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Subaru Forester 2.0 XS Car Review | April 17, 2008

Driven April 2008

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And because its cars were designed around the boxers, there was no way of taking the standard industry shortcut and buying-in an in-line engine from Fiat or Peugeot. So the new Forester launches as a petrol only, as previous Foresters always were.

But those diligent engineers have stuck their necks right out and developed the world's only boxer diesel engine. It's in the Legacy just now and is great. It comes to the Forester this September, with a six-speed gearbox.

Which is a relief, because the petrol engine doesn't really have the guts required. Sure, it's smooth and makes a nice burble and revs like a yo-yo, so it's pleasant to use in town or on a curvy road.

The trouble comes when you have to overtake something. Worse still is the auto: it's just a four-speed, and in the interests of eking out a not-too-catastrophic CO2 figure, it has been given cripplingly high gearing. I was in the auto and passing a full-size white van on a dual carriageway when the road took a tiny upward incline and he unceremoniously undertook me right back again.

The Forester uses the new Impreza platform, which is wider than before and longer in the wheelbase. You feel the generosity of space in the cabin, especially the back, where there's even a split reclining seat.

The boot's bigger and squarer too, though it still has a high floor. No worries about loading it right up, as there's self-levelling suspension - another purist bit of engineering most customers won't even realise they've got.

Ditto the dual-range transfer lever on the manual version, which lowers the overall ratio, effectively giving you another five shorter gears,which is dead useful for off-road control, or towing. Approach and departure angles are good for off-roading too: no specious spoilers and sill extensions here, thank you.

There's plenty of more obvious interior kit: even the £17,995 2.0X base model has cruise, climate control, aux-in stereo, fog lights and heated seats, even a heated bit of screen under the wipers, plus ESP and self-levelling. Sensible kit for an all-roads all-weather vehicle.

Being dedicated blaggers, team TG jumped in the 2.0XS, which costs another £3,900 but adds leather, alloys, a CD stacker, better hi-fi, xenons, huge sunroof, smart key and a leccy driver's seat.

The complex centre-console colour navigation-and-hi-fi screen won't be coming to the UK until they do a top-of-the-line diesel version. So, at the moment, you'd probably want to add a TomTom and some sort of Bluetooth hands-free gadget, but they cost buttons these days.

Blue dials liven up the cabin a bit, certainly more successfully than the slightly dodgy metallic trim strips in two different shades. Adding to the mild shortage of surprise-and-delight, Subaru is evidently still using up an early-1990s bulk order from the First Nippon Standard Fascia Vent and Column Stalk Works.

See, that's the trouble with the Forester. It's commendable and enjoyable and (especially when the diesel comes) an all-round good vehicle. It's a great tool, and past Subaru form shows it'll never let you down.

But it's not a piece of clothing or a lifestyle statement. Even the people who own it aren't bothered about appearances. Subaru UK staff say the buyers, who are intensely loyal, just think of it as a tall go-anywhere estate, not as some lifestyle-statement SUV. But then, the less you feel the need to make a statement about it, the more likely you are actually to have the lifestyle.

For that, I hugely admire the Forester, even though it seems to have been deliberately styled to be unloved. You could spend thousands more on a basic X3, and you'd have a worse vehicle, albeit one that did more to elevate your social status among the know-nothings.

Subaru is demanding a lot of self-confidence from you, because the Forester, by its drabness, refuses to massage your ego. Surely it would have been possible to make something smarter-looking that was just as useful and didn't cost any more?

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