I’D BEEN looking forward to getting hold of the new Forester from Subaru. Things have changed a lot since the heady days of Colin McRae’s exploits in its Impreza in the rally stages of the world. Indeed, the company has found itself on a rocky road in recent years with a range of what was seen as ageing and outdated technology.
From a commanding position among the leadership of performance four-wheel drive machines, it has faltered and fallen from grace, not least because the Impreza itself had gone from a beefy world beater to a bit of a wimp who got the sand kicked in its face by the opposition.
However, along with the racy BRZ coupe, the Forester, the fourth generation of the SUV, had been widely hailed as the pioneer of the fight-back so my sense of anticipation was keen. The test car reached me when I’d arranged with a group of friends to head for the West Highlands for the weekend, and we struck lucky with astounding weather – clear blue skies, blazing sunshine and almost tropical temperatures.
The only drawback, in terms of the test drive, was that we’d booked to go on one of the world’s best journeys – by train on the West Highland line. So, after a great drive north from Glasgow to Fort William, I had to leave the eagerly-awaited Forester behind at the station while I soaked up the stunning scenery including the white sands of Morar on the way to Mallaig through the carriage windows.
Returning to the station car park, I set off west again to see how it performed on the demanding, often single track, roads along the shores of Loch Ailort and the Sound of Arisaig in Moidart. This is a stunning and often unseen part of the country and the Forester seemed to enjoy it almost as much as me. The latest generation two-litre horizontally opposed flat-four turbocharged Boxer diesel engine was more than capable of handling the steep climbs although I did have to work a lot with the six-speed gearbox to pull out most of the 145bhp which was available.
It has a low centre of gravity which helps balance and handling, and with the symmetrical all-wheel drive the vehicle felt safe and secure on the road. Although I didn’t get the chance to take it off the tarmac, I’m told it’s pretty good when the going gets rough, helped by the high ground clearance. I didn’t quite achieve the claimed consumption of 50 mpg but then I was on some demanding roads and had a full load of four adults and quite a bit of luggage.
I liked the high and commanding driving position which helped even more to open up the fabulous scenery, but also allowed early warning of approaching traffic on the single tracks. The large sunroof was very welcome and there was very little wind buffeting even when it was fully open.
Inside, space was very generous with stacks of legroom in the back, created by the longer wheelbase and wider body. Build quality looked good and all the controls were not only in the right place but also felt right as well. Prices for the range start at just under £25,000 rising to £31,000, and for that you’re getting some robust machinery with a strong pedigree.
Subaru is full of confidence about the Forester and expect it to become their best-seller… but their sales figures are low compared to some of the competition. Last year they sold only 15,000 in the whole of Europe. And although I enjoyed my brief spell with this latest Subaru specimen, it struck me as neither very exciting nor all that interesting. It does its job quietly and confidently and I can’t fault any of its performance or ability. But I can’t help but wonder what happened to that Subaru sparkle we saw so much of in the past.
CAR Subaru Forester 2.0D XC
PERFORMANCE Max speed 118 mph; 0-62 mph 10.2 secs
MPG (combined) 50
CO2 EMISSIONS 150g/km