If you're going to produce a four-cylinder diesel-engined car with only a manual transmission you have to expect to have a narrow spread of customers. Such a situation faces Subaru which has just unveiled the new Forester 2.0D all-wheel-drive following the earlier release of the diesel Outback.
On the negative side the noisy chatter of some diesel engines is a turn-off to many motorists. And the manual gearbox's days of dominance are well and truly gone with most people today driving automatics. Not only do they simplify driving they also have performance levels today virtually as good as a manual.
On the plus side, diesels are more economic. They dominate the European landscape where, unlike in Australia, fuel pricing strategies actually encourage people to buy them. Here, diesel economy is still a winner even though diesel prices are usually higher than petrol.
In Subaru's favour though is that the Forester is the stand-out smaller AWD on sale in this country. With its high-stance on 16-inch wheels, solid off-road capabilities, roomy interior, practical boxy shape and noted reliability and performance the Forester is as good a place as anywhere for Subaru to stake its claim in diesel sales. And it says the Outback diesel is doing well.
PRICING AND EQUIPMENT
Priced from $35,990, there are two specification levels for the diesel Forester. For an extra $4000 you can get the top-of-the-range Premium, which scores tinted glass, pockets behind the front seats, a better CD player, 17-inch alloys and a full size alloy spare, an electronically adjustable driver's seat, leather rather than cloth trim and Xenon headlights with their own pop-up washers. You also gain a sunroof which I generally find is the least-used feature in most cars, although other drivers swear by them.
Like the petrol version, the diesel Forester has DataDot security to discourage theft and has an extended first term of life as the first service is not needed until 12,500km or six months are reached. Adding to the mix is a suite of five-star safety features including dual front, side and curtain airbags and stability control as standard. It has a three-star pedestrian safety rating.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
The Forester's two-litre flat boxer turbodiesel engine has 108kW of power and 350Nm of torque, driving all four wheels with a six-speed manual. Subaru is claiming just 5.7L/100km fuel economy on the open road and an average of 6.4L including around town.
Our week with the car, largely around town, has produced slightly higher fuel use, but with a good-sized (64 litre) tank the range between fill-ups is long, If you can maintain the average you should get 1000km per tank full.
It comes down to whether fuel economy (the petrol version is about 3L/100km thirstier) and the enjoyment of manual shifting (particularly out of the city limits) are important enough to you to opt for the oiler.
That torque level starts way down, producing some solid pulling power in the low gears. Around town it is a comfortable drive, that torque gets it away from the traffic lights impressively. With six gears on hand you will find yourself with a couple to spare at city speed limits such is the mid-range power. The shifting is quite light, particularly from 2nd to 3rd and the car has a hill-start assist feature to reduce any chance of rolling back when starting on an incline. It's actually a pity more people don't like manuals as this is a neat little box.
The sound of the diesel engine is loudest at low revs and fades away when you're cruising. It's not as bad as some diesels we have driven but you do notice it. We didn't hit the dirt or tow anything but reports from its recent launch event suggest it is a winner there.
Poor rear vision is a problem in many cars, particularly big off-roaders today, neccessitating rear vision cameras. The high stance of the Subaru and a wide rear window gives better rear visibility than many other vehicles.
Inside there's an overall black feel. The seats are black, the dash is black and the dials aren't particularly bright. But, there's plenty of leg and head room in both passenger rows. The sound system though is good for the price and there are steering wheel controls to change the volume etc.
At the rear the hatch is opened manually while the level of the boot is at a good height for average sized motorists. There's plenty of storage space in the back even with the second row of seats in place. We loaded a full-size folding bicycle into the rear with ease, although there wasn't much room left for anything else.
The diesel Forester won't appeal to everyone. The petrol version of the Forester is a fine car already. It’s the fuel economy that will be the decider for some.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Solid, practical and versatile car that with a diesel powerplant and manual-only transmission is restricted in its appeal. And there's nothing wrong with the petrol version.
SUBARU FORESTER 2.0 DIESEL
Price: from $35,990
Engine: 2L/4-cylinder 108kW/350Nm turbodiesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Economy: 6.4L/100km (official)
VW Tiguan 2.0 TDI from $36,690
Hyundai ix35 2.0 diesel from $34,990
Nissan x-Trail 2.0 diesel from $37,740
Land Rover Freelander 2.3 TD4e from $45,590
Subaru Outback 2.0D from $40,490