In-depth reviews

Subaru Forester review

The Subaru Forester is a hard-wearing, over-engineered SUV, but average fuel economy and sluggish performance count against it

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

  • Great build quality
  • Genuine off-road ability
  • Lots of safety kit
  • Niche appeal
  • Average fuel economy
  • No plug-in hybrid option
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The Subaru Forester offers its  combination of sturdy build, decent off-road prowess and idiosyncratic engineering in a package that feels more luxurious and driver-friendly than previous models.

Completely revised back in 2018, the fifth-generation Forester boasts mild-hybrid electrification and much-improved road manners. There’s more space and improved quality inside, while ride and handling received a welcome boost, too. But, with a slew of talented SUV rivals to face down, the Forester's average fuel economy, bland exterior styling and frustrating onboard technology mean that it's unlikely to be considered by family buyers.

About the Subaru Forester

The Forester sits in a niche almost entirely of its own; it’s not as good to drive as some cheaper, more road-focused SUVs, instead pitched as an alternative buy, offering impressive off-road ability, proven reliability and good levels of standard equipment.

The Forester has been a mainstay of the Subaru lineup for well over two decades. It began life as something of a toughened-up four-wheel-drive estate before evolving along with customer tastes into a more traditional family SUV. Throughout its various incarnations, the Forester has remained true to its original remit of providing hardy family transport that’s undeterred by bad weather, muddy fields and steep farm tracks. 

Now into its fifth generation, the Forester has taken a slight step upmarket, with improved interior quality, infotainment and on-road ride and handling, and a facelift in 2023 provided additional safety features, interior technology and some mechanical tweaks, along with some cosmetic enhancements.

The Subaru’s trademark off-road ability remains, however – its permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system and accompanying X-Mode drive mode make light work of terrain that would trouble most conventional family SUVs. 

The Forester is powered by just one engine, a 2.0-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder that features Subaru’s latest e-Boxer mild-hybrid tech and powers all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Unlike conventional hybrid systems, the e-Boxer technology helps to compliment the Forester’s engine and gearbox, improving throttle response and torque – especially in off-road situations – while helping to slightly increase fuel economy and reduce emissions. All-electric drive is possible only at very low speeds. 

Subaru has been keen to distance itself from the rally-inspired racy image garnered in the 1990s and instead focus attention on its impressive reputation for safety. The Forester features the brand’s EyeSight safety system as standard, which incorporates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-keep assist and other active systems, alongside a range of passive safety features that combine to help make the Forester one of the safest cars in its class. 

At first inspection the Forester could be construed as a very expensive car for its class – but it’s worth considering exactly which SUVs can offer a similar breath of ability, quality and standard equipment. Similarly sized cars like the Mazda CX-5, Peugeot 3008 and Skoda Karoq are better to drive on the road, offer a wider range of more frugal engines and are priced more competitively, but none can quite match the Subaru for overall build quality, reliability or off-road prowess. 

Instead, it is perhaps best to consider the Subaru against more capable SUVs like the much-larger-yet-similarly-priced SsangYong Rexton, or even an entry-level Land Rover Discovery Sport. Each of these offers a similar combination of off-road ability and comfort at much the same price.

The Forester, then, exists in its own small niche in the market, offering a very specific range of attributes to a similarly specific kind of customer. Changes to its recipe have broadened its appeal slightly, but it’ll need to be far more economical to buy and run to trouble the established SUV mainstream.

For an alternative review of the latest Subaru Forester, visit our sister site carbuyer.co.uk...

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