Steering Column 10.10.08

Class-leading Forester

SUBARU knows it’s on to a good thing here.

For decades it’s been churning out road cars with four-wheel-drive that have performed ridiculously well in times of marginal grip, yet had such a heavy thirst for the go-juice that many of us mortals couldn’t afford to run them.

Now though, the all new and genuinely unique diesel boxer engine is changing all that.

We first saw it in the Legacy estate car, but now it’s making an appearance in the new-look Forester.

“Class leading” is a phrase you read a lot in the press packs surrounding the launch of Subaru’s first ever diesel Forester. The company talks of class leading fuel economy, emissions, road tax, range and insurance rating and much and all as the journalist in me would like to be cynical about this, I’m afraid I just can’t be.

I’ve always been a fan of the Forester. I liked its individual looks – a sort of solid and boxy estate car with some extra ground clearance and that four wheel traction thing. Now the Forester is much more like one of the growing herd of tall, rounded SUVs and as such has lost much of its character, but having driven it with this new diesel engine, there’s almost nothing else in it to complain about.

The new Forester is built on the platform of the current Impreza and despite looking more like a mud-plugger, it only has less than a half inch more ground clearance so its dirt dealing probably isn’t much improved. I say probably because on the launch event in the south of Ireland we weren’t allowed anywhere near anything resembling even a field.

So what do we know? Well the two-litre diesel has an official average fuel consumption of just under 45mpg. Combined with a 14 gallon tank that gives the car a theoretical range of over 850 miles on a single top up. That is the distance from John o’ Groats to Land’s End.

Carbon dioxide emissions are 167g/km which is almost identical to many road-going family cars with a two-litre diesel engine. The road tax is £170 a year and depending on the level of trim you should get it rated nine or 10 for insurance.

The car is spacious inside. The driver sits tall under a big sunroof and he or she is surrounded by four more adult sized seats, each one of which has masses of leg and head room The ride is very good, particularly considering how big the beast now feels. That diesel engine turns out 145bhp and 258lb.ft of torque which, fed evenly to all four wheels through the six-speed gearbox, can take the 1.5 tonne truck to 60mph in 10 seconds. There are no plans for an automatic. It’s also capable of towing an impressive two tonnes in a trailer with brakes so expect tow-car awards next year.

The steering has been firmed up and the suspension upgraded for the 45kg weight increase from petrol to diesel. The flat four engine keeps its centre of gravity low anyway, so the whole car is totally unflustered by even the most severe changes of direction. I can vouch for this having made a ferocious swerve to avoid someone pulling out on me in a roundabout near Cork.

The new Forester comes in three levels of trim; the X, the XC and the XSn. Even the X is far from being a poor cousin with electric windows all round, leather steering wheel, front fogs, air-con and heated seats, mirrors and even wipers. All this can be yours for £20,295.

For a further £2,200 the XC adds roof rails, the wheel size rises from 16 to 17 inch, there’s a 6-CD sound system and that big sun roof is introduced.

Top of the tree XSn adds touch-screen satellite navigation, electric driver’s seat adjustment and key-free entry with a push button start. The price now is £25,495.

My only niggle is a small one. The remote locking blipper is unnecessarily complicated to use and getting all the doors and boot to open brought red-faced anger to all I saw using it.

The bottom line is, though, that I like it. For someone like me who lives in the countryside and does around 300 miles a week all year round, it’s a very attractive option.

Subaru plans to stay a niche player in the car market and has no intention of seeking high-volume sales. That, included with its environmental and economical advantages, are likely to keep the residual value of the diesel Foresters high, but we won’t know that for sure for a while.

Mike Grundon


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