Say the word ‘Subaru’ and the first thing that many people will think of is probably the image of Colin McRae or Richard Burns thundering up a gravelling forest trail behind the wheel of a rally Impreza.
That aside, it’s no-nonsense, go-anywhere vehicles that Subaru started with and so it’s fitting that it’s actually the Forester SUV which is the manufacturer’s best-selling model in the UK. Technically it’s not that far from the Impreza either as it shares a platform, though not that Impreza, of course.
No-frills practicality and bulletproof reliability are what buyers demand, but the Forester manages to wrap those hardy characteristics up into an approachable, if not overtly glamorous, family SUV.
Three engines are available with the Forester, a 148bhp 2.0-litre boxer petrol, a more powerful 237bhp turbocharged version of the same engine or a 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer diesel that offers 145bhp.
It’s the diesel which is likely to be the best seller in the UK and it’s the one that we’ve got along with a solid if slightly notchy six-speed manual gearbox, though a CVT automatic is available as an option too.
Diesel engines typically aren’t known for their character, but as things go this is a pretty unique one. It’s really torquey from the get go and pulls strongly and smoothly from low down in the rev range.
0-62mph takes a reasonable 9.9 seconds with either gearbox, and max speed for the Forester is 117mph. The engine also makes a beefy 350Nm of torque, which is enough to tow up to 2,000kg.
Ride and Handling
It makes a great towing car and there’s also plenty of traction on all surfaces and conditions.
As with all Subarus, the Forester comes with permanent four-wheel drive as standard, along with self-levelling rear suspension that means you can load the car up with heavy items and the nose won’t rise up into the air. It makes a great towing car then, and there’s also plenty of traction on all surfaces and conditions. The car’s drive is slightly let down by a rather numb steering feel and a jiggly ride, but to be honest that’s mostly to be expected on a high-riding car such as this. Fun is a word that doesn’t really describe the Forester, but it is capable and that’s exactly what buyers want. For anybody who routinely spends their time in the countryside with a trailer or horsebox in tow, the dependability and ruggedness of the car will by far outweigh any relatively minor complaints like driver engagement.
Interior and Equipment
The Forester has won a large number of awards in its time, most recently being named ‘SUV of the Year’ by Motor Trend magazine in 2014.
Function over form is what Subaru usually tends to prioritise, though it gave the Forester a mid-life refresh earlier in the year with a redesigned front grille and a retooled interior that brings it better into line with the rest of its range. Like its siblings, build quality is good and the cabin is hard wearing, though naturally it can’t match some rivals for upmarket appeal. That’s unlikely to faze buyers though, and standard equipment across the range is good too, with things like heated seats, cruise control and a heated windscreen all as standard. Upgrading to the XC spec adds climate control and rear-view camera, while the seven-inch Starlink infotainment system is a huge improvement over the previous version. You will have to upgrade to the range-topping XC Premium if you want sat-nav, though. The seats are comfortable and visibility is excellent, this latest Forester also happens to be the largest so far, which means a lot more space inside. In the back, head and legroom are both good though three adults might struggle to fit on the rear bench as it’s a tad cramped. Open the boot and you’ll find a low, flat loading lip which makes chucking cargo in a breeze, while 505 litres of space puts it near the top of its class. Fold the rear seats down and boot space rises to 1,564 litres, which is able to swallow everything from cardboard boxes to large sofas with ease.
The Achilles heel of Subarus has always been fuel economy, with the diesel returning a claimed 49.6mpg with CO2 emission of 150g/km.
Pricing for the Forester starts from £25,495, while the range-topping Premium model is priced from £30,995. As standard, all versions come with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty thrown in too. The Achilles heel of Subarus has always been fuel economy, with the diesel returning a claimed 49.6mpg with CO2 emission of 150g/km. In the week that we had it, we got pretty close to the car’s official figure without being overly careful, but most of its rivals will have much cheaper running costs.
It isn’t particularly exciting or stylish, but it’s able, sensible and just gets the job done when you need it to: that’s pretty much the raison d’etre of the Forester. Concerns like looking pretty or packing in as much high-tech kit as possible don’t factor in for a car of its type, and for those that need it it’s all the better for it. It won’t appeal to everybody, but there’s an earnestness to the Forester that’s difficult not to like, and the fact that Subaru has one of the most loyal customer bases full of buyers who just keep coming back speaks volumes too.