£26,180 - £32,180 Price range
33 - 49 MPG
The rather utilitarian Subaru Forester is one of the last remaining rugged SUVs. It was facelifted in 2016 to hold the line against more modern rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V.
Off-road ability is one of the Forester’s calling cards and the standard four-wheel-drive system is much better at providing traction in slippery conditions than many of its rivals. The drawback is that the Subaru feels quite dated on road with its leaning body and overly soft suspension.
There’s ample passenger room and the boot can hold as much as rivals, but there are areas of the interior where the Forester falls behind – mainly in design and material choice.
The engine range is also stuck in the past with a choice between a petrol engine that’s gutless, the same engine fitted with a turbo making it thirsty; or a diesel. Only the latter is a worthwhile offering, blending strong pulling power with decent fuel economy.
Equipment on entry-level models is comparable to rivals, so you get an infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen, climate control, rear-view camera, electrically adjustable driver’s seat and cruise control.
On the one hand the updated-for-2016 interior is a huge step in the right direction. On the other, compared to rivals with their plush materials and dashboards that were actually styled, the Subaru looks quite drab and unimaginative. Step from it into a VW Tiguan and you’ll feel like you’ve jumped back a decade.
Despite the hard plastics and unattractive fascia, it’ll weather anything thrown at it by children and pets. Most of the controls are sensibly located and easy to use, although they are not as tactile as those found in competitors.
The new infotainment system with a seven–inch touchscreen is another huge improvement for the Forester, but no better than the systems that have been fitted to rivals for years.
Subaru Forester passenger space
There’s a good range of adjustment for the driver – eight-way electrical adjustment across the range – and there’s plenty of room inside the Forester for four adults, but this is true for its competitors too. In terms of inside space the Forester is class average.
Subaru Forester boot space
With the seats up the Forester has a capacity of 505 litres, which is nearly the smallest in class – the RAV4 can pack 47 litres more, while the CR-V can fit another 40 or so on top and the new Tiguan is in a different league with a 605-litre capacity. Fold the rear seats in the Forester and the resulting 1,592 lires is closer to what rivals offer and you get standard 60:40 splitting rear seats and no load lip.
Despite the fairly low ground clearance the Forester has one of the grippiest four-wheel drive systems on sale. It does without trick electronics like the ones in the Discovery Sport, but is a permanent system that will probably take you further than any of its more road-focused rivals.
Good as the Forester is in the rough stuff it’s almost as bad again on the open road. The steering is inaccurate, there’s lots of wind noise and a lot of body roll.
The manual gearchange in both the petrol and diesel models is imprecise, but the automatic gearbox is especially bad, feeling lazy and out-dated.
It’s not all bad, however, because the suspension performs adequately at smoothing out lumps and bumps. Around town the light steering makes navigating fairly easy.
Those using a Forester for towing will be pleased to know that it can pull up to 2,000kg and Subaru’s Trailer Stability Control will help prevent weaving and instability.
Subaru is one of the few companies to fit its cars with flat-four-cylinder engines, which have a lower centre of gravity than the units fitted to most other cars, providing better handling as a result. Buyers can choose from a 2.0-litre petrol, with or without a turbo, but most will be more interested in the more frugal 2.0-litre diesel.
Subaru Forester diesel engine
The diesel model is the one that reviewers favour because it provides good mid-range grunt and is capable of just under 50mpg. It has nearly twice the torque of the similarly powerful petrol so it feels faster than the 10-second sprint from 0-62mph would suggest.
Subaru Forester petrol engines
The first petrol option has 148hp, and Subaru claims fuel economy of around 43mpg, although it’s rather gutless and you need to work it hard if you’re towing a trailer. There’s a much more potent 237hp version with a turbocharger, capable of hitting 60mph in well under eight seconds from a standstill. It sounds great on paper, but the engine is slow to respond, only feels powerful at high revs and is incredibly thirsty when you’re in a hurry.
You’d expect a chunky 4x4 to pack a strong, torquey diesel, or maybe even a smooth, powerful petrol. Subaru’s 2.0-litre ‘flat four’ may be smooth and surprisingly willing to rev, but it’s by no means powerful enough to justify itself.
With 148bhp, and 146ft lb of torque, the Forester feels weedy, especially so when equipped with the lazy automatic gearbox. Also, peak power is delivered some way up the rev range, so in-gear acceleration is poor.
Subaru claims the Forester will do 44.8mpg, and emit 167g/km of CO2.
Subaru’s well proven 2.0-litre, 147bhp ‘boxer’ diesel engine acquits itself just as well in the Forester as is does in any other Subaru. It provides the much needed mid-range grunt that’s missing from the petrol motor, and actually feels faster than the quoted 10 second sprint to 60 suggests. Subaru claims the Forester will do 47.9mpg, and emit 155g/km of CO2.
Though it demands a premium over the petrol model, the 2.0D is definitely the engine to go for.
The Subaru Forester has mountains of safety kit and a vast number of airbags as standard, so it is not surprising it scored a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, attaining excellent marks all around for adult and child protection – pedestrians get decent protection too.
The Forester’s permanent four-wheel drive obviously makes it more controllable in slippery conditions, and the standard emergency braking system that provides improved stopping performance on wet surfaces provides extra reassurance.
The Forester is a little pricey when compared to its rivals, but the list of standard kit includes self-leveling suspension, heated seats and cruise control, which is fairly generous at this level, and as long as you opt for a diesel, the running costs are going to be reasonable too.
Subaru Forester Premium
If you can stretch to the range topping model, you’ll be treated to niceties such as sat-nav and a full leather interior, but it will begin to look significantly more pricey when compared to more capable alternatives like the Toyota RAV4.
The good news is that Subaru’s reliability record is outstanding, and a five–year 100,000-mile warranty is a very reassuring indication of its confidence in the Forester.
Those seeking a stylish interior, memorable looks and a dazzling drive may not be wowed by the idea of Forester ownership. Nevertheless we wouldn’t completely rule it out – its proper four-wheel drive system and hewn-from-rock build quality are sure to appeal to people looking for a proper four-wheel drive SUV with second-to-none reliability.
As a car that will be able to transport family and luggage in relative comfort, while resisting wear and tear like few others – the Subaru is definitely worth considering.