all-purpose Scooby
The interior might not be the best in class but it isnt bad enough to send prospective owners running in the way the old one did. In fact, to those of us whove grown up with them, the new interior is almost wantonly decadent: the doors close with a proper thud; the controls are where youd expect them to be; and the quality of the plastics used is as good as anything in its price range.
It feels big inside without feeling bulky. My wife, generally no fan of anything bigger than a Volkswagen Polo, commented that it was absolutely the right size for a growing family; big enough to be usable and small enough to be easy to park in the city. Praise doesnt come much higher.
We both liked the elevated driving position too, and the weighting of the controls. The net result is the same get-you-there-no-matter-what feel of a Land Rover Defender, in a smaller, nicer, package. The most basic car, the diesel X, is fitted with a very high level of standard equipment, including Subarus trademark cubbyholes and hidden-under-the-boot-floor storage.
Step up a level and you get SI-Drive, auto lights, an electrically powered drivers seat, one-touch folding rear seats (brilliant!), heated front seats, and some other rather nice bits and bobs, most of which youll use on a regular basis.
Premium models get leather and sat-nav while the XT gets larger (one inch bigger than standard at 18) alloys and some sporty stuff you dont need but will probably enjoy
I tried two cars, one with the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) gearbox, which was a disappointment and one with a manual gearbox, which wasnt.
While Im a fan of auto boxes normally – and can even tolerate a CVT if I have to – the CVT box in the Forester, with its simulated ratios, left me cold. High-tech, it might be, but it felt old and blunted the cars performance to an unacceptable level: 0-62 takes 10.6 seconds in a petrol car with the manual gearbox and 12.3 with the auto. On the plus side, the flappy paddles are a delight to use and are beautifully crafted, something some premium manufacturers would do well to emulate.
Gearbox aside, the new Forester drives well, especially in its ride, which is helped by supple suspension and high-profile tyres (which you want on an off-roader). Its a bit roly-poly if you are hustling it along but it is predictable and faithful in its responses and if it feels a bit clumsy on the limits then you should have bought a performance car and not an SUV, shouldnt you?
Short front and rear overhangs and very good ground clearance make the Forester a very effective car off-road. If you lash out on some proper all-terrain tyres it would be almost unstoppable. Buy some winter (or, if you must, all-weather) tyres and it will be unstoppable in snow and ice. X-Mode is standard on the CVT cars, and adds Hill Descent Control and gives extra traction in low-friction environments. It works, which is all you can ask of it, isnt it?
Subaru offers a choice of three engines: a 148bhp petrol; a 145bhp diesel; and a 237bhp turbocharged petrol based on that of the BRZ. All are a Boxer, or flat-four layout for a low centre of gravity and a more balanced power delivery.
My first car was fitted with the non-turbo petrol, and while it did the job well enough, I liked the diesel boxer engine fitted to the second Forester more. Its just as willing to rev and is as smooth as the petrol version but has a lot more torque and is much more economical. It sounds nice too, which isnt something that many diesel engines can claim.
The turbo-charged petrol engine fitted to the XT turns the Forester into a bit of a hooligans car. I would have liked it twenty years ago, but for me the Forester is most complete when fitted with the modest, but likable, diesel.
Value for Money
The Forester range starts at 24,995 for the 2.0D X rising to almost 31,000 for the top-of-the-range XT. The sweet spot, as ever, seems to be the one-up-from-the-bottom XE (petrol) and XC (diesel) models at 25,495 and 26,995 respectively.
The Forester is an infuriating mix of the brilliant and the frustrating. The sheer practicality of the Subaru is its greatest draw; few cars are more thoughtfully or intelligently designed for real-world use. You will constantly discover, and then appreciate and use, a myriad of wonderful gewgaws and gizmos that just make your automotive life just that little bit easier.
But some frustrations intrude into what could be a peerless experience; the CVT gearbox isnt great and the 148bhp petrol engine is, at times, frustratingly lethargic.
Yet, you can buy a diesel version with a manual gearbox. Thus equipped you will have what is probably the finest sub-30,000 multi-role car in the world (The Skoda Yeti comes a very, very close second). The Forester is as classless as the original Range Rover and just as practical.
It is also one of the safest and most reliable cars on the road today, and will keep you mobile through anything the British weather can throw at you. It will become part of your family, and if you think that is hyperbole, have a look at Autotrader and see how many 8-10 year old examples there are that are still on their original owner.
Go on, be brave. Its much more fun than a Freelander