First drive: The Subaru Forester remains a rugged and dependable family SUV

What is it?

As Subaru’s top-selling model worldwide, the Forester is a vitally important car for this brand, with more than 3.9 million examples being produced, though only 10 per cent of those have landed in the hands of European customers.

While the smaller Subaru XV has overtaken the Forester in the UK sales charts, the Japanese firm expects that to change with this all-new version – thanks to a host of new technology and electrification. But Subaru is still ensuring that the Forester remains as capable off-road as ever, but can the two diverse factors align?

(Subaru)

What’s new?

Despite looking remarkably similar to the previous Forester, the car here is an all-new model that represents the fifth generation of this SUV.

So while the looks may not be new, there are many differences going on underneath. First up is the fact it sits on a new platform – known as Subaru Global Platform (or SGP). These new underpinnings allow for the Forester to be electrified with a new e-Boxer mild-hybrid setup, but more on that later.

Elsewhere, this model has grown in size to allow for more passenger space, while nifty features such as a reversing camera washer – if you’ve ever been in a car with a muddy camera, you’ll know how irritating this is – show Subaru’s commitment to making exceptionally useful cars.

What’s under the bonnet?

Subaru will no longer offer the Forester with a diesel engine, meaning the sole option is this new e-Boxer powertrain.

While not jumping fully into the world of plug-in hybrids or EVs, this is Subaru’s first venture into electrification with this mild-hybrid setup, which generates energy while the car is decelerating and allows for the car to run solely on electric power up to around 25mph.

It pairs a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine with an electric motor to produce a combined 148bhp and 196Nm of torque, and despite the model offering more torque than before, it remains slow – 0-60mph taking 11.6 seconds to reach.

And while the mild-hybrid setup is up to 10 per cent more efficient compared to the outgoing 2.0-litre petrol engine, the unit itself remains thirsty, with Subaru claiming fuel economy figures of 34.7mpg, along with CO2 emissions of 154g/km.

The engine comes paired with a CVT automatic transmission, which – as with nearly all Subarus – delivers its power to all four wheels.

(Subaru)

What’s it like to drive?

The Forester has long been a model that has been known for its ability off the beaten track, and that firmly remains with the e-Boxer. Across a variety of terrains, the Forester never even struggles, with it also coming as standard with an ‘X-Mode’ that enables this rugged ability.

On tarmac the Forester is far from being class-leading, though driving the previous version and this new car back-to-back, it’s clear to see the difference – the throttle response is better, the steering has more feel and there’s far less lean through the corners. The ride in the Forester is also fantastic – dealing with potholes with little fuss and it generally being remarkably comfortable across all terrains.

Sadly the package is let down by the CVT automatic transmission, which numbs performance, and sounds gruff under heavy acceleration.

(Subaru)

How does it look?

Subaru designers haven’t made a great deal of change to the Forester in terms of design, with bosses admitting it wasn’t “styled to win beauty contests”.

Instead, this is an evolution of the previous car – incorporating LED headlights, new gloss black styling details and a two-tone panel above the rear lights.

A range of new all alloy wheels are introduced, along with a Jasper Green paint colour, and generally, it’s a relatively conservative and inoffensive-looking car. The only thing we’re not so keen on is the textured plastic cladding, which looks and feels cheap on closer inspection.

(Subaru)

What’s it like inside?

Jump inside the Forester and it’s immediately clear that this is a model favouring durability over luxury, though the quality has improved with plenty of soft-touch plastics, with selected versions getting vibrant textured plastics.

The seven-inch touchscreen (fitted as standard) is also simple and intuitive to use, and the layout is largely very good, though there are far too many buttons on the steering wheel, which can cause distraction while on the move.

But where the Forester comes into its own is practicality, with the brand making improvements that will be felt by families – wider-opening rear doors make accessing the rear seats simpler, as well as wider side steps to make fixing things to the roof hassle-free. The wheelbase has also been stretched by 30mm, improving passenger room further with generous rear space and a large, flat boot. As with all Subarus, you also get the feeling it was built to last.

(Subaru)

What’s the spec like?

The price of the latest Forester has risen by over £3,000 – now starting from £33,995 – which makes it more expensive than some of its rivals. That said, you get plenty for your money with either trim level – XE or XE Premium.

Standard equipment on the XE is generous, and includes automatic LED headlights, heated and electrically-operated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels, to name but a few features. The range-topping Premium models add satellite navigation, heated rear seats, a sunroof, leather upholstery and an electric tailgate — so you’re left wanting for very little.

With safety now being one of Subaru’s key priorities, the Forester comes with class-leading equipment. Alongside more common features such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking, it offers two innovative new features. These include a driver attention monitor that uses cameras to check if you’re looking at the road, and bongs if you’re looking at it for more than three seconds. It also features reverse automatic emergency braking to avoid parking bumps.

(Subaru)

Verdict

The new Forester is a refreshing change in the SUV world – favouring durability, exceptional practicality and off-road ability over a premium interior. Improvements to the cabin and spaciousness have only enhanced this model further to those core buyers, while the levels of standard safety kit are outstanding.

The CVT automatic gearbox might numb performance and take an edge off the car’s refinement, and the hybrid setup still isn’t particularly efficient, but the Forester still makes for an excellent family SUV with go-anywhere ability.

  • Model: Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium
  • Price: £36,995
  • Engine: 2.0-litre petrol engine
  • Power (bhp): 148
  • Torque (Nm): 196
  • Max speed (mph): 117
  • 0-60mph: 11.6 seconds
  • MPG: 34.7mpg
  • Emissions (g/km): 154
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