Subaru Forester

Today's city-dwelling 4x4 drivers have come in for a massive amount of criticism over their motoring habits. "What is the point of four-wheel drive, when all their cars are used for is the school run, carrying Labradors and going shopping?" cry their off-roading country cousins.

  • Standard equipment, versatile nature, shoe-carrying capacity, leather trim, hill-holder, handy cubbies above driver
  • Economy, over-light steering, cabin sunroof turbulence, frustrating security system, lack of audible headlight-warning system

Today's city-dwelling 4x4 drivers have come in for a massive amount of criticism over their motoring habits. "What is the point of four-wheel drive, when all their cars are used for is the school run, carrying Labradors and going shopping?" cry their off-roading country cousins.

Well, I may not have kids or dogs, but this 'girl about town' can certainly shop for Britain - as my 100-plus pairs of shoes bear out. It could be said that I have no need for an all-wheel-drive vehicle. However, I reckon I am just the kind of buyer at whom Subaru is aiming its Forester estate.

Neither a conventional load-lugger nor a full-on off-roader, it is in a class of its own. With a 1,629-litre boot and permanent 4x4 set-up, it is both practical and able, yet the civilised design means it looks at home on city streets. And the safety benefits of the chunky styling are a bonus, too - driving in the urban jungle can be daunting.

While our new Forester 2.0-litre XE arrived only a few weeks ago, it has already been put to a variety of tasks. Aside from acting as a useful display unit for just some of my footwear, it has been covering my 50-mile round commute to London, has carted a load of rubbish to the dump and recently completed a long-distance run to Norfolk - where I even ventured off-road!

So I've been impressed with the Forester's versatility. The car isn't exactly pretty - although I like the stylish frameless doors - but it is very well equipped, with air-con, climate and cruise-control, electric mirrors and a CD autochanger included in the price. The large powered sunroof is a nice touch, too, although it lets a lot of noise into the cabin. Yet some aspects of the Subaru are less endearing. While the revs scream to the red line when the auto box sluggishly kicks down, performance doesn't increase accordingly. This doesn't pay dividends at the pumps, either, with the car returning only 23.8mpg. Also, the immobiliser re-arms too quickly once it has been unlocked, and the alarm is easily activated.

Still, I am looking forward to covering more miles in the Forester, and I hope the economy improves as the engine settles in. One thing's for sure - there will be plenty of space for my purchases the next time I head to the shoe shops!

Second Opinion I drove the 2.5-litre turbocharged Forester recently, and there's quite a difference between the acceleration of that car and ours. Like Sarah, I'm no fan of the automatic box, but the 2.0 engine is slightly more appealing because it's less thirsty than the bigger unit. Elsewhere, I am still not convinced by the over-light steering. Piers Ward, road tester

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