Subaru is a hidden gem of the UK automotive market. Elsewhere, in countries such as the US and Australia, the Japanese company’s cars are more appreciated and sell in much bigger numbers.
The brand’s capable 4x4s are renowned for their durability and owners are intensively loyal, holding onto their cars for longer than any rivals.
Nevertheless, here in Britain, buying a Subaru is seen as a left-field choice – and the range-topping Forester is a prime example.
Don’t get me wrong, the all-new fifth generation model is an improvement in virtually every area compared to its predecessor, but it’s still not an option that springs to mind when buyers are looking for a SUV.
The new Forester now has green credentials to go with its formidable reputation with the green welly brigade.
Badged as an ‘e‐BOXER’, hybrid technology sees Subaru’s unique four-cylinder 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ petrol engine working in tandem with a small (13.5kWh) lithium ion battery pack and electric motor.
The 164bhp of power and 193lb ft of torque is delivered to all four wheels via a CVT automatic gearbox.
Maximum speed is 117mph, the 0-62mph dash takes a leisurely 11.8 seconds, while fuel consumption is 34.7mpg and CO2 emissions are 185g/km.
With a starting price of £36,335, there’s no doubt that you get big bang for your buck with the Forester.
About the same size as a Land Rover Discovery Sport, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander, it’s packed with goodies as standard, including automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, keyless entry, a push-button start system and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen.
It’s also one of the safest cars on the road. Equipped with Subaru’s acclaimed ‘EyeSight’ technology, it was awarded a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing, scoring 97% for adult occupant protection as well as 91% for the child occupant category and 80% for pedestrians.
Externally, the new Forester looks much the same. In other words, it’s distinctive and conservative.
Inside there’s been a step-up in terms of quality, but the dashboard look is far from the current minimalist trend with no end of button and dials. The central touchscreen is modestly sized and the graphics are hardly state-of-the-art, while the small top display seems superfluous.
That said, there’s a feeling of enormous space and light in the cabin, with plenty of room for three full-sized passengers to relax in comfort at the rear.
Luggage capacity is a healthy 520 litres, rising to 1,779 litres with the back sets folded.
On the road the Forester feels big and sure-footed. It can shift, but it does feel a handful in faster corners, but that’s not where it excels. With its supple ride that soaks up bumps with ease, it’s a joy just cruising along.
However, there is no getting away from the CVT gearbox which means that the revs climb a little too high and things get a tad noisy under hard acceleration. Using the steering wheel-mounted gear paddles helps, but you’re more likely to moderate your driving style to accommodate this quirk.
On the plus side, the hybrid tech allows seamless switching between EV and engine mode and it’s a refined experience if you keep it steady.
But now we come to the Forester’s piece de resistance. Take it off-road and its permanent symmetrical all-wheel drive comes into its own.
The X-Mode dial down near the gear selector allows you to switch between normal, snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes.
To say that it’s effortless on the rough stuff would be an understatement. Like its smaller stablemate, the XV, its agility and the degree of traction available is nothing short of remarkable.
Frankly, it’s no wonder why this car is held in such high regard – especially with owners in rural areas where weather extremes are not unusual.
But here’s the thing. There’s no doubt that the Forester is great value for money, but real-world MPG in the late 20s/early 30s is disappointing given the hybrid technology on tap.
Verdict: The all-new Subaru Forester is a solid SUV choice. Competitively priced, safe, spacious, generously equipped and hugely impressive off-road, it’s backed up with Subaru’s enviable reputation for durability.