Gone are the days when Subaru was associated with countless World Rally Championship victories. The Impreza was an icon in the early to mid 1990s, but today the brand is better known for its rugged and capable – if slightly old fashioned – 4x4s. Models like the Forester make up the bulk of Subaru’s UK sales, with owners praising the no-frills practicality and bulletproof reliability.
The Forester wraps all those characteristics up into a family-friendly SUV, with decent if unadventurous styling, excellent equipment levels and reasonable pricing. Even the official fuel economy figures look reasonable – though the real-world numbers are likely to be more challenging. The Forester’s drive is also let down by a jittery ride and numb steering.
But for folk who want to trundle around the farther-flung parts of the British countryside – often with a trailer or horsebox in tow – the dependability of Subaru’s rugged 4×4 engineering outweighs such niceties.
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The Subaru Forester is a rugged SUV aimed at high-riding machines such as the Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan and Ford Kuga. Now in its fourth generation, the original Forester helped set the current trend for crossover models when it made its debut in 1997. Combining four-wheel drive, a raised ride height and practical estate body, the Subaru didn’t fit in an established car niche back then. However, these days the Forester has matured into more of a traditional SUV, as fashion has swung the other way.
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You’d struggle to call the Subaru handsome, but its boxy proportions and rugged styling cues give it a certain no-nonsense appeal. It got a light update in 2016, bringing new bumpers and lights, as well as some chrome trim details. It’s a similar story inside, where the Subaru benefits from tough build quality but dated looks. On the plus side there’s plenty of space for occupants, while the boot will swallow a generous 505-litres of luggage.
There’s a choice of three engines – two petrol and one diesel. Both have a 2.0-litre capacity and feature Subaru’s trademark flat-four ‘boxer’ layout, and the Forester is available with manual gears or – especially unusual in the SUV sector – a constantly variable transmission (CVT) auto called Lineartronic.
All models get Subaru’s symmetrical four-wheel drive system that provides confidence-inspiring all-weather grip. It also gives the Forester excellent off-road ability, and few rivals in this class are as accomplished in the rough stuff. There’s no cut-price two-wheel drive version either, perhaps because Subaru is honest about its chances of attracting aspirational lifestyle types to the Forester model.
The available trim levels are different according to fuel choice. Petrol versions are available in the XE and XE Premium guises, while flagship XT trim is reserved for the turbocharged petrol engine. Go for diesel and you can choose between X, XC and XC Premium models. All versions get air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and heated seats.