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Subaru Forester Review – Dependable Not Flashy

Subaru aren’t having an easy time in the UK; in 2012 they sold just 2,023 cars here, down from 2,634 in 2011 and as a result deals are there to be had, which might help shift volume but hits margins hard.

Part of the problem is an aging range; their cars might be (as Richard Hammond pointed out in the recent Top Gear Africa Special) as tough as old boots but buyers demand more these days, something that explains the poor carwow scores Subaru are getting.
Having said all that, there is something quirky, off beat and, yes, appealing about their cars, so we borrowed a diesel Forester for a week to see what the reality is like.


The Forester is never going to gain a place in the Design Museum but it is a striking and attractive car nonetheless. Purposeful and bigger in real life than it looks in photos (this incarnation is considerably longer, taller, and wider than the model it replaced), the Tonka-toy Forester is also classless and ageless; buy one now and it’ll still look relevant in twenty years time.
The front and side views are dominated by that enormous hump in the bonnet that rams fresh, cool air into the boxer engine. I love the way it contributes to the Scooby’s purposeful stance but my wife hates it, which just goes to show that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Other than that, its an inoffensive design that isnt likely to alienate anyone; picture a small four-wheel-drive estate and you’ll imagine something that looks like the Forester.


The first real disappointment comes when you shut the door, an action that ends with a horribly tinny, cheap twang. Really, there is no excuse for this anymore; just fitting some super-dense, sound-proofing pads to the inside of the doors would make a huge difference to the showroom appeal of the car.
Potential buyers would, however, still be faced with a cheap-looking dashboard that seems bereft of any semblance of a premium feel. It’s all there, and it is (nearly all; the seat heaters are in a ridiculous position) easy to use. It just doesn’t feel special, or modern, or worth anything like a £30,000 car needs to feel.
Having said that, it is a comfortable and supportive place to be and offers massive practicality. Easy-clean leather and a huge boot encourage you to use it as a proper country estate, which is what we did. It coped with bales of straw, chainsaws, animal feed, and much, much beside.
It also has masses of headroom and legroom and even the tallest driver or passenger will be able to stretch out in comfort.
Few cars have been more versatile in a weeks review than the Forester and few have covered more miles in my hands, over 600 in this case.


I enjoyed driving the Subaru very much. It might be cliche, but it contributes to a feeling of invincibility being equally at home on muddy tracks, rough fields, motorways, and twisting country lanes. Soft, long-travel springs and dampers might soak up the rough but you are never left in any doubt that the basic suspension layout comes straight from the road-rocket Impreza, so grip is never an issue, even when fitted with mud-and-snow Yokohama dual-purpose tyres.
There is, of course, no escaping the fact that this is a tall, heavy car but body-roll is acceptable and while understeer is there, it isn’t intrusive and higher speeds neutralise it; the Forester is a surprisingly quick and rewarding car to drive when the road starts to sprout warning signs.
The gearbox can be a bit reluctant – and there is no automatic option for the diesel engine – but it isn’t too problematic and certainly isn’t bad enough to put you off buying one. Wind noise is high though, so you’ll need to turn the radio up a couple of notches on long, high-speed journeys.


The flat-four, boxer engine is a fantastic piece of engineering. Its smooth – as you might expect from an engine that is inherently well-balanced due to its opposing cylinders, which balance each other out and also sounds fantastic. It whooshes and whines like no other diesel on the market and provides enough power that you are rarely left wanting more.
How much? 145bhp and 258 lb/ft of torque equals a top speed of 115mph and a 0-62mph time of 10.3 seconds, both of which are better than those of its petrol-engined sibling. It does need revving though, as there isnt much below 1,500-rpm but thats no hardship as this is one of those rare diesel engines that thrives on revs.
As is the fuel economy. Subaru claim 47mpg is possible, and given that I managed 43mpg without even trying, I have no doubt that their claims could be met in full by an owner driving prudently, one of the first times I have ever been able to make that statement in these eco-test optimised days.
The petrol engine has few fans and when a diesel is this good you’d be a fool to even consider buying anything else anyway.

Value for Money

The Subaru Forester comes with a generous level of standard equipment and is priced well. It isn’t the cheapest of its type but it is a very long way from being the most expensive either, making for an attractive package on paper.
Residual values arent too bad either, helping reinforce the financial case. Throw in a three-year warranty and low insurance costs and the overall package becomes more and more attractive. And remember, deals are there to be had


A buzzScore of 6.5 is pretty bad – and doesnt reflect my opinion of the Forester. It isn’t perfect. The interior, for example, will deter superficial buyers, as will the tinny doors.
But look harder, and drive the car for longer, and its charms become evident. Its a rugged, dependable companion rather than a flashy one; Ranulph Fiennes rather than Victoria Beckham (if you dont need the Subarus functionality, the Range Rover Evoque range starts at under 30,000).
I’d buy one rather than some of its more obvious rivals, including the Land Rover Freelander and Volvo XC60. It’s a shame that not enough people agree with me.
For more information check out our full summary of the Subaru Forester alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos.
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