I have a deep affection for Subarus in general, the Forester in particular, although with each new version I try I’m increasingly sure that just under ‘heavy metals’ on the order forms that keep those factories in Ōta, Gunma Prefecture on the roll with raw material, there must be a line for ‘epic amounts of ganja’. How else to explain the bewildering bestiary of machinery that emerges from the place? Subaru is to cars as Australia is to animals: ‘Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, san: I have great idea! Let’s put duck’s face on beaver.’ ‘Okay. But after we make bear with massive rabbit’s legs. Anyone else feel hungry?’
If one engineering constant unites more or less everything Subaru makes – their fabulous boxer engine mated to permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) – it’s all Wacky Races meets Last of the Summer Wine after that. You could line up the Justy, the Brat, the Alcyone, the Sumo, the Tribeca, the Baja, the Impreza, the Outback and the BRZ – to name just a few of the often weird, always surprising and mostly wonderful machines Subaru has conceived over the years – and never guess they all came from the same stable, let alone what Subaru’s designers were on as they drew them. And did you know they’ve made movies too? Animated movies about a little girl dressed like a Parisian Can-Can dancer collecting fragments of stars. You know it makes sense.
So, it is with the Forester. I have owned two in my time. The first was a Turbo S, which was so bat crazy when I tried it I had to have one. It was like a shrunken SUV, with greenhouse glazing, Farmer-Palmer comes-to-town suspension and an engine out of a rally car. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, Subaru gave a 70 bhp boost to the next incarnation XT, and I had to have that one too. I tried and nearly bought the 350 bhp STi, but it really was a teeny, weeny bit too bonkers.
So, it was with some trepidation that I fired up the latest model delivered to my driveway: a diesel. The realities of not many miles to the gallon and higher CO2 emissions than a Boeing 747 have put paid to the rabid Foresters of yesteryear. You can still buy a mildly crazy 241 bhp petrol version (with a much reformed drink habit), but you won’t find too many on the road. In reality, it’s all about the diesel these days. Still Subaru. Still doing things their own way: it’s a flat-four diesel, mated to the same symmetrical AWD.
From the point-of-view vehicle dynamics the set up is hard to fault. The boxer engine has perfect balance, a high sump and a low centre of gravity. The symmetrical AWD, though it exerts a heavier toll on the drinks bill, is really the best and simplest way to achieve the traction, grip, and stability that you want in a 4X4 you intend to use as a 4×4. I doubt there are many places you can take a LandRover that you couldn’t take a Forester. For the purposes of getting the review vehicle muddy I did try a few very rutted and slippery tracks round Norfolk and it sailed up them all.
The suspension is as pliant as ever, nothing like the fashionable-firm of the European opposition. It feels weird at first, but magic carpet after a while. Then again everything about the Forester feels weird at first and rather fabulous after a few days. The sit up and beg driving position. The amazing all-round visibility: still like driving a greenhouse. The way you simply step in and step out of the car: so dignified! The SatNav looks like it’s ten years out of date, but works perfectly. The audio and phone interface blinks into life with amusement-arcade graphics, but is as good a system as I’ve used. The plastics are all a bit melted-down Athens taxi, but then again you can hose or sponge the mud and dog hair off them.
For someone prepared to buck the trend and drive a Scooby Forester instead of the more urbane alternatives, I doubt you could find a better real-life country vehicle for the money. In Australia and New Zealand where SUV consumption is dictated less by fashion than the need to not break down in the Outback, these things are everywhere. Nuff said.
Subaru Forester 2.0 D XC Premium
OTR from: £32,180
Annual road fund licence: £500 (for cars registered after 1st April 2017)
Combined fuel consumption: 46.3 mpg
Power: 147 bhp
0 – 60: 9.9 secs est.
Top speed: 116 mph