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Subaru Forester 2.0 Diesel first drive

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    The standard Subaru 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. Photo Gallery

Karla Pincott road tests and reviews the Subaru Forester 2.0 diesel at it's Australian launch.

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  • Strong responsive engine
  • Plenty of space
  • Capable of handling on dirt
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  • Notchy gearbox
  • Steering light on dirt
  • Diesel noise

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

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 32 comments

  • I have a 2001 Forester which I use off road including sand.  I am reluctant to upgrade to later models with larger rims and low profile tyres, as by my understanding they will have less traction in soft sand.  Does anyone have experience with this?  What is the standard pressure for low profiile tyres?

    Robert Read of Alice Springs Posted on 18 August 2012 7:38pm
  • Awesome car.  price, looks, interior and practicallity wins it for me.  Just orderd the premium with sat nav.  The cons in know wat out weigh the pro’s !!!

    SDEK of Adelaide, South Australia Posted on 25 March 2011 12:09pm
  • At least the diesel noise will block out all the rattles that many Foresters (and Subaru in general) have. My MY10 Forester rattles more than any car I’ve ever experienced. Subaru and the dealers do not want to know. Avoid.

    Daniel Broers of Ballan, Victoria Posted on 25 September 2010 2:21pm
  • I have driven Foresters for the last 15 years and have 3 in the family. I have wondered why Subaru have been so slow off the mark with putting out a diesel and was seriously interested until the styling of the latest model put me right off. In trying to look bigger it has simply got cheap looking not helped by the crazy chrome trims and angular lines. The Forester was never a sylish vehicle but has just got a lot worse. Even the Territory looks better and that is saying something.

    Paul Allen of New South Wales Posted on 05 September 2010 11:28pm
  • John, I am from Switzerland and I have a diesel version. Yesterday we managed to climb a very narrow 2 km-long mountain path (partially unpaved) with some sections having slope of 50%-55% and many very sharp 160-170 degree corners along the way. Moved on the first gear only. Revs were 2000-3500 on the steepest ones and it felt like the car was close to its limit. Nevertheless it managed it.

    Alexander of Lausanne, Switzerland Posted on 23 August 2010 8:16pm
  • What is it with all of these people who won’t or can’t drive a manual?  Perhaps if more people drove manual vehicles, they’d engage the brain before driving.  Manual only is no problem for those who actually like to drive.  Why buy a vehicle that has a highly developed engine, only to hook it up to a slurpy, slippy, inefficient transmission?

    We’re about to order a Forester 2.0d.  It’s a great car.  The pedals are set out well for heel and toe down-changes and, while the shift quality is poor, it’s good enough.

    All those people who want an auto, join the other masses in the herd and buy a Kluger or Territory (shudder).  Those who like to drive understand that a modern diesel hooked to a modern 6sp manual trans is an almost perfect set up.

    James M of Canberra Posted on 29 July 2010 4:39pm
  • I’m going to wait until an automatic diesel is offered before I replace my Forester XT.

    Dave Rossi of Canberra ACT Posted on 29 July 2010 1:32pm
  • I like the availability of low range on my 1998 Forester for coping with steep, rough tracks and roads.  How does the gearing on the diesel compare?  The elimination of the transfer box seems retrogressive.

    John I'Ons of Canberra Posted on 29 July 2010 10:06am
  • So why did our local WA dealer quote us $39,990 for the base model?!

    Curious of Bunbury Posted on 26 July 2010 7:15pm
  • My 2006 Forester X Auto is a great car - just right for the newly retired. Will wait for an auto Forester diesel before changing vehicles.

    Bob Hood of sydney Posted on 18 July 2010 2:02pm
  • We have a BMW X5, and are looking for a second family car/suv. We’ve test drove the Forester Diesel and loved it. Would have bought one on the spot if it is an automatic. We especially like the additional 3 more year of warranty for $1,500.

    Peter of Doncaster East, Victoria Posted on 21 June 2010 4:58pm
  • Whoooooooooopppppppsssssss

    Karla not karen

    CarlMc of Taree Hinterland Posted on 20 June 2010 9:42pm
  • Is it just me or are the reviewers just too lazy to preview their reports before publishing,before releasing reviews I would check my facts first just to be sure that I know what I’m talking about.

    The standard Forester diesel has 16’’ tyres/wheels, whilst the Preminum has 17” tyres/wheels, I checked this out on 4 other sites, all say the same, except Karens’ review.

    I guess ‘‘she’ll be right mate’’ extends to women too, its just when they start sprouting figures for one version whilst doing a review on another version that gets me riled, how hard is it to give, what you get for your monies, on the reviewed vehicle.

    CarlMc of Taree Hinterland Posted on 20 June 2010 9:39pm
  • Subaru have a history, certainly over the last couple of decades, of producing well engineered long-life vehicles.  Presumably they are yet to develop a self shifter that can reliably cope with the abundant torque of the modern diesel engine.  VW (& now others are following) overcame the problem using automated wet clutch type manual transmissions (DSG’s).  Eventually Subaru will come to the party with an automatic diesel and you can bet, whether it’s DSG or conventional type automatic with torque converter, it will be great.  Meanwhile many Subaru faithful just wait.

