Subaru’s re­silient off-roader en­joys a smart new makeover to give it ap­peal to a wider au­di­ence

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - JONATHAN CROUCH


YOU buy this car for what it does, not for what it says about you. Talk to al­most any Forester owner and they’ll tell you of times when they cruised past other sim­i­lar ve­hi­cles that came un­stuck when the go­ing got tough.

They’ll tell you that noth­ing ever fell off. That noth­ing ever went wrong. And that noth­ing would per­suade them to buy any­thing else.

Which would be great for Subaru’s UK im­porters if there were a lot of these kinds of peo­ple. But there aren’t.

Since the orig­i­nal launch of this model way back in 1997, it’s re­mained a small niche choice among ru­ral buy­ers, who of­ten still think of it as the kind of car that it was in its first two gen­er­a­tions of life — a kind of rough road es­tate.

That ap­peal was sub­tly tweaked in third gen­er­a­tion form to cre­ate some­thing more Free­lander or Rav4-like, an ap­proach fur­ther re­fined by this MK4 model, a car launched here in the sum­mer of 2012 with more space and tech­nol­ogy, plus a wider range of en­gines.

The only real is­sues with that model cen­tred around the rather low rent in­te­rior and the lack of an auto gear­box op­tion for the diesel en­gine. Both those is­sues have now been rec­ti­fied, leav­ing this a model in search of a wider, if still very dis­cern­ing, au­di­ence.

Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence

Subaru has founded its rep­u­ta­tion on stan­dard Sym­met­ri­cal All-wheel-Drive and the low cen­tre of grav­ity of­fered by a hor­i­zon­tally-op­posed, or ‘ boxer’-style en­gine. All those on of­fer are of 2.0-litres in ca­pac­ity — and all are very dif­fer­ent.

Most Bri­tish buy­ers will want the 147PS diesel, a will­ing unit with 350Nm of torque ca­pa­ble of rest to 62mph in 10.2s on the way to 118mph.

To be frank, it’s a bet­ter choice than the al­ter­na­tive 150PS petrol unit that,

though re­turn­ing an al­most iden­ti­cal set of per­for­mance fig­ures, must in re­al­ity shift a fully-laden Forester with about 40% less pulling power. Still, if your car’s likely to en­joy a slightly eas­ier life, it may just be all you need.

For our test, we opted for the ver­sion that aims to broaden the cus­tomer base a bit, the pokey 240PS XT petrol turbo, ca­pa­ble of rest to 62mph in 7.5s on the way to 137mph. It’s avail­able only with the Lin­eartronic CVT gear­box that’s op­tional on the nor­mally as­pi­rated petrol vari­ant and the stan­dard diesel.

And it’s this auto trans­mis­sion that you have to have, to get all the tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped for this car.

Built-in is an ‘X-mode’ sys­tem that in­cor­po­rates hill de­scent con­trol and ad­justs the sta­bil­ity con­trol and throt­tle re­spon­sive­ness to give max­i­mum con­trol in slip­pery con­di­tions. Plus, there’s the ‘Subaru In­tel­li­gent Drive’ sys­tem ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics sys­tem that en­ables you to ad­just the re­sponse of your car to the mood you’re in and the road you’re on.

And off-road­ing? Well, you’ll be sur­prised by just how far you can go across poorly sur­faced ter­rain. For a start, the 220mm ground clear­ance on of­fer is far bet­ter than most of the com­pe­ti­tion can of­fer, com­ple­mented by use­ful ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles of 25 and 26 de­grees.

De­sign and Build

This MK4 Forester has a slightly taller and sig­nif­i­cantly wider and longer de­sign that fea­tures a higher bon­net lead­ing into a mus­cu­lar shoul­der line run­ning the length of the ve­hi­cle. There’s a sleek feel too, thanks to a roofline that curves down­wards to­wards the rear into tail lamps po­si­tioned to em­pha­sise the body width.

Per­haps the most im­por­tant change with this gen­er­a­tion model though, is the 25mm longer wheel­base that brings sig­nif­i­cantly more cabin space. There’s also more room out back in a 505-litre cargo area that’s 12% big­ger than be­fore.

But then, you’ll prob­a­bly have ap­proached this car al­ways ex­pect­ing it to be prac­ti­cal. And not par­tic­u­larly in­spir­ing to sit in. In which case, you might be pleas­antly sur­prised.

