If, like me, you spent the time you were actually meant to be studying for something important reading The Motoring News and watching the World Rally Championship instead, then the name Subaru will evoke images of metallic blue, mud-splattered Imprezas, covered with yellow 555 logos, blasting through Welsh forests whilst an ever-so-slightly-grumpy Scotsman by the name of Colin sawed at the wheel. And if it wasn’t Colin you were watching it was probably Petter, Richard or Juha. Subarus to some define rallying and their Impreza was the must-have car.
Now, however, due to less than favourable Yen-to-Sterling exchange rates, high ownership costs, and rather surprisingly, a lack of demand, Subaru simply don’t sell Imprezas – rally spec or otherwise – in the UK anymore. In fact Subaru sales for 2012 were down 23%, perhaps in part due to the Japanese manufacturer’s steadfast dedication to both four-wheel drive and high capacity flat four (boxer) engines that produce more CO2 than more conventionally-laid-out cylinders do. What that means is that from now on in the UK, Subaru will operate with both a smaller range and a down-scaled dealer network.
But then you could argue that Subaru have always been a bit of niche brand, and you could also argue that their latest Forester (the car with which they plan to focus on the ever-growing SUV market and a car that unashamedly sticks with the engineering principles that have so defined Subaru) probably means they’ll remain so.
You see the Forester is an SUV that will appeal to the sorts of people who have lives rather than mere lifestyles. It lacks the edgier styling of the likes of Kia’s Sportage, Ford’s Kuga and Mazda’s CX5, and instead goes for altogether more boxier and practical styling. Now in its fourth generation, the new Forester may look similar to the car it replaces but park it next to its predecessor and the differences soon become apparent. The new Forester is wider, taller, and longer, and even the wheelbase has been stretched by 25mm.
That in turn translates to a cabin that is both incredibly roomy and, if you happen to tick the box marked ‘panoramic roof’, incredibly airy too. When coupled with the Forester’s elevated driving position it reminds you of 4x4s of yore, rather than the soft and trendy ones you usually see on the school run.
Sadly some of the materials used inside may remind you of yesteryear, too. Whilst it’s hard to fault the way in which the Forester’s interior has been screwed together, the mixture of plain-looking black plastics and their varying degrees of hardness, plus the over-complicated and somewhat dated looking entertainment system, mean that buyers looking for a sumptuous interior will inevitably look elsewhere. And why Subaru do you offer the option of an electrically operated and height adjustable seat only on the driver’s side?
But perhaps that’s missing the point a little. The six-speed, 145bhp turbo-diesel Forester I spent time with felt surprisingly good to drive and also returned mpg figures, despite my leaden foot and its permanent four-wheel drive, that were pretty close to Subaru’s claims of 49.6. There’s not too much body roll, the overall refinement is good and wind noise is not an issue, regardless of what that chunky styling may make you think. A little more feel through the electronic steering system would be welcome, as would a little less float in the ride – but overall the Forester copes well with the lunar landscape surfaces we British call roads. It’ll even tow two tonnes, and trailer stability control is standard too.
All in all there’s a pleasing honesty to the new Forester, a kind that’s lacking in so much of its competition. It feels traditional and dependable. It may lack a little style and sophistication, but it makes up for it in practicality, and you can bet your last penny that it will probably go anywhere you want it to too. Ultimately it’s not for everyone, but you don’t need a degree in rocket science, or anything else for that matter, to know that the new Forester will appeal to the Subaru faithful in the same way it always has.
© Author: Liam Bird
Subaru Forester D XC
Engine: 1998cc 16V flat-four turbo-diesel
Transmission: 6 speed Manual, Four-Wheel Drive.
Power: 145bhp @ 3600pm
Torque: 258 lbft @ 1600- 2400rpm
0-62MPH: 10.2 Sec
Max Speed: 118mph
MPG: 49.6 combined
Many thanks to Subaru’s UK press office for the loan of their Forester