- We like...Controlled ride; leather seats
- We don't...Auto gearbox is sometimes clumsy
Off-roader has grown broader and taller to take on Land Rover's Freelander and Honda's CR-V. But can it overhaul them?Subaru’s original Forester was a gem. Distinctly different from other 4x4s, it looked tough and no-nonsense. Best of all, it was actually a Subaru Impreza under its tough skin. Whichever version you picked drove superbly and, heck, you could even plump for a turbo-powered one that rocketed away.
Strictly, it wasn’t a full-on off-roader. It was too low-slung and car-like for that. Instead, it was more of a sturdy estate car that, because of its four-wheel-drive, would happily haul across a muddy field. But, with this new ‘un, it’s all change. It’s grown in size and, crucially, in height, to mix it with pukka small-sized 4x4s such as Land Rover’s Freelander and Honda’s CR-V. That’s tough competition: each is as classy, high-tone and desirable as they can be.
To steal sales, rivals must be different, much cheaper, or both. Can this all-new Forester turn such tricks? A first glance isn’t promising. To our eyes it’s neither ugly nor handsome. Side-on it resembles the Freelander, while from the back it’s neat enough but forgettable. At the front, the silver grille and big Subaru badge leave it looking blank.
Step inside, and the story continues. The dash is tidily styled and functional. For those who’ve sat in a current Subaru Impreza, the curving trim will be familiar. However, some plastics inside the Forester feel too gritty and low-rent for something costing a fiver short of £23,000. It’s well equipped, having heated leather seats, keyless entry and six-CD changer as standard. And, like other current Subarus, the needles on the instruments do a race-car 180deg swivel as you start it up.
Because it’s grown in size, space inside is generous and the load bay is huge. The leather seats (standard on the XS) are comfy and practical, shrugging off drink spills and the like but place it a world away from the old car’s toughness and utility.
On the move it rides smoothly, its long-travel suspension filtering the bumps efficiently but also keeping things steady should you enter a bend faster than you’d meant to. It’s an entertaining drive.
The engine’s the 2.0 flat-four offered in cheaper Imprezas. At 146bhp, it’s not enough to shove what’s a heavy car along quickly. But the auto transmission it’s running with here is no help. With just four speeds, it’s old school when the competition commonly have five or six gearing choices. This shows in some clumsy downshifts when overtaking and too little puff to exploit the car’s considerable potential as a tow-car. And its appetite for fuel is considerable at 33.6mpg overall (though no worse than similar competitors).
Should you buy one? A version powered by Subaru’s excellent flat-four turbodiesel engine is promised within a few months and promises far superior pulling power and economy. We’d wait for that. If you can’t, the manually geared Forester is the one to go for. Until Subaru installs a new, better auto gearbox, this one’s not the best.
- 0-60 mph12.3sec
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Motors.co.uk value verdict: