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Subaru Forester 2.0i XT CVT

Click to view picture gallery“Underneath its smarter all-new
  skin, the
fourth-generation Forester
  SUV still sports its
all seasons
  symmetrical all-wheel drive and the
  easy-to-live-with practicality that
  made it one of Subaru
s best-sellers.
  The biggest difference is that this
  latest Forester comes with an all-new
  237bhp turboed engine...”

FIRST, THAT NEW 237bhp powerplant. Naturally it's a flat-four 'boxer' the horizontally-opposed format that is part and parcel of Subaru's engineering DNA.

And this particular all-aluminium, petrol-drinking, 2.0-litre flat-four serves up a 237bhp and 258lb ft main course that will satisfy most appetites. In use, you'd never know the engine is a horizontally-opposed four-pot as its aural signature is well masked by a strong garnish of refinement. Revenge may well be a dish best served cold, but the Forester's tasty 237bhp is a dish best served hot good then, because this engine likes, and responds to, being worked hard.

“Revenge may well be
a dish best served cold,
but the Forester’s
tasty 237bhp is a dish
best served hot —
good then,
because this engine
likes, and responds to,
being worked hard...
Max torque is on hand between 2,400 and 3,600rpm and the Lineartronic CVT ensures 'quick off the line' acceleration and easy pick-up whatever your road speed, and makes town driving a totally stress-free experience. Paddle-shifters on the multifunction leather-rimmed wheel allow you to flick manually between six pre-set ratios to instantly call up extra urge or engine braking whenever it's needed.

Not many cars manage to meet, let alone get anywhere near to, their EU mpg figures. But this new Forester does: a week's fairly hard driving on a real-life mix of roads and in wet and dry conditions saw an average of 32.4mpg impressively close to the official 33.2mpg combined cycle figure. Factor in the very respectable performance and full-time four-wheel drive, and you really can't complain.

If fuel economy is a big issue, then you can choose from two other boxer engines: a less powerful naturally-aspirated 2.0i petrol unit outputting 147bhp with 40.9mpg and which costs from 25,496; or a 144bhp 2.0D turbodiesel that should deliver 49.6mpg, priced from 24,995.

The top-of-the-range 137mph XT only comes with Subaru's Lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox with paddle-shifters. No manual transmission is offered but you do get SI-Drive short for Subaru Intelligent Drive, it lets you select different driving modes to match the road conditions. Its three settings are Intelligent, for normal throttle and transmission responses best suited for everyday traffic (the school run, the daily office commute, etc). Sport mode enlivens throttle response and offers six driver-selectable pre-set ratios selected via the selector lever or the paddle-shifters.

Sport Sharp goes one better by 'sportifying' engine response and making the CVT act as though it really is a sharp-shifting eight-speed auto. Downshifts made in Sport Sharp are immediate slam the pedal to the metal and the 'box drops as many gears as necessary to fire you forward as fast as possible.

Carrying on the Forester's long-established all-weather appeal is Subaru's quick-thinking full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive system.

“The new Forester has
traded-in its
previous-gen angular
lines for some
softer curves —
those without the
emotional need to drive a
status-badged SUV or
crossover will appreciate
the subtle yet
characterful styling...
For normal road conditions it apportions drive in a default 60:40, with the rear pair of wheels taking the 60 percent. The torque-split, of course, varies according to changing road conditions the moment any slip is detected the centre differential's viscous-coupling distributes torque to the axle with the most grip.

The Lineartronic CVT also features X-Mode; this further boosts the Forester's all-terrain ability for when you want to tackle ice and snow on-road as well as for more demanding off-road conditions.

X-Mode works in concert with the Forester's electronically managed all-wheel drive to enhance all-terrain capability in slippery road conditions as well as to provide more control off-road along with modifying the throttle mapping, selecting appropriate lower gear ratios, and running a stability-control program that optimises traction, it also calls up the hill descent control feature.

Kick-ass engine and all-wheel traction aside, how does the new Forester look? Actually, pretty good especially when finished in the Satin White Pearl paint of our test car. The new model has traded-in some of the previous-gen's boxy lines for some softer curves. Those without the emotional need to drive a status-badged SUV or crossover will appreciate the subtle yet characterful styling.

Despite the high (220mm) ground clearance, entry and exit for both kids and their parents is easy. Inside the five-door, five-seater Forester it's all extra space, light and generous proportions. Best of all, from a driver's point of view, is the commanding driving position that makes best use of the first-rate visibility, helped by the deep glasshouse and in particular by the slim A-pillars framing the large windscreen, as well as the good-sized third side rear windows.

And, although the new Forester may be a tad wider than the superseded model, it's a no-brainer to thread it along winding country roads or through town traffic.

