Subaru Forester Diesel review
by Mike Grundon (1 October 2008)
"Class-leading" is an expression you read a lot in the press packs surrounding the launch of the Subaru's first-ever diesel Forester. They talk of class-leading fuel economy, class-leading emissions, class-leading road tax, class-leading range and class-leading insurance rating. And much and all as the journalist in me would like to be cynical about this, I'm afraid I just can't be.
I've always been a fan of the Forester, despite almost every motoring journalist I know being less than charitable about its looks. But despite my enthusiasm I've never been able to write even one of the things on this list of class-leadings about it. I'm less impressed by its looks now - it kind of falls into the mould of so many new SUVs - but I'm so much more impressed by its performance and real-world practicality.
The new Forester is built on the platform of the current Impreza but it now looks much more of an off-roader than the slightly-more-leggy-than-average estate car it replaces. It may only have less than a half inch more ground clearance than the old model, but it now looks a lot more like it could stomp all over a tank training ground without breaking sweat.
But it's this unique boxer diesel engine, which we've so far only seen in the Legacy, that turns it into an apparent saint among 4x4s. The official average fuel consumption for the basic 2.0D X version is just under 45mpg, which compares well with the 30.4mpg which was the best you could get in an old model with its most economical engine. Combined with a 14-gallon tank, that gives the car a theoretical range of over 850 miles on a single top-up. That, my friend, is the distance from Land's End to John o' Groats.
Carbon dioxide emissions are 167g/km on the X model which is almost identical to a two-wheel drive Mazda6 family car with a two-litre diesel engine in it. The road tax is a relatively affordable £170 a year and depending on the level of trim you get on your diesel Forester, you should get it rated 9 or 10 for insurance.
All this you could happily read in the brochure. What you don't get in the official blurb is just how impressive it is to drive.
The car itself is big and spacious inside. The driver sits tall under a big sunroof and is surrounded by four more adult-sized seats, each one of which has masses of leg and headroom. There's lots of glass so visibility is good, the chairs are all comfortable whether they're adjusted manually or electronically, and the environment is cleanly laid-out and logical.
The driving is very good, particularly considering how big the beast now feels. That diesel engine turns out 145bhp and 258lb/ft of torque which, fed evenly to all four wheels through the six-speed gearbox, can take the 1.5-tonne truck to 60mph in 10 seconds. There are no plans for an automatic.
Also important in this type of vehicle is its towing capabilities and with maximum trailer weights of 750kg unbraked and two tonnes braked, that puts it up there with the best of them. Expect towcar awards next year.
The steering has been firmed up for the 45kg weight increase from petrol to diesel engine and the front suspension has been uprated too. The flat-four engine keeps its centre of gravity low anyway, so the whole car is totally unflustered by even the most severe changes of direction. I can vouch for this having made a ferocious swerve to avoid someone pulling out on me in a roundabout near Cork.
As for kit, the new Forester comes in three levels of trim; the X, the XC and the XSn. Even the X is far from being a poor cousin with electric windows all round, leather steering wheel, front fogs, air-conditioning and heated seats, mirrors and even wipers. All this can be yours, my son, for £20,295.
The XC adds roof rails, the wheel size rises from 16" to 17", there's a 6-CD sound system and that big sun roof is introduced. The price goes up by £2200. Top of the tree XSn adds touch-screen satellite navigation, electric driver's seat adjustment and key-free entry with a push-button start. The price now is £25,495.
There is no word on whether or not the new Forester, with or without a diesel engine, would be any good off the road – the launch event went nowhere near even a packed-dirt car park – but I'd like to find out. It has some useful ground clearance and the all-wheel drive system has a viscous coupling in the centre differential which feeds drive to the axle with the most grip when things start to slip. It's not sophisticated, but I feel sure it would be fine for some light green-laning.
The bottom line is that I like it. With its new looks that put it happily in with the in crowd including things like the Mitsubishi Outlander, Vauxhall Antara, Volkswagen Tiguan and Citroen C-Crosser. It's a lot less individual than the outgoing model, but who gives a damn when the figures stack up so well and the driving experience is so good? For someone like me who lives in the deep countryside of the snow-swept Scottish islands and who does at least 300 miles a week, it's a very attractive option.
Subaru plans to stay a niche player in the car market and has no intention of seeking high-volume sales. That, included with its environmental and economical advantages, are likely to keep the residual value of the diesel Foresters high, but we won't know that for sure for a while.