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Subaru Forester 2.0D XC

Click to view picture gallery“Subarus new diesel-powered
  Forester drives to market at an
  opportune time — because now
 
is the time to take the plunge and
  buy a new car whilst bargains
  are still available
...

WHILST THIS WEEK'S REDUCTION IN VAT to 15 per cent is unlikely to set the new car market alight, the deals to be had in the forms of discounts and finance offers will just not go on forever. Once the clear-out of the current over-stocking has taken place, manufacturers and dealers are preparing themselves for next year (and the year after that) to make and sell fewer cars.

And that means higher specification and increased price models will be on their way as the industry claws its way back to profitability and, hopefully, jobs security. So now is the time to buy — before the deals and the discounts disappear.

At this time of year the lust (and requirement) for a 4x4 is at its highest. Wet, muddy, icy and snowy roads all concentrate the mind on having a suitable dual-purpose vehicle that works in Winter yet remains totally useable and financially viable to run in Summer.

The previous Subaru Forester all-wheel drive model was popular with older buyers such as caravanners and boat owners. It was more of a functional, brick-shaped four-wheel drive estate car than a fashionable SUV. Although it had a very loyal following, it never really got to grips with achieving its full sales potential because there was no diesel engine option.

This year, Subaru remedied that by introducing the all-new SUV-styled Forester and, more recently, introduced their new 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 'Boxer' diesel engine to the line-up. And not a moment to soon because the versatility the new Forester offers with a diesel engine option (which will account for the majority of sales) will make it Subaru's best selling model range, easily outscoring their Impreza and Legacy line-ups.

Sales of large and small 4x4s/SUVs have certainly taken a knock as running costs continue to rise. But the middle-ground of the sector remains viable and manufacturers are wasting no time in getting new models to market, mainly diesel powered. The Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, VW Tiguan and Ford Kuga are all relatively new and join the ranks of the long-serving Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander, Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki Grand Vitara, to name just a few.

So what does the new Forester offer? Well, size is important and the newcomer is 75mm longer (4,560mm), 45mm wider (1,780mm) and 110mm taller (1,700mm). Rear legroom is improved by 95mm and with all the five seats in position, the carrying space is 63 litres more at 450 litres. The ground clearance has also gone up by 10mm but the compact 'flat four', horizontally-opposed engine sits 10mm lower in the vehicle — giving it a better centre of gravity and potentially less body roll, and improved front-to-rear balance.

For drivers who tow, the diesel Forester offers 145bhp of power. But more important is the 258lb ft of torque (or 'grunt') from 1,800rpm that enables a maximum braked towing weight of 2,000kg — good; but there are others in this sector that are now rated at 2,500kg or more.

The new Forester uses a platform based on that of the Subaru Impreza but with a new multi-link rear set-up and self-levelling suspension, Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control (basically electronic stability control), full-time all-wheel drive and fuel-saving electronic power steering.

There are three levels of specification: X, XC and, with satellite navigation as standard, the XSn. Prices range from 20,295 to 25,495 with the best selling 2.0D XC costing 22,495.

All models have alloy wheels, four electric windows, 60:40split rear seats with reclining backrests, climate control air conditioning, stereo radio/CD player, front fog lights, computer information system, leather covered steering wheel, handbrake and gear leaver, heated front seats and cruise control. The best selling XC model has, additionally, roof rails, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded sound system, roof spoiler and electrically-powered sun-roof. The top XSn model is fitted with SatNav, leather upholstery, smart entry with push-button start and electrically-adjustable driver's seat.

As before, the Forester has a very high level of equipment, the build quality looks first rate and I expect the durability to live up to the legendary Subaru standard.

Used in conjunction with a six-speed manual gearbox — no automatic transmission option is still a big missing link in the line-up — the Forester 2.0D will officially return 44.1mpg. My test XC specification version recorded 42.3mpg and the CO2 emissions are 170g/km, giving it an annual road tax rating of 170. Top speed is 115mph and 0-62mph takes 10 seconds.

Although 2.0-litre petrol-powered Foresters are cheaper to buy (starting at 17,995), the performance is relatively poor and the fuel costs high. So opting for a new diesel model has to be the right choice. The diesel engine is relatively quiet and responsive. It copes well enough off- and on-road, but the new six-speed gearbox is not, for instance, as precise or notch-free as Subaru's five-speed unit as used in conjunction with the diesel engine in the Legacy.

To get the best out of this engine, even at low speeds (when turning into side roads for instance), frequent use of the transmission is called for due to the tall gearing. Because the changes are not so slick it rather takes the edge off the driving enjoyment. But that is just an opinion — and loyal Forester owners will accept it quite happily.

Ride comfort is first rate, the handling is predictable, road grip is good although the steering is slow and gives little feedback to the driver. Reason to try out the competition are that there's no price advantage in a competitive market sector, the towing capacity is not the best in its class (you may not, of course, want to — or need to — tow) and on-road handling is not as sharp as many others. Enhancing its appeal, especially for country-dwellers, is plenty of space and specification. It is also well made and comfortable, delivers diesel fuel economy and has excellent all-wheel drive off-road.

Overall, the Forester diesel has more plus points than negative ones, so if it's an SUV you want there really is no time like the present to drive a bargain with your Subaru supplier. They will be very pleased to see you. — David Miles

Subaru Forester 2.0D XC
| 22,495
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 10 seconds
Overall test MPG: 42.3mpg | Power: 145bhp | Torque: 258lb ft
CO2 170g/km