Eamonn Wall gets behind the wheel of the Subaru Forester.

THIRTY years ago, Subaru estate cars were the vehicles of choice for many foresters, as they were tough, spacious and four-wheel drive, with slightly better ground clearance than normal estate cars on the market at that time. Slowly, the Škoda Octavia 4x4, with its economic diesel engines, began to win favour and so Subaru eventually introduced a diesel engine of its own.

Nowadays, due mainly to BIK rules, pickups have become the preferred option for many foresters, and the wide variety of SUVs on the market means the choice of vehicles with raised suspensions is much greater.

Subaru persevered with its Legacy Outback and Forester SUV, but sales have dwindled and, last year, Subaru dropped its diesel option. A mild hybrid version is now available, but not fitted to the test car reviewed in this article.

Forestry Journal: The large rear door hides a large boot space.The large rear door hides a large boot space.

My first impression on sitting in the Forester was of just how old fashioned the interior looked (very 1980s, I thought), with odd buttons scattered over the dashboard. Of course, what has really helped Subaru gain its reputation for toughness and reliability is its unique flat-four boxer engine (with cylinders horizontally opposed) linked to constant four-wheel drive. In the Forester it is a 2-litre engine linked to an automatic gearbox.

Once you start up and get going, you can quickly forget about the dour dashboard and concentrate on the driving, and it does drive well. The gearbox is one of those Lineartronic devices, but it works well enough. It is not particularly nippy, achieving 62 mph in 12 seconds from its 150 bhp engine, but it cruises quietly.

Forestry Journal: Large windows and slightly odd shape.Large windows and slightly odd shape.

Subaru describes its Forester as a no-nonsense SUV and I think they are right. It is a usefully spacious vehicle, with large windows which did slightly remind me of a hearse. It weighs 1,525 kg and can tow a 2,000 kg braked trailer. It has 220 mm ground clearance, its fuel tank holds 60 litres and it averages 35 mpg. It is 4,595 mm long, 1,795 mm wide and 1,735 mm high. Its boot, with the rear seats in place, is 505 litres, and a spacious 1,557 litres when they are folded.

It is well equipped, featuring pop-up headlight washers, automatic LED headlights with auto leveliser, front fog lamps, power-folding door mirrors, automatic rain-sensing wipers, sunroof, roof rails, heated leather seats, keyless entry and pushbutton start system, power tailgate, windscreen wiper de-icer, heated door mirrors, automatic air conditioning, sat-nav, voice recognition, reversing camera, cruise control and self-levelling rear suspension, together with a whole range of safety assists. Prices start at £30,015.

This is the fourth-generation Forester model and probably looks best from the rear. However, it is a very useful workhorse. The horizontally opposed configuration of the Subaru boxer engine places pistons 180 degrees apart for a lower, flatter profile than other engine types. One of the main benefits of this configuration is that the pistons’ movements naturally counteract each other, helping to reduce vibration and noise and delivering a smoother driving experience. The engine’s shape and unique piston movement allow it to be installed lower down and further back than a conventional engine, giving the whole car a low centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution for exceptional handling and poise.

Forestry Journal: The dashboard does look a bit old fashioned – like something from the ’80’s.The dashboard does look a bit old fashioned – like something from the ’80’s.

Subaru’s permanent Symmetrical AWD maximises handling and enhances control on all roads in almost any conditions. Unlike other all-wheel-drive configurations, the engine, transmission and prop shaft are positioned in a symmetrical straight-line layout which provides a direct route for traction and delivers a maximum transfer of power to all four wheels at all times. The driveshafts are similar lengths, reducing torque steer and eliminating the need for additional controls or weights to be added as the symmetrical design is inherently stable, producing natural balance and performance for a safer ride.

Subaru Lineartronic is a continuously variable transmission that moves between a span of gear ratios to provide smooth acceleration while keeping the engine at its optimal rev range. Lineartronic works particularly well with symmetrical AWD as it preserves momentum that is often lost during gear changes on a manual or traditional automatic transmission. When the clutch pedal is depressed on a manual or the lock-up clutch is released on a normal automatic, you break power to the wheels causing them to slow and lose performance.

Forestry Journal: Unique to Subaru is the flat-four petrol engine (1995 cc).Unique to Subaru is the flat-four petrol engine (1995 cc).

In contrast, Lineartronic helps to maintain traction by continuously providing power to the wheels at all times. Lineartronic is paired with Active Torque Split AWD, which controls torque distribution between the front and back wheels. Normal torque split is set to 60 per cent at the front and 40 per cent to the rear. However, sensors constantly monitor changes in grip, vehicle speed and stability of the car and will in real time adjust the torque to each wheel, maintaining optimum grip, if more demanding conditions are identified.

The Forester handles well and is easy to drive. It is strange that Subaru’s sales are so low in the UK and Europe while they sell really well in the USA.

Yes, the Subaru Forester is a no-nonsense SUV, now also available with hybrid technology.

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