Subaru Forester puts Impreza into the long grass

Subaru is pinning the bulk of its hopes on the fourth-generation Forester

Subaru is pinning the bulk of its hopes on the fourth-generation Forester

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IT TOOK a while to warm to the third-generation Subaru Forester but this fourth edition is a far more appealing thing. The styling’s been toned down and the technical ability ramped up. There’s also the return of the turbocharged Forester XT alongside turbo-diesel and normally-aspirated all-wheel drive models.

“Subaru is now defined as an SUV company and this Forester is the cornerstone of that product offering.” Those words from Subaru’s UK managing director did two things. The first was to bring a curtain down on the reign of the Impreza as the company’s iconic car. The second was to bring to the fore the Forester, a car that had largely excelled at hiding its light under a bushel. No longer. This one’s now front and centre.

Its fairly generic SUV silhouette doesn’t appear to differ too much from the third gen car, but the underpinnings are wholly different and the detailing is a lot smarter. Efficiency has been improved and, for those that like to pedal on a bit, the XT is good news, and it’s the car we’re looking at here. Subaru might have become a bit more sensible of late, but it’s still a company that can’t resist engineering a degree of fun into its wares.

The Forester XT’s 238PS turbo petrol engine is a peach, propelling it 62mph in just 7.5 seconds and running on to a top speed of 137mph. The addition of a turbo makes it feel so much brawnier than the breathless lump in Subaru’s BRZ sportscar, and the Lineartronic CVT transmission is paired with X-Mode, a whole suite of electronics designed to get the best traction off road.

On tarmac, the body control is excellent even when taking liberties in corners, and visibility is also top notch, but the steering could use a little more feel. The Mazda CX-5 just got a serious rival for the title of best handling SUV.

Sit this fourth-gen car next to its predecessor and it looks less adventurous. It’s still a fairly good looking thing but it’s no head turner. The interior has come on leaps and bounds though – those of you who remember Subaru interiors feeling about as plush as a Photo-Me booth will appreciate the use of higher-grade materials on the dashboard, the centre console and doors.

There’s plenty of room inside. The third-generation Forester found itself outclassed by cars like the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Land Rover Freelander and the Nissan X-Trail when it came to interior packaging, but 
Subaru has taken that lesson on board.

Though Forester motoring starts at around £25,000, you’ll need around £31,000 for this flagship petrol turbo XT model. Still, it does come well-equipped, and as for safety, a full five star Euro NCAP rating is justified by a wealth of useful kit.

Foresters used to have a dreadful reputation as unreconstructed fuel hogs but much has changed. You might expect that the permanent Symmetrical 4WD system of this Forester would exact more of a fuel and emissions penalty than rival cars that trundle around in two-wheel drive most of the time, but the figures suggest otherwise.

This XT petrol turbo returns 33.2mpg on the combined cycle and 197g/km of CO2. Insurance is set at group 34 for this top model – and there’s a five-year/100,000 mile warranty.

Subaru must be getting fed up with the Forester’s reputation as a bit of a sleeper vehicle that only really appeals to a clued-in minority. It’s had a tough time in recent years due to Subaru’s pricing, the company held at the mercy of the strong yen, but things have changed in that regard and prices have come down.

The XT petrol turbo we’ve been looking at here is still a premium cost product but it undoubtedly offers more capability than many obvious rivals – Volkswagen’s Tiguan R-line 2.0 TSI 4Motion DSG for example.

Indeed, it emerges as one of the best cars in its class if you really plan on using it to its full potential. If you want something tough that won’t make you feel like you’re roughing it, the Forester is about as good as it gets.

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