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Subaru Forester: Test Drive

Date: 20 March 2008   |   Author: Alisdair Suttie

Category: Small 4x4
Prices: £17,392-£25,712
Key rival: Honda CR-V

The new Forester is a more mainstream proposition for company drivers.

While some Subaru traditionalists might miss the quirky, boxy looks of previous models, the third generation's style is sleeker and better able to tempt trade away from the likes of Land Rover, Toyota and Honda.

Subaru is keen to emphasise the driving appeal of its 4x4, and on uneven roads there's no doubt the Forester rides the bumps every bit as adeptly as the best of the competition.

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It's also up there with the class leaders for handling and grip through corners. The all-wheel drive system puts more power to the rear wheels more of the time than most cars in this class, and though that makes little difference to how the car tracks round corners compared to rivals, it does mean there's a little more confidence in slippery conditions.

The Forester is also a rarity in this segment by having a low ratio transfer gearbox to offer extra traction off-road. It's still only a mild off-roader, but it can handle more rough stuff than most and is a sound bet for those who need to tow.

The only disappointments on the driving front are wind noise and the 2.0-litre engine's shortage of low-down puff. The wind noise is generated by the sizable door mirrors and becomes audible at 60mph and above. Engine noise is only an issue if you rev the engine towards its limits, which you will have to do if you opt for the four-speed automatic gearbox that's a £1000 extra; the five-speed manual is preferable and has a typically Subaru slick action. The 148PS petrol doesn't feel especially powerful, so the turbodiesel from the Legacy cannot come soon enough. The diesel, due in September, will also attract more business drivers with lower carbon dioxide emissions and improved economy.

The new petrol-powered Forester is 3.0mpg more frugal than its predecessor and emits 21g/km less CO2 at 198g/km, which puts the Subaru on a more equal footing with rivals. It's also competitive in price and spec terms. The entry-level 2.0 X costs £17,995 and comes with climate control, CD player, cruise control, heated front seats, stability control and six airbags. Go for the XS that costs a further £3900 and you have alloy wheels, leather seats, uprated stereo, supersized sunroof and keyless entry.

Whichever of the two trims you choose, the Forester provides a comfortable driving position and a new dash that apes the style of the Impreza with its swoopy lines. There's also masses of rear seat space and a boot with 63 litres more room than the old model's 450 litres.

The new Forester is a marked improvement over its predecessor in every way, but in a market dominated by turbodiesel-powered cars, the September arrival of the diesel version can't come soon enough.