Subaru Forester 2.0 XT review, price and pictures

Can the Forester return to being the thinking driver’s SUV of choice?

Evo rating
Price
from £30,995
  • It’s not an Evoque
  • It’s barely still a Forester

What is it?

The new Subaru Forester, driven here in its most powerful 2.0 turbo guise. Not that long ago Subaru Forester was evo’s favourite SUV. It was all the things that 99 per cent of this breed are not: utilitarian, understated, characterful, compact, relatively light and enjoyable to drive. We even had one – the Japan-only STI version – on Car of the Year in 2005. This new, fourth-generation version has a lot to live up to, then. Especially as it’s bigger, heavier and much more conventional than those that have gone before.

Subscribe to evo magazine

evo is 21 and to celebrate, we're returning to 1998 prices! Subscribe now to SAVE 39% on the shop price and get evo for its original cover price of £3.00 an issue, plus get a FREE gift worth £25!

The Forester has never been a looker (it is a Subaru, after all), but it was distinctive and trod its own path… The new model could be any slightly gawky mid-sized SUV. Not a great start. At least the 2-litre boxer engine is sacred.

Technical highlights

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

There are three engine options, all horizontally opposed fours: a 2-litre turbocharged diesel with 145bhp and 258lb ft from £24,995, a 2-litre normally aspirated petrol with 148bhp and 146lb ft from £25,495, and the range-topping turbocharged petrol with 237bhp and 258lb ft from £30,995. As if to highlight the Forester’s unique attributes, that most powerful petrol engine is set to make up more than 25 per cent of total sales.

Heart-warmed by this news, I should say there are disadvantages to the 2.0 DIT (direct injection turbo) XT model we’re driving. It might be powered by the good stuff but it’s slightly hobbled by another acronym that is enough to make any enthusiast let out an involuntary groan: CVT. Yes, a braying, slow-witted and heinous continuously variable transmission, albeit with paddle-shifters if you want to flick between six pre-determined ratios – or eight in the most aggressive S# mode. The CVT ’box also marks a change from the lowlier six-speed manual car’s 50:50 torque split to a less-appealing-sounding 60:40 front/rear split.

What’s it like to drive?

On the move, the CVT ’box is predictably horrid, sitting at constant rpm when you floor the throttle, for example. Fortunately the engine is pretty refined, but you’d never know it was a flat-four, as it emits a thin, tuneless note and only feels 237bhp-strong when worked really hard. Things are slightly better in S#, but even with eight tightly spaced ratios to play with, the performance feels lukewarm and the shifts are blurred rather than crisply defined. 

Dynamically, there’s some Forester DNA intact here – the suppleness, the noticeable but ultimately controlled body roll and the lucid sense of weight transfer that it brings, the light but accurate steering and the feeling that this is an SUV that’s about more than just tied-down grip and blunderbuss performance. Sadly, the balance is rather option-free understeery in the end, despite the promise of an electronically controlled multi-plate transfer that can apportion more power to the rear wheels.

Inside, the Forester is no Evoque. For some people that will be A Very Bad Thing but I’m rather glad that it retains some of the utilitarian feel. The plastics are a bit shiny and hard, the rubber floor mats look like they could be hosed down and overall the Forester exudes a simple toughness. Or a cheap ugliness, depending on your point of view. What is indisputably terrific is the view out of the vast windscreen and the relatively slim A-pillars. It’s like the McLaren 12C philosophy scaled up to IMAX and it is some compensation for the Forester’s swelling girth when threading along narrow lanes.

Advertisement - Article continues below

How does it compare?

Overall this bigger, more mainstream Forester lacks the agility, balance and unique appeal of some of its predecessors. Without those ingredients it becomes just another SUV and must woo buyers with fuzzy things like badge appeal, interior inventiveness and perceived quality. Needless to say, it won’t be setting the sales charts alight. Your local farmer might be a bit grumpier than usual, too.

Specifications

EngineFlat-four, 1998cc, turbo
Max power237bhp @ 5600rpm
Max torque258lb ft @ 2400-3600rpm
0-607.5sec (claimed)
Top speed137mph (claimed)
On saleNow
Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

Visit/mercedes/18211/mercedes-amg-one-hypercar-shown-in-new-teaser-video
Mercedes

Mercedes-AMG One hypercar shown in new teaser video 

AMG’s F1-powered ultimate hypercar has been shown on track in a new clip
6 Dec 2019
Visit/buying-advice/19675/used-car-deals-of-the-week
used cars

Best used cars for sale this week

We’ve delved into the classifieds and chosen our favourite cars for sale this week
5 Dec 2019
Visit/nissan/gtr/21433/limited-run-nissan-gt-r50-to-enter-production-in-2020
Nissan GT-R coupe

Limited-run Nissan GT-R50 to enter production in 2020

First customer GT-R50s set to hit the road next year, with prices starting beyond the €1million mark
5 Dec 2019
Visit/hyundai/i30-n-hatchback/201775/hyundai-i30-n-versus-hyundai-i30-tcr
Hyundai i30 N hatchback

Hyundai i30 N versus Hyundai i30 TCR

Can Dickie Meaden beat Steve Sutcliffe in a straight(ish) race? We sent them to the Circuit Nuvolari with a pair of Hyundai i30 Ns to find out.
20 Sep 2019