    Ian Dee of Barooga NSW Posted on 19 June 2010 10:54pm
  • Agree it’s conservatively styled [I find it very similar to the Toyota Kluger in looks], but at least it’s a big improvement on the previous gen. Forester in styling.

    Peter Ms of Adelaide Posted on 10 June 2010 4:47pm
  • Subaru is not the only Japs manufacturer who makes diesel cars with manual tranny only. Mazda is the other one. I am sick and tired of people who don’t own or drive Subarus but making stupid comments about them. I own several Subarus and will never drive other cars because my Subbies are just so superior in ride, handling, safety, stability, etc.

    Johnno Posted on 08 June 2010 10:30pm
  • Most other brands of vehicles have both manual and auto gearboxes married to their diesel motors. How come Subaru haven’t got that far yet? They have been in the vehicle manufacturing business long enough to know that they should offer both versions. For me it’s no trouble using a manual, but that leaves my wife out of the picture.I have had a Subaru of one type or another since 1984, (Started with a two cylinder Sherpa) but look like having to change to another make now.

    Douglas Ellacott of Queensland Posted on 08 June 2010 5:15pm
  • Good price for what it is. Dependable Subaru, and proven all wheel drive, but only those over 40s would find attractive. Blend and conservative styling not gonna win any young buyers, i’ll take the Mazda CX7.

    phuong of canberra Posted on 08 June 2010 3:32pm
  • It’s good to see I’m not the only one who thinks their gearbox’s are rubbish get up to speed with your trans. Subaru. also the clutch is weak as mine blew up after only 35,000km’s and the fly by wire   I traded mine for a Focus which I love although not all wheel drive has better fuel consumption than the forester and yeah those seats, I liked the motor but not the tranny.

    Murray of Perth Posted on 08 June 2010 3:24pm
  • Subaru are on a roll. i am not a owner of one but have alot to do with most vehicles. diesels are the way of the future and the only thing missing for the Subu is a automatic transmission.

    thomas stevens of queensland Posted on 08 June 2010 2:58pm
  • “with the only downsides being the flattish seats…”

    THANK YOU! I think the seats are terrible and could do with a lot more length and under thigh support.

    Steven Hambleton Posted on 08 June 2010 2:30pm
  • I had been looking at the new RAV 4 but now at this price for a Diesel its worth considering the Subaru.
    Just wondering if they have retained the High/Low ration in the manual gearbox in this one, as there is no mention in the blurb?

    Dave Hayden of Tasmania Posted on 08 June 2010 1:39pm
  • Lovely car, highly reliable, fun to drive, stupid gearbox. I once told a Subaru salesman in Canberra that I didn’t want the Forester because of the 4 speed and he “cautioned” me against believing marketing spin. What?! I was driving a 4 speed Impreza at the time and the gearbox was 1980s at best.

    John of Castlecrag - Sydney Posted on 08 June 2010 1:29am
  • Pussies drive the manual like a man!!!

    kruger Posted on 07 June 2010 7:31pm
  • My missus only drives auto, so off the list.  Like the price otherwise.  An extra 2 seats wouldn’t hurt.  Then it may be a serious competition for dualis +2

    Fred Nerk of Bris-vegas Posted on 07 June 2010 9:49am
  • I used to have a Turbo Forester. Yeah, the 4 speed was average, but Subaru are one of the smaller car companies in Japan (even though Toyota ownes about 20%), so they don’t really have the budget to put out too many models and variants. One can only hope and wait…

    Chris of Perth Posted on 06 June 2010 12:22am
  • I see its still got the same cheap looking dash.  And the lack of an auto.  Otherwise I would buy on over the Tiguan.

    Steve of Melbourne Posted on 05 June 2010 4:19pm
  • 7 or 8 gears so it can never decide what gear it needs to be in, wait til you drive one, You will be wishing for a three speed auto with a proper torque convertor. Good on Subaru for having the intelligence to not fall into the marketing trap of the others.

    Stephen of Brisbane Posted on 05 June 2010 8:33am
  • Reasonably good effort. Lacking on the auto front but the Subaru developed CVT in the next 12 months will hopefully change that. True that is best looking of a VERY ugly Subaru lineup and like most Suby interiors, it is rubbish

    Ben Chapple of Melbourne Posted on 04 June 2010 8:23pm
  • Its hard to believe that Subaru are so far behind the game with its automatics. Not only can’t they find one to put in their diesels but the auto in most of their petrol models are still only 4 speeds (That’s 1980’s technology.) Nearly everyone else has moved on to 5 or 6 speed with luxury models going to 7 and 8 speeds. Subaru would look to tell you they are selling you a luxury car but the facts don’t add up.

    Peter Webb of Adelaide Posted on 03 June 2010 5:49pm
  • I bought an X in Septermber last year. Great car, best in class, except for 2 things. The gearbox is rubbish (vague gate and notchy engagment) and the fly by wire is incredibly annoying. The darn thing was revving to 2 grand while I was manouvring into a car park the other day, with the clutch in! The forester is about the least ugly Subaru now.

    I’d like more torque and a bigger towing capacity. If they bring out an auto diesel, especially in X spec, I may just trade up to it.

    Damian Carvolth of Brisbane Posted on 03 June 2010 2:19pm
  • Time for an automatic gearbox on the back of your diesels Subaru. Just do it. You’ll a lot more of them.

    Andrew of Malvern Posted on 02 June 2010 3:46pm
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