Subaru Forester driven
Subarural. Now there’s an ad tagline we could poke a bit of fun at. But doesn’t it just sum up the Subaru Forester perfectly? This has never been an SUV for an urban clientele, and so Subaru dismisses the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 as potential rivals. The Nissan X-Trail and the Land Rover Freelander, though? Now you’re talking.
But, up until now, the Forester occupied a curious hinterland, not quite big enough to be a full family SUV, still carrying the connotations of wet sheepdog, manure and bleak hills. This one, 15mm wider, 35mm longer and a fraction taller, changes things. Or it might do if it looked better.
But the large glasshouse means that visibility is excellent, and although the cabin design is plain, it’s now better organised, although the materials ought to be better when the base model is R329 000. Too much scratchy, brittle, grey stuff in here. Insert a family, and it’ll soon look battered, which I suppose is fine, because few cars suit battered better than a Subaru. This is not a precious car, but a big, useful, hard-wearing one. Rear-seat space is almost excessive, the 505-litre boot is bountiful but the electric tailgate fitted to the top-spec models is a waste of time. Too slow, too out of keeping with the rest of the car.
There are three engine options. Ignore the naturally aspirated flat-four 2.0-litre petrol – you won’t give it another thought once you learn there’s a brand new 177kW turbo version with direct injection and 350Nm. I wish I could tell you it’s the one to have, that it tears around like a rabid sheepdog and channels the now defunct Impreza WRX, but it just doesn’t. The engine is charisma-free and the only option is a CVT (CVT!) gearbox. It’s OK in manual mode, and has a reasonable turn of speed, but that’s about it. It’s not feisty enough to make the most of what is a decent chassis.
So, you’ll have the diesel, and that’s fine. Sensible. It promises 10.2secs to 100 kph, and that’s pretty good. And, as I hinted above, it drives very well. The structure is stiff, rattles are absent and the body control is excellent. Once in a corner, there’s a nice edge to the grip as the weight gets settled in the right place and the tyres hold a line convincingly. It’s unexpectedly enjoyable, but the chief impression you take away is of an honest, if somewhat plain, family SUV. Subareliable. Can’t see it catching on.
The diesel model will be out in South Africa in 2014.
Now a car as much for families as farmers: less sheepdog, more schoolbag. Still a rural toughie, but one with good road manners.
R329 000 for the base model.