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The Top Gear car review: Subaru Forester

£24,795£30,760
8/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Good ride/handling balance, workhorse reputation, off-road prowess

Against: 

Unfocussed Turbo, slow electric tailgate, plastics
Not as refined as a Freelander, but a hard-working, honest car that will never let you down

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Our choice

Subaru

2.0D XC 5dr

£26,595
N/A
47mpg
10.40s
147bhp
158g/km

What we say: 

Subaru has got the Forester on track. Able and sensible, it's not about style and it's better for it

What is it?

Another SUV that isn’t really an SUV. The Forester is a chunky looking tool that loves fieldwork, but the distinctly low-key styling means it’s unlikely to get the anti-4x4 lobby frothing at the mouth. Weirdly, only the diesel models have a bonnet scoop – a sign that it’s nothing like as exciting as the original version, which was basically an Impreza WRX on taller springs. Fast farmers loved it, but if we’re being honest, this new version makes more sense for more people. Think of it as a rival for the Toyota RAV4, with a little more rustic kudos.

Driving

The Forester’s 2.0-litre petrol engine sounds great and revs sweetly, but simply doesn’t have enough guts. It lacks torque and it’d be an unpleasant thing to pilot if towing a trailer full of horse. The boxer diesel is a far better choice (the cylinders lie flat and punch across each other, hence the name). We’re familiar with Subaru boxers in petrol form, but this is a first in diesel guise. Don’t expect the usual turbodiesel traits though; the boxer has less lag and, appropriately, a more instant hit. It sounds interesting and likes to rev too, so you can hold on to gears longer. It’s a diesel with soul. So they’ve done a fine job on the engine, but not such a great one on the damping – the ride is too choppy at speed, which is surprising, considering the suspension is a posh, multi-link affair. None of which will matter to most Forester buyers, who are more interested in its excellent four-wheel-drive duties and rugged durability. This could be the most honest SUV out there.

On the inside

It’s very robust, but there’s nothing to make you feel special in here and the seats are too unshapely to hold you in place. And there are too many hard plastics and weird colour combos. But that square silhouette means it’s space efficient inside and has a biggish, boxy boot. The rear suspension is self-levelling so you can load it up with logs or other countryside cargo without the nose rising like a speedboat. Equipment levels are generous enough – it gets heated seats and windscreen as standard, while XS models have leather seats. Just avoid the satnav… it’s awful.

Owning

The boxer diesel is full of character, but the pay-off is an average set of economy stats. Avoid the autos – they’re slower and dirtier than the manuals. But even if you do change gear yourself and shift up early, you’ll do well to beat 40mpg. And for the pleasure of driving the cleanest version, you’ll still pay £190 per year for a tax disc. In our experience, Subaru dealers are attentive and efficient, so you shouldn’t have many worries when it comes to servicing or fixing it… if it needs fixing at all. It’s much cheaper than most rivals, but secondhand values aren’t especially strong.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
2.0 XT 5dr Lineartronic
7.5s 197g/km 33.2 241 £30,450
The cheapest
2.0D X 5dr
9.9s 148g/km 49.6 147 £24,795
The greenest
2.0D X 5dr
9.9s 148g/km 49.6 147 £24,795