EVER since Subaru changed the format of its Forester from rugged wagon to a more family-friendly SUV it’s opened the car up to a wider buyer profile. Like so many companies theses days, tapping into the demand for such ‘soft-roaders’ has proven to be a lucrative business decision. The thing is, Subaru’s Forester is anything but soft.
The Japanese car maker has made a good living out of producing left-field cars offering all-wheel drive and genuine off-roading abilities. Oh, and the super-quick Impreza. But with the demand for turbo-nutter cars waning and interest in high-rise family holdalls on the up, it made sense to make the switch from worthy-looking wagon to SUV.
That was a few years ago now, and Subaru’s decision to update its Forester in light of increased competition from all sides is both timely and welcome.
First a recap; unlike the vast majority of SUVs out there, the Forester really can walk the walk. Subaru’s trademark all-wheel drive system offers users genuine all-terrain capabilities. Like with all 4x4s, the only limiting factor when choosing to go off piste is ground clearance, and the Forester comes with enough to ensure traversing rutted paths and rocky trails can be done without damaging the car’s underside.
And then there’s the car’s engine line-up which, like its transmission, is peculiar to Subaru. By opting for a ‘flat four’ boxer arrangement, the Forester boasts a lower centre of gravity - good for cornering and stability. The slightly fruitier exhaust note of the petrol motors is another pleasing quirk.
But it was the recent introduction of a flat-four diesel engine that helped to further broaden the appeal of the Forester and the rest of the Subaru range. Here was an engine offering good levels of power and torque in the same familiar package as the petrol engines, thus helping to maintain the car’s solid handling and ride characteristics.
There’s no escaping that the fuel economy angle was an important one, too. And with Subaru’s recent update came some welcome tweaks to its 2.0-litre diesel lump. The first change is more than just a tweak, as the default manual transmission boasts six forward gears up from five previously. Just as slick as before, the extra ratio does much to improve refinement, promote a more relaxed gait and reduce engine speed when cruising on the motorway.
Detailed changes to the diesel engine have resulted in small but important reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Up seven percent to 47.9mpg and now a more tax friendly 155g/km respectively, the improvements can largely be credited to changes to the fuel injection and cooling systems, a more efficient turbocharger and a handful of other tweaks to the engine’s oily bits.
Those are the changes you can’t see, yet to mark the Forester’s various improvements Subaru has chosen a typically low-key approach to the stuff you can see. Those with a keen eye will spot the car’s new grille and, hopefully, the slightly smaller door mirrors. Inside the car there are changes to the fascia but the overall layout remains reassuring familiar.
In practice that’s a sentiment that could easily apply to the way the Forester drives. It’s never been a car for speed freaks but it’s an able and willing companion on Tarmac. Around town the car’s torquey diesel motor ensures that you don’t have to be constantly changing gear, while the lofty driving position remains a welcome plus for spotting parking spaces and generally helping to boost forward visibility.
With its self-leveling rear suspension and ability to tow, the Forester is also a great car for active types. And don’t let its posh exterior fool you, as it’s also a fine working vehicle.
It’s largely the same story off the road. Granted, it can’t compete with genuine all-terrain vehicles, but the Forester offers a level of grip and security many times higher than your average SUV.
Generously equipped, the Forester’s base specification includes leather trim for the steering wheel and gearlever, electric windows, a decent audio unit, split-fold rear seats and air-conditioning. Move up to the XC variant and you get the likes of roof rails, larger wheels, reversing camera and colour display plus a powered sunroof and audio upgrade. The flagship XS NavPlus adds, predictably, sat-nav plus leather seats and keyless ignition.
Although now more conventional in appearance than its predecessor, the Forester remains something of an informed choice among buyers of SUVs. That’s a good thing, as unlike some rivals the Subaru is capable of much more than simply posing around town. Underneath its soft curves is a tough work ethic and a usefully revised diesel engine.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Subaru Forester 2.0D XC, £26,820 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 145bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 116mph, 0-62mph 10.4 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 158g/km.
- Power4 (higher than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy3 (average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: