Car review: Subaru Forester

Carlton Boyce / 12 December 2016

Hugely reliable, pleasant to drive, spacious, comfortable and unpretentious.



Score 8/10

It could be argued that some Subarus lack showroom appeal, leading potential buyers to baulk at buying a car with such a poor quality and unattractive interior, no matter how good the rest of the vehicle might be.

Explaining the inferior interior

You might think this would be a simple problem to solve. Yet the root of the issue is Subaru’s insistence on engineering its cars uncommonly well; if it were to then splurge the necessary cash on a decent interior too, its cars would cost far more than the market would stand.

So it takes the admirable - but possibly misguided - stance to sell high-quality cars to discerning buyers and to hell with the ignorant masses that can’t see past Airfix-quality plastics. At least I assume that’s what it does, because no other explanation makes any kind of sense.

A fan of the Forester

Shall we also get the self-interest statement out of the way first? I’m a huge fan of the Subaru Forester, and if I were in the market to replace my old petrol Forester with a nearly new four-wheel-drive estate for around £20,000 then I’d pick a turbo-diesel Forester with a manual gearbox in a heartbeat.

But I’m no uncritical Subaru fan-boy. I hate the automatic CVT gearbox it fits, seeing it as a mechanical embarrassment that has no place in a company with more than its fair share of diligent engineers. Nor am I a fan of the new Impreza turbo, a car that left every member of my family – driver included – feeling car-sick within ten minutes. 

But show me a Forester, and I go a little bit gooey.

Overlooked and underrated

With good cause, it has to be said. They’re indefatigable, owning far more off-road ability than is right and proper for what is a relatively low estate car rather than a fully-fledged, jacked-up 4x4. 

They’re also hugely reliable, pleasant to drive, spacious, comfortable and unpretentious. They’re middle England in a subtle metallic hue and I can’t for the life of me understand why more people can’t see their charms.

Takes time to appreciate

The thing is, the features that demonstrate this is a car designed by people with real lives and real children cannot be assessed in a few moments. 

They take time to reveal themselves, to make themselves known, but when they do they convert sceptics into life-long believers: the bottom of each door, for example, is protected by a thick wedge of plastic that will act as a sacrificial element when you misjudge an off-road foray and bang a sill on a rock.

The seats might be unimpressively flat in profile but they are reassuringly supportive and the rear-seat legroom is positively cavernous; my twelve-year-old son fitted in there with space to spare even with his lower leg in a rigid plaster cast.

Function over fashion

The boot might be smaller than that of many of its rivals but it is neatly organised with hidden compartments galore, which helps you keep your in-car detritus neatly ordered, even if you do sometimes forget where you’ve put the bloomin’ torch as a result…

Its road manners take time to appreciate too. The Forester doesn’t handle with the precision of some of its German and British rivals, but then it doesn’t rattle your teeth like some of them do either; unfashionably tall tyre sidewalls and pliant, perfectly damped suspension make for a car that is as supple as Darcey Bussell in a bath of barely set raspberry jelly. For some of us, the loss of a little steering feel is more than compensated for by the ability to ride a pothole or a sleeping policeman without wincing. Call it maturity, if you must.

The instrument panel is almost devoid of the sort of stylistic flourishes to which almost everyone else resorts, but you soon realise that it all works, and it works well. And it will continue to do so for the next couple of decades, aided by shiny, cheap plastic with a non-premium surface that’s very easy to clean.

A few little niggles

Genuine faults are few and far between. I noticed that the key is unpardonably cheap and horrible to hold, and there is no space for a size twelve foot to rest beside the clutch pedal.

If you can look past the dowdy interior and less-than-Germanic handling, you’ll find that the Forester has an awful lot to offer. It’s beautifully simple, massively functional, and as reliable as a wood-fired Aga, something that Subaru underscores with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

If your car says more about you than anything bar your clothes, the Forester whispers reassuringly that you are our sort of people and that your handshake is your bond. It exudes the sort of quiet confidence that is more normally the preserve of Arctic explorers. In fact, now I come to think about it, I’m pretty sure Ernest Shackleton would have driven one.

Stats

Power – 145bhp

Torque – 258 lb ft

0-62mph – 9.9 seconds

Top speed – 118mph

Kerb weight – 1,552kgs

Official average fuel consumption – 49.6mpg

Honest John real world fuel consumption – 48.8mpg

CO2 emissions – 150g/km

VED class – Band F

Towing capacity (braked) – 2,000kgs

Towing capacity (unbraked) – 750kgs

Warranty – 5 yrs/100,000 miles

Price – £26,995

Price as tested - £26,995

Best-in-class

The Subaru Forester is incomparable. It’s not perfect, but it does engender the sort of loyalty that many car companies would kill for.

The best of the rest

The Volvo XC60 has a nicer interior and drives better too, even if it lacks the Subaru’s off-road chutzpah.

Left-field alternative

The Hyundai Tucson comes with a Subaru-like five-year warranty and would be perfect if you don’t venture off the tarmac.


Carlton Boyce If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his motoring column - to have each one delivered straight to your door every month, subscribe to Saga Magazine today!

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