Subaru Forester review
The latest Subaru Forester is spacious, well built and good to drive, but remains a niche SUV choice
The Subaru Forester is a rugged SUV model that rivals high-riding machines such as the Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan and Ford Kuga. Now in it fourth generation, the Forester arguably set the current trend for crossover models when it made its debut in 1997. Combining four-wheel drive, a raised ride height and practical estate body, the Subaru didn’t fit in an established car. However, these days the Forester is more of a traditional SUV.
You’d struggle to call the Subaru handsome, but its boxy proportions and rugged styling cues give it a certain no nonsense appeal. It’s a similar story inside, where the Subaru benefits from tough build quality but dated looks. On the plus side there’s plenty of space for occupants, while the boot will swallow a generous 505-litres of luggage.
There’s a choice of three engines – two petrol and one diesel. Both have a 2.0-litre capacity and feature Subaru’s trademark flat-four ‘boxer’ layout. The 2.0i petrol delivers 148bhp, but can only manage combined fuel consumption of 40.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 160g/km. The flagship model is the 237bhp turbocharged petrol that promises 0-62mph in just 7.5 seconds. However, it’s only available with Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT transmission and delivers a thirsty 33.2mpg at the pumps.
For most buyers the diesel version will be the best bet. Not only is it reasonably refined, it packs a muscular 350Nm of torque and returns up to 49.6mpg.
All models get Subaru’s symmetrical four-wheel drive system that provides confidence-inspiring all-weather grip. It also gives the Forester excellent off-road ability, and few rivals in this class are as accomplished in the rough stuff.
Petrol versions are available in the XE and XE Premium guises, while flagship XT trim is reserved for the turbocharged petrol engine. Go for diesel and you can choose between X, XC and XC Premium models. All models get air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and heated seats.
Our choice: Subaru Forester 2.0D XC
Subaru prides itself on its engineering pedigree, which means that form often follows function. The Forester doesn’t stand out from its rivals, but it’s not a bad looking car. Its curvaceous bumpers, swept-back headlights and gently sloping roofline soften the bluff shape of its predecessor, and also help to cut aerodynamic drag. A giant bonnet scoop used to mark out the Turbo model, but that is no more. Instead, all cars have a creased, aluminium bonnet, while top-spec cars have large but purely cosmetic gill vents in their front bumpers and 18-inch alloys.
The interiors of all cars are very similar to the Subaru XV, That means build quality is good, but it can’t match premium rivals for upmarket appeal. Not only does the design look a little dated, there are very few soft touch materials. Still, there are no complaints concerning the amount of standard kit, with all models getting air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and cruise control. XC and XE versions add climate control, a rear view camera, powered seats and xenon headlamps, while upgrading to Premium brings leather trim and sat-nav. The flagship XT gets even more kit, including a powered tailgate and keyless entry.
The Forester has always been a sharp drive. The latest model is no exception, thanks to a permanent four-wheel-drive system that ensures the car has very high levels of grip. The steering is completely lifeless, but it is direct once you learn to trust that the front wheels will cling on almost regardless. The ride is firm and a little jittery on cars with 17-inch alloys, but body roll isn’t too pronounced.
The manual gearbox is sweet, but the CVT does blunt performance somewhat - even though Subaru has added ‘virtual’ stepped ratios you can select from steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The Lineartronic transmission also comes with Subaru’s X Mode system that traction off-road and adds a hill descent functions. As a result the Forester is extremely capable off-road, and will leave many rivals trailing in its wake.
The standard 2.0-litre petrol is smooth but a little gutless, so buyers craving performance will be better off with the turbocharged version. It’s only available in flagship XT guise and mated to a Lineartronic gearbox, but it claims 0-62mph in just 7.5 seconds.
However, for most buyers the 2.0-litre diesel will be the best bet. It’s surprisingly refined, plus with 350nm of torque it’s a punchy performer. All engines get Subaru’s SI-Drive set-up that allows you to select from up to three different levels of throttle response.
The Forester has a reputation for being thoroughly engineered, well built and extremely reliable. A lot of the technology is already well proven, and the engines are carried over or adapted from other models already on sale. This is reflected in Subaru’s respectable 16th place finish in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey. Better still, the brand scored an excellent seventh overall for reliability, ride quality and ease of driving. Only its cars’ hefty running costs stopped Subaru finishing further up the leader board.
All Foresters have a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, while the excellent visibility afforded by the high driving position and superb grip from the four-wheel-drive system, should help you stay out of trouble in the first place. Also included are electronic stability control and an impressive tally of eight airbags, including knee bags for the driver and front seat passenger. However, you can’t add the autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control systems that recently debuted on the new Outback.
The latest Forester is also the largest. The A-pillars are further forward than before, by 200mm, which gives extra space in the front. The mirrors are now mounted on the doors, which reduces the front blind-spot. In the rear, the floor has been lowered to create more space for feet, while elbow and shoulder room is good in the front and back. All cars feature three powerpoints and a narrow but deep centre cubbyhole.
The boot has a low, flat lip, making it easy to load, while its 505-litre capacity competitibe Top-spec XT models get a powered tailgate, while mid-spec cars upwards get rear seat backs that fold at the touch of a button. Do this and you liberate a healthy 1,564-litres of space.
There are three engines to choose from and all with stop-start technology. There's a 2.0-litre petrol that can be had with manual or CVT gearboxes, a 2.0-litre diesel that’s manual only, and a 2.0-litre turbo petrol that's only available with a CVT.
All engines have a distinctive sound, and all are quite smooth, if a little noisy. The petrol is the quietest, especially with the CVT, and manages to return 43.5mpg. The Turbo is the most powerful model but it’s very thirsty with a claimed 33.2mpg, while the diesel offers the best fuel economy (49.6mpg) and CO2 emissions of 150g/km, but also develops the same 350Nm of torque as the Turbo. Drive smoothly and fuel economy isn’t too bad, but drive enthusiastically and mpg suffers markedly more than its rivals.
Residual values for the Forester are average for the class, but diesel models perform the best, with our experts predicting the 2.0 D X will hold onto nearly 50 percent of its new value after three years.