The front seats are big but you don't slide about thanks to good bolstering, especially on the seatbacks. Sitting in the every-which-way powered driver's seat, you can easily see over the sculpted bonnet to both front wing-top corners placing the Forester accurately on the road is easy.

“Travelling by Forester
is a comfortable
experience. Improved
body rigidity and
suspension upgrades
have resulted in a
noticeably compliant
ride, further improved by
the supportive seats.
Inside the cabin
pothole-infected second-
rate blacktop is barely
noticed ...
Controls, switchgear and analogue dials are all clear, well marked and sited for easy use; the handbrake is a traditional item which will please most drivers; and the multifunction wheel offers control of the SI-Drive, audio, phone, cruise control, and driver's info (a lot of information is available including tyre pressure monitoring, range, mpg, etc). The paddle-shifters are mounted on the horizontal spokes for the best usability.

The Forester's interior packaging has been very well thought-out. Along with masses of passenger space in all directions, you'll find plenty of storage space for personal items: bottle-holding door pockets; cupholders, large open bins and trays on the centre tunnel; a deep box under the sliding armrest between the front seats; and an overhead glasses case. A nice touch are the sun visors that extend inwards to cover the normally missed 'dazzle spot' around the rear-view mirror.

Rear seat passenger can really party, even six-footers; there's plenty of leg and knee room and plenty of room for size nines (and bigger). A wide, drop-down comfy centre armrest with cupholders is also provided. And the cabin is quiet at speed. A decent backrest angle also ensures lounging is on the menu. Two adults will be in clover; even three will be happy sitting side-by-side.

All Foresters come fitted with power windows, power-operated and heated door mirrors, multifunction driver's display, HiFi and CD player, Bluetooth, USB and Aux-in jacks, tilt-adjustable telescopic steering wheel, front and rear fogs, pop-up headlamp washers, roof spoiler, stability and vehicle dynamics control system, Hill Start Assist, and Trailer Stability Control along with a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, a full set of airbags (front, front-side, knee, and curtain) plus a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

The top of the range XT adds leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable driver's chair, two-stage heated front seats, cruise control, rear-view camera system, powered full-length tilt-and-slide sunroof with electric sunblind and one-shot operation, automatic dual-zone AirCon, SatNav, Start-Stop button, keyless entry and locking, leather multifunction steering wheel, heated and power-folding door mirrors, privacy glass, three-mode SI-Drive, powered tailgate, aluminium pedals and footrest, auto lights and wipes, windscreen wiper de-icer, roof rails, and 18-inch alloys.

Function before fashion has always been one of the Forester's strongest points, and something that has endeared it to its loyal customers. And the new model's increased cargo carrying capacity is more than practical a 505-litre boot should satisfy most people's luggage needs; dropping the 60:40-split one-touch folding rear seats expands the already spacious boot to a 1,592-litre loadbay with a flat cargo floor.

“Over-egg it and you’ll
find yourself in a
safe zone of understeer;
in fact you’d happily
let your mother drive this
new Forester — hard!
Access via the mid-thigh load sill is good, and made much easier by a powered (open and close) tailgate a 'first in class' feature. There's also some extra oddments space under the boot floor around the 'tyre repair' kit. And a tailored tray to hold the removable luggage blind when it's not being used.

Travelling by Forester is a comfortable and agreeable experience. Improved body rigidity along with upgrades to the fully independent suspension have resulted in a noticeably compliant ride, further improved by the supportive seats. Pothole-infected second-rate blacktop is barely noticed inside the cabin a much appreciated quality on today's jarring, poorly-maintained roads.

Handling is equally competent. The Forester is sure-footed and composed over all surfaces and in all weather conditions, thanks principally to the unrelenting grip provided by the permanent all-wheel drive; corners are cut through athletically, with good body control. Over-egg it and you'll find yourself in a safe zone of understeer; you'd happily let your mother drive this new Forester hard!

Adding to the enjoyable driveability mix are the responsive electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and hefty ventilated disc brakes at each corner that deliver nicely controlled stopping power.

So what do you get for your money? A comfortable-riding family vehicle with punch aplenty that will take your tribe camping in the wilds as effortlessly as it will get them to school on time. Add to that its tried-and-tested all-weather capability, practicality, decent fuel economy, and towing ability (fit its removable tow-bar and it will pull a braked 2,000kg) and it's as plain as the nose on your face that this fourth-gen player will convert even more drivers to the marque.

Subaru Forester 2.0i XT CVT | 30,995
Maximum speed: 137mph | 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds | Test Average: 32.4mpg
Power: 237bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 197g/km