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Subaru Forester 2.0D XSn

Click to view picture gallery“Despite the name — Forester
re unlikely to spot many if you
  go down to the woods today.
  Why? Because they
re all on the
  tarmac playing with the other smart
  crossovers. And with a new diesel
  engine under the bonnet, who
s to
  blame them

IT'S NOT JUST WHEN THE WEATHER TURNS ICY that thoughts turn to 4x4s and a vehicle that will keep you safe and keep on going whatever the British climate throws at it. In the UK, bad weather lurks around every corner, which helps explain the enduring popularity of 4x4s and soft-roaders.

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', goes the old saying. The previous generation Forester was never broken but Subaru nevertheless 'fixed it'. And what a good job they've done!

Highlight of the latest third generation Forester is, for many, what beats under the bonnet — a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 'Boxer' diesel engine that's already earned its stripes in Subaru's Legacy and Outback models. Partnered with a six-speed manual 'box, the 145bhp 2.0D officially returns 44.1mpg in the combined cycle (urban and extra-urban are, respectively, 38.2 and 47.9mpg). CO2 emissions are 170g/km — so you'll pay 170 for a year's road tax. Maximum speed is 115mph with 0-60mph taking a brisk 10 seconds.

Our week-long test saw a gratifying average of 41.5mpg — fuel consumption is now a key factor for new car buyers, with at least a third putting 'better fuel consumption' in first place on their list when choosing their new vehicle. For the record, the Forester's 2.0-litre diesel also offers drivers the longest range of any SUV — more than 625 miles before refuelling!

The horizontally-opposed 'Boxer' diesel unit is expected to account for the majority of Forester sales; to do so it needs to be good. And it is. Smooth, powerful and torquey (and perfect for towing), it's also relatively quiet, willing and responsive. It may be turbocharged but there's minimal lag and a quick response to your right foot. And, unlike a lot of diesels, this one is more than content to rev.

Previous Foresters were, as they used to say about Volvos, 'boxy but strong'. The Forester's new SUV clothes are much more upmarket — it now sports a clean, chiselled appearance with bold, multi-grooved wheel arches and 'hawk-eye' headlamps.

For those not that excited by what goes under a bonnet, the new-look Forester's body will be of principal interest — along with its cabin. Externally it's larger than its predecessors: 75mm longer (4,560mm), 45mm wider (1,780mm) and 110mm taller (1,700mm). Wrapped around those dimensions is a functional, SUV-styled bodyshell. Inside you'll find a more 'premium' cabin than ever before. It's also spacious (rear legroom is improved by 95mm), comfortable and, particularly in the case of the range-topping 25,965 XSn model we tested, generously equipped.

There’s a hands-
breadth of headroom
for an average sized
adult and room to really
stretch out your legs
The tally of standard kit includes Smart-entry with push-button start, leather upholstery, climate control air conditioning, large powered sunroof, SatNav with single disc CD/radio plus premium audio system featuring a six-stacker CD-player and seven speakers, electrically-powered (8-way) driver's seat, four electric windows (one-shot down on driver's door), 60:40-split rear seats with reclining backrests, vehicle information display, height- and reach-adjustable multi-function leather-covered steering wheel, heated front seats, mirrors and windscreen wipers, cruise-control, front, side and curtain airbags, anti-whiplash headrests in the front, roof-rails, 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/55 Yokohama rubber, front fog lamps and roof spoiler. You also get Subaru's trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive system, electronic stability control, self-levelling rear suspension and fuel-saving electric power steering.

The first thing you notice about the well-organised cabin, apart from that there is masses of room in every direction both front and rear — is the build quality. It's stylishly executed and smart without straying into trendy; and looks like it will wear well. There are silver-grey metallic highlights to the centre stack, door trims and the curvaceous passenger fascia that sweeps down to merge neatly with the centre tunnel. Leather seats, with perforated centre panels, are shapely and a nice fit — the bolstering holds but doesn't pinch — and there's good under-thigh and knee support.

The fascia and dash are refreshingly free of switchgear clutter and the simple-to-use SatNav is well-sited above the central pair of air vents beneath which are three rotary knobs for the climate control.

