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Subaru Forester 2.0 X

Click to view picture galleryThe latest — and completely new
Forester, that first appeared on
  UK roads back in April, is Subaru’s
  third generation crossover SUV.
  And something of a fairytale

A TRANSFORMATION THAT'S NOT QUITE UGLY DUCKLING TO SLEEK SWAN, because the previous 'boxy' Forester wagon was never unattractive. But the new one is definitely a bit of a head-turner, especially finished in the gleaming white of our test car a 2.0 X with a five-speed manual gearbox.

Now much more conventional soft roader-like in appearance, it's also bigger — 110mm taller, 75mm longer and 45mm wider — and closer in size to the Nissan X-Trail, the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. The new look is clean and chiselled with standout visual clues that include multi-grooved wheel-arches, a wide slatted chrome grille flanked by shapely headlamps, a kicked-up third side window and bold tail lamp units that cut deeply into the rear wings. A nice touch: chunky exterior door handles with deep recesses that help winter glove-wearers get an easier grip!

Under the shapely new skin there have also been big changes — being based on the platform of the new Impreza, the Forester now has a new multi-link rear suspension and fuel-saving electric power steering. In addition, Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control, system and self-levelling rear suspension are both standard fit items. Furthermore, there's enhanced fuel economy and driveability courtesy of a new, improved 2.0-litre petrol 'boxer' engine which, together with the transmission, has been 'dropped' by 10mm for a lower centre of gravity.

On-the-road prices start at 18,495 for the 2.0 X and 22,495 for the 2.0 XS petrol models. Equipment levels, even for the entry-level 2.0 X, are pretty comprehensive and include: symmetrical all-wheel drive, Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control, self-levelling rear suspension, fuel-saving electric power-steering, front, side and curtain airbags (the passenger airbag is also dual-stage), anti-whiplash front head restraints, front and rear electric windows (one-shot auto down only on the driver's window), 60:40-split rear seats with reclining backrests, climate-control air-conditioning, radio/CD player, front fog lamps, vehicle information display, height-and-reach adjustable steering wheel, heated front seats, heated door mirrors and cruise control.

There are even heated elements in the base of the windscreen to prevent the wiper blades freezing to the glass. And while you are unlikely to spot it from a casual glance, the 'X' model Forester rides on 16-inch steel wheels covered with neat trims — good news if you're venturing off road.

For the record, the higher-spec Forester 2.0 XS adds 16-inch alloys, leather upholstery, a premium audio system featuring a six-stacker CD-player and seven speakers, HID headlamps, sun-roof, electrically-powered driver's seat, engine starter button and 'smart' entry.

The cabin itself is a much more pleasant place to be — there's masses of space in all directions, including loads of headroom. The uncluttered, 'swoopy' fascia design adds to the feeling of space; the heated front seats — upholstered in two-tone fabric with an attractive slight 'metallic' sheen — are big and comfortable with non-intrusive side bolstering and there is lots (and we really do mean lots) of room in the back as well — a near six-footer can stretch right out even with a similarly sized driver or front passenger ahead of them. Wide opening doors make entry and exit from any seat particularly easy.

The Forester's deep glasshouse and large third rear side windows make for an airy and pleasant rear cabin. There is a comfy centre rear armrest and well-placed outer armrests on the rear doors. While three will fit, two adults travel in genuine comfort. Also present are two Isofix-compatible child seat mountings and there are also lots of useful, well-placed storage cubbies.

The chrome-ringed instruments under a single cowl are clear and easy to read and the 'vehicle information display' provides essential information at a glance. A thoughtful touch worth a mention is the illuminated ring around the ignition: a simple feature, yes, but it does makes fitting the key in at night so much easier. In the rear, legroom has grown by 95mm while the boxy boot is now 63 litres larger than before — a commendable 450 litres with the rear seats in use.

Fold them down (when released, they spring forwards and drop virtually flat on their own; and no need to remove the headrests, either) and you'll have a genuine workhorse with 1,660 litres of space at your disposal. You also get four pop-out bag hooks and sturdy tie-down points. The full size (hooray!) spare and toolkit is stored under the boot floor — and where you'll find some more stowage room for oddments.

As already mentioned, the rear suspension features self-levelling which means you can transport heavy items of cargo while maintaining a constant ground clearance — now a substantial 215mm — and without degrading the Forester's civilised road manners.

Under the bonnet, the new 148bhp 2.0-litre normally aspirated four-cam 'boxer' engine sounds good; and it's smooth and refined in use. It has a lower CO2 rating — 198g/km — and delivers improved fuel economy: officially 25.9, 40.4 and 33.6mpg respectively for the urban, extra-urban and combined cycles. Our test average during a full week's driving on all sorts of roads, including quite a lot of town work, came out at a respectable 31.4mpg. Top speed is 114mph and the 0-60mph 'sprint' takes 10.6 seconds although on the road it actually feels somewhat keener than the paper figures.

Driving the new Forester is absolutely no hardship. For a start you're sitting comfortable and higher up than most other road users holding a three-spoke wheel with a thick-ish rim that is pleasant to grip. And it also offers a good range of both height and reach adjustment. Cruise control buttons are sited conveniently close to hand on the right spoke. The good view out is made even better by the driver's eye-line now being 30mm higher than in the superseded model. The driving position is bang to rights — making the Forester easy to place on the road — and the controls are smooth to operate. A clean gear-change action makes being in the right gear at the right time an easy task.

And while there's now greater ground clearance, the all-wheel drive system which has made the Subaru brand famous sees to it that the handling is not compromised. The Forester's full-time AWD system splits power 50:50 front-to-rear. However, the moment slip is detected the centre differential instantly distributes torque to the axle with the most grip.

Also ensuring consistent stability is Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control system. This uses sophisticated sensors to detect side-to-side and front-to-rear slip plus sudden steering movements. It controls understeer/oversteer and potential loss of control by braking individual wheels and cutting engine revs.

As with previous Forester models, a proper dual-range (low and high) transfer 'box is standard on manual cars. Effectively providing ten forward ratios, dual range is easily selected by depressing the clutch and raising the small lever next to the gear-shift — an operation that can also be effected on the move. Low-ratio advantages include extra control through enhanced engine braking in slippery conditions. Apart from off-road, this comes into its own, for example, while driving down a snow-covered urban street, hauling a boat out of the water up a slipway or drivng on sand. And, of course, the full-time four-wheel drive ensures plenty of grip on wet tarmac, too.

The Forester's road manners are acceptably good. While it's no Cooper S, it is surprisingly wieldy: the inherent balance of its Impreza-sourced chassis is backed up with well-damped body control and a smooth ride that copes easily with urban bumps (and cruises motorways brilliantly) and provides reassuring traction. Braking is progressive and the brakes reassuringly powerful (backed up with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and ABS), and while the new fuel-saving, electrically-assisted power steering could do with a bit more 'feel', it doesn't hamper a tidy press-on driving style.

A safe 4x4 family car/workhorse that's 'fit for purpose' and won't break the bank, the latest Forester is a competent all-rounder that handles well, rides even better and will provide driving enjoyment for the keen driver with 'responsibilities'. Not surprisingly, we were genuinely reluctant to hand it back after a week behind the wheel. — MotorBar

Subaru Forester 2.0 X
| 18,495
Maximum speed: 114mph | 0-60mph: 10.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 31.4mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 145lb ft
CO2 198g/km | VED Band F 210 | Insurance group 9