Can't make up your mind between a rugged 4x4 & something more car-like? Subaru's latest Forester is for you. June Neary tries it
Will It Suit Me?
To be honest, I expected Subaru's Forester to be much more rugged than it is - but then the name caused me to jump to conclusions. This is not a car for lumberjacks, more for ramblers and picnickers. That said, after an enjoyable weekend visit to the coast, my family and I decided that the all wheel drive Forester had a good deal going for it. The current much improved MK4 Forester looks a little less cereal packet than the older versions of this car but it's a pretty subtle evolution, you have to say. At first glance, after all, this latest version doesn't appear much different to previous models. But if you'd owned one of those, you'd notice the changes pretty quickly up close - the updated hexagonal front grille, the re-shaped bumpers and the revised headlights. We're promised updates inside too. Time to put this car to the test.
It has been said that this car is Subaru's response to compact 'sports utility' 4x4s like Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4, but is aimed at buyers who want something more car-like. I think that's about right. After all, the majority of us only head for the hills at weekends, leaving five days of the week at least when we're driving in towns, sitting in traffic jams or pounding along motorways to the next appointment. What impressed me most about this improved Forester was the attention to detail in the finishing. There are umpteen handy storage spaces inside, ideal for busy families everywhere. My other half found the tie-down points in the boot area really handy, too. There's also an invaluable cover, which pulls across to hide any valuables you have to leave in the car and which can be stored under the floor when not in use. But then, you'll probably have approached this car always expecting it to be practical. And not particularly inspiring to sit in. After all, a seat at the wheel of any previous generation Forester saw you surrounded by acres of dull utilitarian plastic. This improved model had to do better and, to be fair, significant efforts have been made, with higher grade materials used on the dashboard, the centre console and the doors, while 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. And in any case, you'd forgive this car much for its superb all-round cabin visibility and airy, open feel, emphasised in most models by this large extended-length glass sunroof.
Behind the Wheel
Subaru, of course, have made their name in producing rally-proven cars. The Forester is based heavily on the mechanicals and suspension of the mid-sized Impreza, the car that has earned Subaru so much World Rally Championship success, and it's great fun to drive. There's a 2.0-litre diesel and a turbo petrol on offer but the engine I tried was a 150PS 16-valve, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit taken from the non-turbo Impreza. It still offers brisk performance. Zero to sixty takes just under eleven seconds, with a top speed that we refrained from reaching of 118mph. The car's high-speed stability was for me surprisingly good, given its extra ground clearance compared with traditional family estates.
Value For Money
Forester pricing sits mainly in the £27,000 to £31,000 bracket. 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. With both engines, Subaru offers a CVT Lineartronic automatic transmission as a £1,500 option. This auto 'box is standard on the top XT petrol turbo model. Unlike its competitors, Subaru doesn't offer a 2WD option on any Forester variant, 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. Normally, a more capable car is a more expensive one to run. You'd certainly expect that the permanent Symmetical 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 47.9mpg combined cycle fuel figure and 148g/km CO2 reading you'll get from a diesel Forester. That's very little different to the returns posted by direct rivals like Volkswagen's Tiguan 2.0 TDI 4MOTION, Toyota's RAV4 2.0 D-4D and Honda's CR-V 1.6 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 25 - and the peace of mind of a five year / 100,000 mile warranty.
Could I Live With One?
For sheer family practicality the Forester, in my book, would be hard to beat. It might not win hands down on price but that rugged feel could well be the deciding factor. So, if you fancy one, don't hold back.