Subaru’s third generation Forester changes its tack with a slightly larger body and the option at last of an impressive diesel engine. In doing so however, it’s faced with even tougher competition.
It remains a rather individualist choice but now also an informed one. Enthusiasts forced into 4x4 ownership looking for a sharper drive than you’d normally expect from this class of car will continue to love it.
A long time before the Audi Allroad or the Volvo XC70 were glints in their respective manufacturers eyes, Subaru had hit upon the idea of a go almost anywhere estate car that could still offer entertainment aplenty on the blacktop. The Forester arrived to a rather puzzled British public way back in 1997, with the second generation version debuting in 2002. Both cars were severely handicapped by the lack of a diesel engine, something that buyers have long expected in this sector. With that put right this time around, it need no longer be a niche player for 4x4 customers who can’t quite make up their minds between a fully-fledged compact 4x4 or an all-wheel drive estate.
This is a larger car than its predecessor, featuring a 90mm longer wheelbase and tracks widened by 35mm at the front and 45mm at the rear. It’s also rides far better (thanks to a sophisticated multi-link, double wishbone rear suspension that’s compact enough to increase luggage space) and rolls less (because the position of the boxer engine has been dropped by 10 mm, lowering the centre of gravity). There’s a clever fuel-saving electric power steering system, a rear anti-roll bar for better handling on the road and 10mm more ground clearance from the self-levelling suspension for more capability off it.
All Forester models feature four-wheel drive but the automatic and manual versions both feature their own four wheel drive system. The manual cars come with a more conventional centre differential system with a viscous limited slip differential whereas the automatic models get an Active Torque Split AWD system. VDC stability control is standard on all models, coordinating the engine, transmission and brakes in order to recover the vehicle’s position should extreme manoeuvres or slippery conditions push the Forester into a skid.
"It retains an individuality that will continue to endear it to a wider range of customers."
The very first thing that’s apparent when clocking the latest Forester is that the rising waistline and broader front end have given it more of a generic compact 4x4 stance. In fact it’s fully 110mm taller than the outgoing model, 45mm wider and with another 90mm grafted into the wheelbase. This quite significant enlargement takes the Forester out of its old niche and punts it headlong into the midst of cars like the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Land Rover Freelander and the Nissan X-TRAIL, cars that have been refining their talents for quite some years.
The styling is neat, albeit with a rather bland front end. Perhaps this is no bad thing after the rather odd-looking Tribeca, Subaru’s last foray into the SUV arena. Interiors have never been a Subaru strong point and while the Forester is never going to challenge for class honours here, it’s neat and well finished with a brushed aluminium-look centre console and a big driver information system near the top of the dashboard. The front seats can fold fully flat while the rears split 60/40 and recline.
Entry-level Forester customers get a revised 150PS version of the 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ petrol engine that was fitted to the old model, albeit with revisions that see it being cleaner, more frugal and more flexible. If you can afford a couple of thousand more than the asking price for the 145bhp 2.0-litre diesel however, then it’s money well spent.
Much of the engineering and equipment on the Forester positions it as one of the more advanced vehicles in its class. Safety is particularly important for family buyers and the Forester excels in impact absorption for both the vehicle occupants and pedestrians. The front seats get seatbelts with pretensioners and load limiters, the brake pedal is collapsible, all pillars feature impact absorbent materials and there are front, side and curtain airbags.
All models include electric windows, 60/40-split rear seats with reclining back-rests, climate-controlled air-conditioning, a radio/CD player, front fog lamps, a vehicle information display, a height and reach-adjustment steering wheel, heated front seats, mirrors and windscreen wipers plus cruise-control. Manual models feature a dual-range transmission.
A 40GB hard disk-based navigation system with audio capability is offered. This features 3D screen scrolling, rapid access rates and a 7-inch VGA screen with LED backlighting. The sound system uses Audyssey MultEQ3 technology that corrects in-car sound distortion and features a 7-speaker system with woofer.
Not only does the Forester 2.0D lead its class when it comes to emissions (the worst you’ll get is 170g/km) and fuel economy (you’ll get 39.2mpg around town and 48.7mpg on a run), it’s also one of the cheapest to insure. Only the VW Tiguan can match the entry-level version’s Group 9E insurance rating and most rivals are much pricier at your brokers.
The improvements to this Forester’s 150PS 2.0-litre petrol engine result in stronger low and mid-range pulling power, enhanced flexibility and improved fuel economy with lower exhaust emissions. More specifically, there’s an improvement over the old model of more than 3mpg on the combined cycle for the automatic many customers buy, with exhaust emissions down by 21g/km. The Urban/Extra Urban and Combined fuel consumption figures are 25.9/40.4 and 33.6 mpg with a low CO2 rating of 198g/km.
As always with Subaru, the warranty is one of the best in the industry, offering three year/60,000 mile cover plus three years’ paintwork and 12 years’ anti-corrosion cover. This is in addition to three years’ free membership of Subaru Assistance – a comprehensive home and roadside repair and recovery package throughout the UK and Europe, administered by Mondial Assistance. Service intervals are 12,000 miles.
Subaru hasn’t taken the easy way out with this Forester. More of the same would have been the route of least resistance, but in making the Forester bigger and more of a conventional SUV, Subaru has pitched up against some tough competitors. Excellent build quality we can take for granted and due to its size it looks family friendly, but these are qualities shared by many rivals.
Cars like the Land Rover Freelander, Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 and the Nissan X-Trail may well be too good to topple from an all-round perspective and the Mitsubishi Outlander and its Citroën C-Crosser and Peugeot 4007 siblings are also formidable opponents. Subaru may well have jumped from the frying pan into the fire with this car but it retains an individuality that will continue to endear it to a wider range of customers.