A commanding driving position is made better by the nice to hold three-spoke, leather-wrapped, multi-function (audio and cruise control) steering wheel that adjusts for reach and height. The dials sport chrome bezels and the white graphics on dark blue outer scale bands are easy to see and read. A neat detail is the fuel pump icon in the fuel gauge: labelled 'diesel', there's also an arrow to indicate on which side of the car you'll find the filler flap. Visibility, including rearwards, is A1 and the large square-ish door mirrors are particularly helpful.

The 'convenience' kit all works exceedingly well: the A/C does very cold and it does it quickly; alternatively, the heated front seats offer four stages of warmth exactly where it does the most good — around your lower back. Even the SatNav touch-screen can be adjusted through four angles of tilt to minimise reflections, and swings up under its own power to permit the loading of CDs and DVDs. And there are even heated elements at the base of the windscreen to prevent the wipers freezing to the screen.

You can easily believe
you’re travelling at a
serene and legal 70mph
when in fact you
racing along at 90mph
Passengers travelling in the back of the Forester get shapely seats and very generous amounts of space — there's a hand's-breadth of headroom for an average sized adult and room to really stretch out your legs. There's also a soft, padded centre armrest and built-in outer armrests and occupants can adjust the angle of their rear backrest. Even the 'fifth' centre spot is easily bearable and the large glazed areas ensure the cabin still feels airy even with five on board. The extra-large sunroof — it extends well past the front seats and into the rear compartment's roof area — adds to the ambience and there's a large sun blind for those hot summer days that the Met Office is so fond of predicting.

The Forester's boot is large (450 litres), deep and has upright sides for maximum stowability. Below the boot floor you'll find a handy storage tray and a full-size spare — Yippee! (You'll fully understand this reaction if you've ever had to drive anywhere on a space-saver). Folding the 60:40 split rear seats is easy: just pull the two release knobs and you have an almost flat load bay of 1,610 litres capacity. Some cars give you just one bag hook — the Forester has four! Back in the cabin there's more than enough stowage space for all the numerous odds and ends of family life.

Talking of the 'diesel' prompt on the fuel gauge we mentioned earlier, you might think you wouldn't need to be reminded as to what fuel is required but the turbodiesel's character is very much like a petrol engine. So much so that most buyers will opt for the diesel over the petrol. In use it's smooth and flexible and thanks to the big-hearted 258lb ft of torque — on tap from 1,800rpm — it serves up a broad spread of power that makes it feel quicker to 60mph than its paper figure of 10 seconds would suggest.

Clearly Subaru's engineers had driver enjoyment and on-road refinement high on their 'to do' lists: even running on 17-inch wheels, the ride quality is particularly good — even over quite poor back lanes. For most of the time the ride is supple and composed, although being softly sprung it can feel a tad 'bouncy' on really uneven surfaces. That noted, the handling is, and in spite of some acceptable body lean, always predictable. And as you would expect with full-time all-wheel drive, grip is consistently strong and the Forester is undeniably a game performer on country roads.

On B-roads you rarely need to get out of fourth gear; use full revs through the gears and it really shifts although you need to be precise as the shift action can be notchy — although this may well loosen up as the miles go on. Give the diesel Forester some wellie and it will rush you up steep hills as effortlessly as a far bigger petrol engine. The brakes, discs at the rear and ventilated discs at the front, deserve a special mention: they're superb.

We should point out that driving on motorways can be tricky — but only because the Forester delivers such a quiet and refined ride that you can easily believe you're travelling at a serene and legal 70mph when in fact you're racing along at 90mph. You have been warned!

While many owners undoubtedly bought the previous generation Forester for its all-wheel drive and towing abilities, this new Forester is still up for some mud-plugging. The full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive is still there under the new bodywork and there's an extra 10mm of ground clearance — now a useful 215mm. Underpinning the new Forester is a platform derived from the latest Subaru Impreza but employing a new rear multi-link/double wishbone suspension set-up along with self-levelling suspension to ensure a constant ground clearance and an electronic stability control system.

So, is the new Forester for you? If you're after a capable, perfectly functional lifestyle SUV that's good fun to drive and doesn't shout out loud that it is a lifestyle SUV, then Yes, the unpretentious and well-priced Forester should be at the top of your list. — MotorBar

Subaru Forester 2.0D XSn
| 25,965
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-60mph: 10 seconds | Overall test MPG: 41.5mpg
Power: 145bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 170g/km | Insurance group 10