The Forester is the larger and longer-established of the two SUVs in the Subaru range. The current, fourth-generation version was launched in 2013 and updated in 2015. Following Subaru tradition, all are four-wheel drive and have engines of the "boxer" layout, which helps to give them a relatively low centre of gravity.
Most Foresters have either a 148bhp 2-litre petrol engine or a 145bhp turbo diesel of the same size. The other option, available only in the XT, is a turbo petrol with direct fuel injection, whose maximum power output is substantially higher at 238bhp. The XT comes as standard with a CVT automatic transmission called Lineartronic, which is also offered as an alternative to a six-speed manual in the less powerful models.
The XT is the quickest Forester by a long way, with a 137mph top speed and a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds. The others may have similar maximum outputs but they perform very differently. The non-turbo petrol engine has to be revved hard to achieve anything like full power, and at 4200rpm it's still producing only 117bhp.
This makes the diesel much easier to drive generally, since you get as much power as you need at far lower revs. The headline 0-62mph figure is also better for the diesel, at 9.9 rather than 10.6 seconds in cars with the manual gearbox.
With Lineartronic, the situation becomes a little odd. This automatic transmission doesn't affect the 0-62mph time of the diesels, but it adds 1.2 seconds to that of the petrol cars. This is largely due to gearing: the ratio holds have been chosen to help fuel economy more than performance, and there are only six of them rather than seven for the diesel.
The engines are fairly noisy, and the manual gear change is quite notchy. This has been a Subaru problem for over twenty years now, and we're losing hope that it will ever be fixed.
Ride and Handling
Off-road, the Forester is very capable, and will easily tackle more difficult terrain than most people would consider driving over.
The low centre of gravity, combined with soft but well-damped suspension, has historically given the Forester a big advantage since the launch of the first model in 1997. That car rode and handled quite beautifully, and its successor was nearly as good, but Subaru dropped the catch with the next one, which was one of the least enjoyable cars Subaru has ever built. Today's Forester doesn't quite match the early ones in terms of driving experience, but it's far better than the 2008-13 car. While there is none of the original magic, this model at least feels more secure on a challenging country road than most other SUVs of similar size. Off-road, the Forester is very capable, and will easily tackle more difficult terrain than most people would consider driving over. Lineartronic models have Hill Descent Control and a setting called X-Mode, which allows the car to react in different ways to different off-road conditions.
Interior and Equipment
The first Forester was introduced as an off-road alternative to the Impreza. It was essentially an Impreza Outback, though the body shape was different and that name was never used.
The 2015 upgrade included a revision of the interior, but like the gearshift quality this is something Subaru has never really mastered. At best, you won't be distracted from what's happening on the road by the beauty of the cabin design. The fourth Forester is slightly larger than the third was, and one result is that the luggage capacity with the rear seats in place has improved considerably to 505 litres. Unfortunately, Subaru has been able to achieve this only by failing to provide a spare wheel and offering a tyre repair kit instead. With the rear seats folded down, the load volume is 1,592 litres up to roof level. Trim levels start at X and go up through XE and XE Premium (for non-turbo petrol models) or XC and XC Premium (for diesels) up to XT. All of them include automatic air-conditioning - dual-zone for everything other than the X - along with alloy wheels, front and rear fog lights, roof rails, Hill Start Assist, Trailer Stability Control and Bluetooth connectivity. Satellite navigation and leather upholstery are standard of the Premium cars and the XT, while the latter also has a powered tailgate.
Pricing starts at just under £25,000 for the basic X, which is available only with the diesel engine, and nearly all the others cost less than £30,000.
The diesel manual has combined fuel economy of 49.6mpg (which past experience of Subaru diesels suggests should be achievable without much difficulty) and official CO2 emissions of 148g/km. With Lineartronic, the figures become 46.3mpg and 158g/km, the latter being only 2g/km better than the petrol manual. Lineartronic has the opposite effect on the petrol engine. Combined fuel economy becomes 43.5mpg, and the CO2 rating of 150g/km means it's actually in the same band as the diesel manual (annual payments being £145 in each case) and only one higher in terms of Benefit In Kind taxation. The much quicker turbo petrol XT naturally lags behind all the others, with key figures of 33.2mpg and 197g/km. Pricing starts at just under £25,000 for the basic X, which is available only with the diesel engine, and nearly all the others cost less than £30,000. The exceptions are the XT and the XC Premium Lineartronic diesel, both priced at about £31,000.
With its engine noise, far from state-of-the-art interior and clumsy manual gear change, the Forester is one of the less refined SUVs on the market. These aspects do give it a certain rugged appeal, however, and for those interested in this sort of thing the handling is splendid. The Forester also scores well for practicality and, up to a point, off-road ability. There will always be rival SUVs that sell in greater numbers, but at the same time there will probably also be Forester fans for as long as Subaru continues to build the car.