TEST DRIVE: Subaru Forester XT

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Steve Sharpe drives the Subaru Forester

The latest version of the Forester is the fourth generation of Subaru’s SUV.

Sitting just above the XV in the company’s line-up, Subaru is expecting big things of the Forester – it’s already a big seller so Subaru foresee that this version to build on that

Since the Forester was introduced in 1997, European sales in the SUV-C segment have increased eightfold.

And since Subaru have a limited range in the UK the Forester is an important car for it.

The original model was based on an Impreza’s chassis. It had all-wheel drive, boxer engines and the option of turbos from launch, and the company added and improved through two more versions in 2002 and 2008.

Over the years the quirky look of the Forester has been smoothed away, until now the big SUV has more or less joined the ranks of modern, chunky family SUVs.

Yet while many competitors have gone the whole hog and transformed their crossover cars to super smooth sleek machines, a look at the Forester shows you it still has a couple of wheels firmly off-road.

The large wheels, roof rails and high ground clearance indicate that this can still handle itself when conditions call for it, but Subaru have mainly tried to increase levels of comfort, economy and practicality, so that a SUV like the Forester could easily slip into the tyre tracks of a large family estate.

The Forester features Subaru’s corporate big, hexagonal front grille, flanked by bold, hawk-eye style headlights and, in my XT version, smart vertical LED running lights too.

The bonnet has been highered and leads into a muscular shoulder line that runs the length of the vehicle, which is slightly longer and wider than the previous model.

Subaru have moved the base of the A-pillar forwards by 200mm and curved the roofline downwards towards the rear, to help achieve a more aerodynamic look.

Inside the cabin there’s a feeling of light and room, with the large window area and enormous panoramic sunroof letting in copious amounts of daylight.

A slight increase in wheelbase means there is more space for rear seat passengers, but there’s plenty of headroom and legroom in the front as well.

The designers have improved the quality of the interior, but despite the use of better materials the cabin’s more practical than plush, with the majority of the plastics hard-wearing rather than super-tactile ones.

The layout’s pretty simple, with easy to operate heating controls and plain speed dials, but the media screen in the centre is extremely small and fiddly, and it makes even changing from a CD to the radio a job which involves multiple attempts to locate the on-screen icons.

Boot space has been upped and the rear seats collapse at the tug of two boot-located levers for even more load space. There’s plenty of bits and bobs for family storage in the cabin, too,with space in the doors, glove box, centre tray and console box, plus a centre console cup holder.

A number of 2-litre engine choices are available for the forester, including diesel, petrol and turbo-charged petrol, with prices ranging from just under £25,000 for the entry-level diesel to more than £30,000 for the turbo charged XT petrol version I drove.

If you’re looking for some power in your SUV and have some money to spare, this version should tick some boxes and cross a few as well.

Switch on the pushbutton ignition, prod the accelerator down and the big SUV lurches forward like an enthusiastic bulldog. This big car can be catapulted up to 60mph in seven and a half seconds

Subaru have struck a comfortable balance between 4x4 SUV and family car.

It’s still a big car – look over your shoulder and the tailgate seems a long way off – and when cornering you get a fair amount of lean, but the grip’s good all the way around and you always feel in control thanks to all-wheel-drive.

You do, however, feel a distinct bounce at the front end when you accelerate quickly and the steering’s a little woolly, too.

With a high seating position and good all-round visibility, the Forester is easy to drive around town despite its bulk. The turning circle is good for the size and it’s easy to gauge where the back of the car ends thanks to the flat tailgate.

It’s comfortable, too – you can feel some of the deeper potholes and bumps on the urban run, but it manages well.

It’s also a comfortable long-range cruiser. You can relax in the big, supportive seats and enjoy the ride, which is comfortable at higher speeds, soaking up road imperfections with ease.

It’s also more refined than you might expect. Wind noise and road noise are well controlled, and the turbo-charged engine is quiet unless really pushed.

The CVT automatic gearbox copes with whatever it has to, only rising to a squeal when you bang the pedal to the metal.

The SUV market is an increasingly crowded one and the Subaru will cost more to buy and run than some competitors.

There are no two-wheel-drive versions so the four-wheel drive models are quite heavy on fuel. Economy figures for the XT version I drove, with its turbocharged petrol engine, average 33mpg, with just 25mpg when driven solely around town.

However, with this top spec version you do get a lot of stuff as standard for your money, although even with entry-level versions you get air-con, heated front seats, 17-inch alloys , heated door mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB socket all as standard.

Move up to the mid-spec version and you’ll get an electric driver’s seat adjustment, automatic lights and wipers and a rear-view camera, while the top trim XT get 18-inch wheels, leather seats, sat-nav, electric tailgate, rear camera and lots more besides.

The Forester’s a comfortable, spacious car that offers something a little more as a family car, especially all-wheel-drive and Subaru’s record for reliability and its five-year/100,000-mile warranty and 12-year anti-corrosion guarantee.

The company has made real strides in improving levels of comfort and refinement and this model is looking to be able to compete with the best in the class.

The top-spec version I drove offers both power and refinement, but the diesels down the line offer higher levels of economy if you are looking to put some miles on the clock.

Where it also scores is that it has remained a car that has off-road abilities, still has a rugged look to it, and those who value that will be tempted.

Fact file

Subaru Forester XT

Engine: 2litre petrol

Transmission: CVT automatic

0-62mph: 7.5 seconds

Top speed: 137mph

Fuel economy: 33mpg avg

Price: £30,995