Subaru has built up a loyal following thanks to the tough, dependable nature of its four-wheel drive models. If it’s those traits you’re after, the Subaru Forester stands out, and it’s now in its fourth successive generation after the original model’s debut in 1997.
For the latest model year, there have been a host of improvements inside and out. The exterior tweaks might be more difficult to spot, but it is inside where important changes have been made, with the arrival of plush soft-touch materials and silver highlights for the door grips, dashboard, air-con controls and steering wheel inserts to enhance the ambient feel of the cabin.
A better infotainment, navigation and audio system is fitted as standard and a seven-inch touchscreen display allows smartphone-style control with swipe and pinch gestures, while some functions can be accessed via voice control.
During an annual pilgrimage to the Le Mans 24 hour race in France, it was pressed into service to transport five people, plus a caravan, to attend the race. This big SUV has stayed true to tradition by using Subaru’s trademark flat-four ‘boxer’ engine of 2.0-litre capacity which produces 145bhp of power, and more importantly for its towing credentials a respectable 258lb.ft of torque.
With a towing capacity of 2,000kg, the 1,400kg caravan was well within the capacity of the Forester, but with a full complement of passengers and luggage as well, it was going to have its work cut out. Disembarking from an early morning DFDS ferry from Dover to Calais, the 270-mile journey to Le Mans saw the big Subaru cope well with hills en-route and with the cruise control set to 60mph, only needed to downshift the six-speed manual gearbox to fourth gear (bypassing fifth) on a few occasions.
Economy with a caravan, plus a full load of passengers, is always going to put a serious dent in official fuel-economy figures, which for the Forester are 49.6 mpg a CO2 figure of 148g/km. Over many trips to Le Mans, in many different cars, our best figure to date has been 25.6mpg. With passengers, plus the caravan carrying a large awning, luggage, bedding and few cans of liquid refreshment, I expected the fully laden Forester to return around the 20mpg mark. Much to my surprise, when checking the onboard computer mpg screen on arrival at Le Mans, it had returned 27.7 mpg. It was no fluke as the Forester also recorded 27.9 mpg for the return journey, with less liquid luggage obviously making a difference.
Sat back in the comfortable leather seats, the Forester made it a stress-free journey. Subaru has increased the thickness of the glass windows from 3.5mm to 4mm and improved door seals as well as adding extra sound deadening around the dashboard and footwell areas.
Interior space was plentiful for five adults and the boot has a useful underfloor storage area which proved very handy. Our test model lacked a full-sized spare (a space-saver was included), so if you’re going to tow on a regular basis you may want to ditch that storage area to accommodate the larger tyre and rim.
While towing, the Forester felt stable at all times with very little rear end sag when the caravan was attached. The Subaru also benefits from a Trailer Stability Control system for extra peace of mind should it begin to sway, or if you need to make an evasive manoeuvre.
The system improves safety during towing, activating braking control and engine torque control to enhance stability if it detects a change in angle between car and caravan.
All in all, the Subaru Forester is a very competent SUV and deserves to be noticed. All too often some cars ‘fall under the radar’ of new car buyers looking for a new model, and the Forester should be looked at closely against its mainstream rivals.