Subaru Forester review
The latest Subaru Forester is spacious, well built and good to drive, but remains a niche SUV choice
The Subaru Forester has been around since 1997. But while the SUV market has grown eight-fold in the UK since then - thanks to the arrival of cars like the Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan and Mazda CX-5 - the Forester has remained a niche choice. That’s because it uses relatively thirsty boxer petrol and diesel engines, comes with a full-time four-wheel-drive system and doesn’t offer the style of its rivals. This latest, fourth-generation Forester has a more upmarket interior, more space and cleaner 2.0-litre engines than before, but the firm openly admits that it has targeted its current, loyal, predominantly rural customers for the new car, rather than those after a road-biased SUV that’s more style over substance. Subaru has also listened to its customers and reintroduced a Turbo petrol model, which uses a turbocharged version of the engine found in the Subaru BRZ coupe.
Our choice: 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, which means they're not exciting to look at but are very solidly built.
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 six or eight gears you can select from steering-wheel-mounted paddles. A new X Mode system helps traction off-road, while Subaru’s SI-Drive 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. The interior is built from some very solid-feeling materials, too. 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.
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, too, 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. 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.
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, while the diesel offers the best fuel economy (49.6mpg) 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.