The mostly all-new Subaru is longer, wider, lower and roomier. Frederic Manby puts it through its paces and likes what he finds
SUBARU has had a tough time in Britain. Sales have been plummeting after a combination of poor exchange rates for its Japanese products, reduced dealer margins and marketing spend, losing some dealers, increased competition from rivals, dropping its Impreza range and having a general low-profile anyway since it dropped out of world rallying.
Its iconic Impreza STI is no longer being imported – a victim of changing times. The big name remains the Forester, a capable 4x4 estate but since its launch in 1997 UK sales have yet to reach 26,000 in three generations. Last year in the UK, total Subaru sales were down 23 per cent at 2,023. This year they were down 27 per cent in the first quarter but maybe buyers were waiting for the new Forester.
“It has been a challenging three or four years,” agrees its affable MD, Paul Tunnicliffe, who has nonetheless given the latest Forester a decent media start, with a cross country drive from Darlington to a field and track challenge on the Cumbrian estate of Lord Lonsdale, and an overnight halt at de luxe Linthwaite House on Windermere.
The strength of the yen has softened, which means ex-factory prices for the Mk 4 Forester are kinder. The range of flat-four 2-litre engines opens at £24,995 for the diesel, includes petrol from £25,495 (£26,995 with CVT automatic gears) and closes on £30,995 for the petrol turbo automatic. This fuel-gulping 237 bhp model should be dead in the water at launch – given the current climate of the hunt for low carbon emissions rather than its quoted 197g/km, and an official average of 33 mpg.
Subaru owners have been baying for the return of a hot Forester Turbo – and this one claims a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds. Don’t get the idea these are boy racer turbo types. They are more likely to be part of the country and county set who have been buying Subarus for decades. They can afford extra power at the expense of a higher fuel bill.
The mostly all-new Forester is longer, wider, lower, roomier. It seats five in comfort, thanks to a lowered transmission tunnel which does not leave the piggy in the middle in the back seat too splay-footed.
Externally, it looks lots bigger, with a sadly generic SUV body replacing the leaner outline of the last model. The turbo no longer has a funky bonnet scoop. In the interests of better aerodynamics it has the same flat aluminium bonnet as the others. The turbo is, anyway, now mounted under the engine, protected by an aluminium scuff pan and, apparently, at no risk if you get into flooded track.
Visually, the turbo is distinguished (or should that be embarrassed) by some fake air intakes in the corners of the front apron. All they can do is disrupt airflow and gather muck and insects. The turbo has 18 inch wheels, too, with slightly lower profile all-terrain, easy rolling tyre. A space-saver is standard.
All models have the company’s peerless symmetrical all-wheel-drive system which gives admirable traction on that toughest of tests, slippery grass – where it maintained its course across a sloping bank. The CVT transmission allows Subaru to fit a more advanced 4x4 system which optimises grip and has hill descent control – with the speed governable by a tap on the throttle. Inside there is the familiar Subaru layout – rather old fashioned but there’s no harm in that. You may get used to seeing the rear centre seat belt permanently stretched between chair and roof. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat, leaving a ridge in the floor which is covered by thick carpet to assist when sliding in longer loads. The seats can be dropped using switches inside the tailgate on the XE grades.
A power-opening tailgate (standard on the turbo) can be programmed to rise to a desired height – avoiding damage on, say, a garage roof.
On the main road the Forester throws up no surprises except one – that it is much quieter at the rear over bumps than the last couple of Subarus I tried. Fuel consumption, vis a vis real life and manufacturer’s brochures is getting increased scrutiny. Audi has even been sued by one disgruntled owner. The loophole is that carmakers do not achieve their headline figures on the road but in the lab. It also means that the CO2 figures are skewed. For the record, Subaru quotes 41mpg and 160g/km for the manual petrol; 43.5mpg and 150g for the petrol automatic; 33mpg and 197g for the turbo and 49.6mpg and 156g/km for the diesel. While I found the petrol turbo much thirstier than its figures, with the diesel showed the high 40s on a similar single journey. «
Verdict: Forester estate evolves into an SUV. Prices held fast. Good bet for long ownership.