This re­vised ver­sion has been up­graded with a smart fac­tory-fit 7-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment and nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem fit­ted to all but en­try-level mod­els. The up­graded in­te­rior also makes use of higher qual­ity ma­te­ri­als, in par­tic­u­lar a smart pi­ano black cen­tral fas­cia, me­tal­lic high­lights at key lo­ca­tions around the dash­board and more tac­tile leather con­trols.

The car also now fea­tures a USB jack, al­low­ing oc­cu­pants to lis­ten to mu­sic from a Usb-com­pat­i­ble de­vice while charg­ing another at the same time.

As be­fore, par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion has been given to the con­trols and ar­eas most regularly touched by the driver like the steer­ing wheel, the hand­brake and the gearshift. There’s noth­ing here to give Audi de­sign­ers any sleep­less nights, but it’s a big step for­ward for a Forester.

Mar­ket and Model

Forester pric­ing sits mainly in the £25,000 to £30,000 bracket, though you can pay up to around £31,000 for one. Un­usu­ally, it’s the diesel rather than the petrol ver­sion that rep­re­sents the most af­ford­able way into this car, though that’s only be­cause the base diesel vari­ant for­goes some of the equip­ment you’ll find on all petrol mod­els.

The CVT Lin­eartronic au­to­matic trans­mis­sion is a £1,500 op­tion on both petrol and diesel vari­ants and is stan­dard on the XT petrol turbo model that we tried.

Un­like its com­peti­tors, Subaru doesn’t of­fer a 2WD op­tion, so all mod­els get the Sym­met­ri­cal All-wheel-drive sys­tem that’s bet­ter en­gi­neered than al­most any­thing you’ll find on the soft road­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

If, hav­ing con­sid­ered all of this, you con­clude that it is a Forester you re­ally want, then which­ever of the All-wheel-drive 2.0-litre Boxer-en­gined mod­els you choose — base petrol, diesel or petrol XT turbo — you should find your car to be de­cently equipped.

All mod­els get au­to­matic air con­di­tion­ing, 17in al­loy wheels, roof rails, front foglamps, heated elec­tric mir­rors, a four-speaker stereo sys­tem with USB and aux­il­iary au­dio in­put jack, Blue­tooth phone con­nec­tiv­ity and Hill Start As­sist to stop you from drift­ing back­wards on up­hill junc­tions.

Cost of Own­er­ship

Nor­mally, a more ca­pa­ble car is a more ex­pen­sive one to run. You’d cer­tainly ex­pect that the per­ma­nent Sym­met­ri­cal 4WD sys­tem of this Forester would ex­act more of a fuel and emis­sions penalty than would be found on most other ri­vals, cars that trun­dle around in two wheel drive most of the time, with all-wheel trac­tion only be­ing in­tro­duced when needed.

Thanks to en­hance­ments like an Ac­tive Valve Con­trol Sys­tem for the ex­haust, elec­tric power steer­ing and low rolling re­sis­tance tyres, the fig­ures sug­gest oth­er­wise.

Take the 49.6mpg com­bined cy­cle fuel fig­ure and 148g/km CO2 read­ing you’ll get from a diesel Forester. It’s pretty close to the re­turns posted by di­rect ri­vals like Volk­swa­gen’s Tiguan 2.0 TDI 4MOTION, Toy­ota’s RAV4 2.2 D-4D AWD and Honda’s CR-V DTEC.

Also com­pet­i­tive are the re­turns posted by petrol Forester mod­els, with the base 150PS ver­sion us­ing an Auto Start-stop sys­tem to de­liver 40.9mpg on the com­bined cy­cle and 160g/km of CO2, whilst for the XT petrol turbo, the fig­ures are 33.2mpg and 197g/km.

A use­ful ro­tat­ing fuel econ­omy gauge keeps you in touch with how close to your cur­rent av­er­age con­sump­tion fig­ure you’re get­ting. That only leaves in­sur­ance group­ings — set be­tween groups 23 and 34 — and the peace of mind of a five year / 100,000 mile war­ranty.


Subaru, you sense, has come full cir­cle from its rugged roots.

This Forester is fash­ion­able with­out be­ing trendy. And built to last, while never feel­ing util­i­tar­ian.

In short, it’s the kind of car it re­ally ought to be, a ve­hi­cle in which four wheel drive is fun­da­men­tal, rather than sim­ply an op­tional ex­tra and as a re­sult, one of the best cars in its class to buy if you re­ally plan on us­ing it to its full po­ten­tial.

The Forester’s X-mode sys­tem gives great con­trol, while its up­graded in­te­rior in­cludes a touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment and nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem on all but the ba­sic mod­els and more tac­tile leather con­trols

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