There are a lot of reasons why you would buy the Subaru Forester 2.0 diesel, and really only a single one that might prevent you. The hurdle is the six-speed manual transmission, which is noticeably notchy when you first shake hands with it and – while it becomes more pleasant on further acquaintance – is hard to warm to.
But that out of the way, one of the first reasons to put the Forester on your compact SUV list is the new engine. It’s the four-cylinder turbo-diesel boxer (flat) unit from the Outback, which claims a combined fuel economy of 6.4L/100km, dropping to 5.7L on the highway and still maintaining a creditable 7.5L around town. That frugal thirst results in emissions of just 168g/km of CO2 (151g/km highway), which puts it well in range of many mid-sized passenger cars.
But it’s no wimp, developing 108kW of power at 3600 revs and 350Nm of torque from 1800-2400 revs – with just 10Nm less at a very low 1600 revs. That helps it to a 1600kg braked towing capacity, which is 200kg more muscle than its naturally aspirated petrol siblings. And that torque is going to all four wheels with Subaru’s signature all-wheel drive system.
Package and safety
The Forester is roomy for its size, with plenty of legroom front and rear, and ample cargo space for a few suitcases even before you think of putting the rear seat down.
The cabin is comfortable and well-designed, with the only downsides being the flattish seats, and Subaru’s insistence on a satin metalised dash insert that stands out loudly from what is otherwise a well-shaped sweep of dash. The SUV’s extra ground clearance makes for a high-ish load level into the back, but its easily manageable.
A five-star ANCAP crash rating has been given to the strengthened and reinforced body and its battery of safety technology, including stability and traction control, active headrests, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and brake force distribution, plus dual front/side/curtain airbags.
Price and equipment
The standard Forester is priced from $35,990 and kitted out 17-in alloy wheels, self-levelling suspension, DataDot security, roof rails and a four-speaker CD/audio player system.
The $39,990 Premium level adds 17-in alloys, electric sunroof, leather upholstery, tinted glass, a CD six-stacker, eight-way power adjustment on the driver’s seat, and self-levelling xenon headlights with pop-up washers.
Over the past few years we’ve become fairly used to the voice of diesel engines – some have even started to sound enjoyable. The Forester’s turbo-diesel isn’t yet one of them, but only because it’s let down by some clatter appearing at lower revs. This becomes muted once you get further under way, and wasn’t noticeable at all until we turned the stereo off.
But the sound is secondary to the substance. And this engine steps up to the plate. It’s strong and tractable, with more torque than we could soak up on the test drive through hilly roads both on and off the blacktop. The steering was responsive, although it felt oddly light over the dirt roads.
And while we were pleased with the Forester’s ride and well-balanced manners on the sealed surfaces, it was on the sections of potholed and corrugated dirt that it really proved its strengths. These are the kind of washboard stretches that could have lesser vehicles skittering around like marbles on a vibraplate, but the Forester handled it all capably.
You could feel the surfaces, no question, despite the best efforts of the suspension. But there was never any hint that they would unsettle the little SUV’s composure, and we zoomed over them in perfect confidence.
Subaru originally launched the Forester as ‘the city car for dirty weekends’. We’re not sure about the city life with that manual gearbox, but there’s no doubt that for anybody who wants to get beyond the urban boundaries – fishing in secret spots or heading down little-used tracks to remote beaches – this is a vehicle to consider.
Subaru Forester 2.0 diesel
Price: from $35,990
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed manual