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Subaru Forester Reviews

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The fourth generation Subaru Forester might veer towards the mainstream a little more than before but it remains a brilliant all-rounder. The latest version gets a plusher cabin and an auto diesel option. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Wouldn't it be nice to find a properly capable compact SUV? A car that could walk the walk as well as talking the talk? A car like this one, Subaru's fourth generation Forester. Everything about this design seems to be nicely balanced, from the shape and positioning of its unique 'Boxer' engines to the shape and positioning of its intended clientele. People who want something fashionable, but don't need to make a fashion statement. People who want something tough and rugged, but don't need to tackle the Rubicon Trail. So the smarter styling inside and out will go down as well as the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system and the X-Mode off road technology. It's all been very carefully thought out. Latest improvements include a Lineartronic gearbox for the diesel engine and an upgraded interior.

You buy this car for what it does, not for what it says about you. Talk to almost any Forester owner and they'll tell you of times when they cruised past other similar vehicles that came unstuck when the going got tough. They'll tell you that nothing ever fell off. That nothing ever went wrong. And that nothing would persuade them to buy anything else. Which would be great for Subaru's UK importers if there were a lot of these kinds of people. But there aren't. Since the original launch of this model way back in 1997, it's remained a small niche choice amongst rural buyers who often still think of it as the kind of car it was in its first two generations of life - a kind of rough road estate. That appeal was subtly tweaked in third generation form to create something more Freelander or RAV4-like, an approach further refined by this MK4 model, a car launched here in the Summer of 2012 with more space and technology, plus a wider range of engines. The only real issues with that model centred around the rather low rent interior and the lack of an auto gearbox option for the diesel engine. Both those issues have now been rectified, leaving this a model in search of a wider, if still very discerning, audience. Let's try it.

Subaru has founded its reputation on standard Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive and the low centre of gravity offered by a horizontally-opposed, or 'boxer'-style engine. All those on offer are of 2.0-litres in capacity - and all are very different. Most British buyers will want the 147PS diesel, a willing unit with 350Nm of torque capable of rest to sixty two mph in 10.2s on the way to 118mph. To be frank, it's a better choice than the alternative 150PS petrol unit that, though returning an almost identical set of performance figures, must in reality shift a fully-laden Forester with about 40% less pulling power. Still, if your car's likely to enjoy a slightly easier life, it may just be all you need. For our test, we opted for the version that aims to broaden the customer base a bit, the pokey 240PS XT petrol turbo, capable of rest to sixty two mph in 7.5s on the way to 137mph. It's available only with the Lineartronic CVT gearbox that's optional on the normally aspirated petrol variant and the standard diesel. And it's this auto transmission that you have to have to get all the technology developed for this car. Built in is an 'X-Mode' system that incorporates hill descent control and adjusts the stability control and throttle responsiveness to give maximum control in slippery conditions. Plus there's the 'Subaru Intelligent Drive' system vehicle dynamics system that enables you to adjust the response of your car to the mood you're in and the road you're on. And off roading? Well, you'll be surprised by just how far you can go across poorly surfaced terrain. For a start, the 220mm ground clearance on offer is far better than most of the competition can offer, complemented by useful approach and departure angles of 25 and 26-degrees.

This MK4 Forester has a slightly taller and significantly wider and longer design that features a higher bonnet leading into a muscular shoulder line running the length of the vehicle. There's a sleek feel too, thanks to a roofline that curves downwards towards the rear into tail lamps positioned to emphasise the body width. Perhaps the most important change with this generation model though is the 25mm longer wheelbase that brings significantly more cabin space. There's also more room out back in a 505-litre cargo area that's 12% bigger than before. But then, you'll probably have approached this car always expecting it to be practical. And not particularly inspiring to sit in. In which case, you might be pleasantly surprised. This revised version has been upgraded with a smart factory-fit 7-inch touchscreen infotainment and navigation system fitted to all but entry-level models. The upgraded interior also makes use of higher quality materials, in particular a smart piano black central fascia, metallic highlights at key locations around the dashboard and more tactile heather controls. The car also now features a USB jack allowing occupants to listen to music from a USB-compatible device while charging another at the same time. As before, particular attention has been given to the controls and areas most regularly touched by the driver like the steering wheel, the handbrake and the gearshift. There's nothing here to give Audi designers any sleepless nights but it's a big step forward for a Forester.

Forester pricing sits mainly in the £25,000 to £30,000 bracket, though you can pay up to around £31,000 for one. Unusually, it's the diesel rather than the petrol version that represents the most affordable way into this car, though that's only because the base diesel variant forgoes some of the equipment you'll find on all petrol models. The CVT Lineartronic automatic transmission is a £1,500 option on both petrol and diesel variants and is standard on the XT petrol turbo model that we tried. Unlike its competitors, Subaru doesn't offer a 2WD option, so all models get the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system that's better engineered than almost anything you'll find on the soft roading competition. If, having considered all of this, you conclude that is is a Forester you really want, then whichever of the All-Wheel-Drive 2.0-litre Boxer-engined models you choose - base petrol, diesel or petrol XT turbo - you should find your car to be decently equipped. All models get automatic air conditioning, 17" alloy wheels, roof rails, front foglamps, heated electric mirrors, a four-speaker stereo system with USB and auxiliary audio input jack, Bluetooth 'phone connectivity and Hill Start Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.

Normally, a more capable car is a more expensive one to run. You'd certainly expect that the permanent Symmetical 4WD system of this Forester would exact more of a fuel and emissions penalty than would be found on most other rivals, cars that trundle around in two wheel drive most of the time, with all-wheel traction only being introduced when needed. Thanks to enhancements like an Active Valve Control System for the exhaust, electric power steering and low rolling resistance tyres, the figures suggest otherwise. Take the 49.6mpg combined cycle fuel figure and 148g/km CO2 reading you'll get from a diesel Forester. It's pretty close to the returns posted by direct rivals like Volkswagen's Tiguan 2.0 TDI 4MOTION, Toyota's RAV4 2.2 D-4D AWD and Honda's CR-V DTEC. Also competitive are the returns posted by petrol Forester models, with the base 150PS version using an Auto Start-Stop system to deliver 40.9mpg on the combined cycle and 160g/km of CO2, whilst for the XT petrol turbo, the figures are 33.2mpg and 197g/km. A useful rotating fuel economy gauge keeps you in touch with how close to your current average consumption figure you're getting. That only leaves insurance groupings - set between groups 23 and 34 - and the peace of mind of a five year / 100,000 mile warranty.

Subaru, you sense, has come full circle, established here as an SUV brand and now uncompromisingly proud of it. The company's earliest models were sold alongside farm machinery and beneath the plush polish you get in today's Forester, a bit of that same rugged appeal still remains, creating in this car a much tougher, more solid-feeling product than you'll find in compact 4x4 competitors. It's certainly a refreshing alternative to the lifestyle legacy of soft-roadingness that has clogged up our cities and school runs with models about as suited to the Serengeti as a celebrity in the jungle. Yet crucially, it's now one you could consider as a realistic alternative to more compromised competitors. This Forester is fashionable without being trendy. And built to last while never feeling utilitarian. In short, it's the kind of car it really ought to be, a vehicle in which four wheel drive is fundamental, rather than simply an optional extra and as a result, one of the best cars in its class to buy if you really plan on using it to its full potential. True, the result may not be as smoothly cultured as less capable rivals, but when conditions worsen, you won't care about that. And you'll probably be glad that you chose one of these.

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