Here’s To The Underdog – Subaru Forester XE

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Small compact SUVs and “Crossover” vehicles are everywhere now and we’re only going to see more and more on the roads in the coming years, and in general, I hate them. They offer little extra over their hatchback counterparts, they don’t look as good and with the majority of them being 2WD, what even is the point? Subaru, however, are one of the originals in the smaller SUV market and they were around before all these weird little hatchbacks in drag were “cool” – so how come no one is buying them? You’d think in a world where everyone is so self-conscious and image-obsessed, having one of the original ones would make you cooler than all the other dads on the school run..?

I spent a week with a 2018 Subaru Forester to try and work out why we don’t see more of these than we do Peugeots and Citroens. You see, in North America and Australia everyone ruddy loves the Subaru Forester and they have a huge loyal following with around 11% of owners in the USA keeping their Foresters for over 15 years and after spending 7 days with one, I can definitely see why. Where a lot of other manufacturers fill their latest models with fancy trinkets and quirky styling accents, Subaru have adopted the “less is more” approach and built a car that is designed to work instead of looking good in the leisure centre car park.

The Forester has grown a bit over the years and the latest model offers plenty of room both in the front and the back!

The particular model I have been using is the 2.0i XE Premium Lineartronic which comes with a 2-litre petrol “Boxer” engine and the CVT transmission and to be honest, I’m still not sold on the gearbox. Last year I drove the new XV which was also a 2.0 petrol coupled with the CVT box and in both cars it felt sluggish and also quite noisy compared to other conventional auto boxes. Subaru’s boxer engine, however, is great and due to it’s flat, horizontally-opposed positioning gives great balance to the car. The only real criticism is the fuel consumption and lack of power compared to many of it’s cheaper European competitors with turbo-diesel engines but I still managed to see a return of 32mpg as an average over the week.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to really experience the Forester to its full potential due to a lot of work commitments in my office which is only 12 miles from my house, but I still managed to spend some time on the motorway and also give a go on some of the wonderful B-roads near my house and let’s not pretend this is a hardcore rally WRX or apex clipping track weapon, its 150ps engine will get the car from 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds and as I said before, that CVT ‘box does make it feel a bit sluggish, however, it’s not as wallowy as I was expecting and once it’s moving, the drive is smooth and the suspension absorbs the bumps in the road while the steering is a bit woolly, but still not bad. Compared to the WRX STi it feels like steering a narrowboat, but compared other SUVs, it’s not bad at all.

The horizontally-opposed “flat 4” Boxer engine alters the centre of gravity giving better balance and weight distribution.

Unlike a lot of its competitors, the Forester comes with permanent All-Wheel Drive and Subaru’s specially designed X-Drive and with it being a Subaru, who are of course famous for their history in rally driving and off-roading, it is probably the most capable car off road in its class. X-drive adjusts various parts of the car’s drive by adjusting throttle response and braking on steep climbs and also has hill descent control for those steep declines where it manages the brakes for the driver keeping the car at a steady 12mph all the way down. On top of this, the new Forester also has Subaru’s “EyeSight” safety system on board making it as safe on the road as it is off the beaten track. The EyeSight system uses a series of cameras in the windscreen that read the road ahead and if they see something you don’t, can apply pre-collision braking and alter the throttle response to reduce the chance of an accident. The EyeSight system also includes speed-adaptive cruise control, lane sway and departure warning and lane keep assist.

The interior of the Forester has a surprisingly premium feel to it and there is absolutely buckets of room. The glass panoramic roof gives the car a really light and spacious feel with plenty of headroom both in the front and the back and lots of leg room for the rear passengers. You could easily fit 5 adults in the car and a few suitcases in the boot with no hassle what so ever. The heated leather seats are also really comfy, and with this being the “Premium” model, it’s fully loaded with options like a nice clear 7″ screen, sat nav, DAB radio, USB input for smartphones, dual-zone climate control and reversing camera to name a few. My main issue with this, however, and it’s an opinion I share across the 3 other Subarus I drove last year – it still feels a bit behind compared to other cars in this category. The infotainment unit isn’t a properly integrated screen like you may get in an Audi Q3 or BMW X3 and the lack of things like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in 2018 on a £30k+ car is a bit disappointing.

7″ touchscreen is straight out of 2007 compared more integrated units in competitors models

It’s not all bad though, the overall feel of the interior pieces are a lot nicer to the touch than expected and the little carbon accents are a vast improvement on the hideous ones in the BRZ I drove in March 2018. I also like the multi-function steering wheel and separate 4.3″ information display, both seem a little complicated to navigate at the start, but after a few miles you get used to them and they are both actually really useful and the steering wheel has a lovely chunky feel and the leather is soft but also feels hard wearing.

Another part about the interior I really like that seems to be the main criticism from everyone else is its simplicity and utilitarian feel. It has been called dull by others, but to me, it makes more sense than lots of fancy switches and bright colours. The SUV is meant to be for the outdoorsman, the dog walker, the kayaker and the mountain biker. All these hobbies and activities come with mud, water, sand and general mess and by being “dull” inside, the Forester is actually far more practical than the other cars in the class. It has a lovely “wipe clean” feel to it that you just don’t get in a German SUV and I think this is where the problem rears its ugly head. In reality, a very small percentage of SUV and off-roader owners will ever use their car for anything other than commuting to the office and running the kids to and from their ballet classes and Sunday football matches, and all 3 of these places these days are the stomping ground for the middle-class family showoffs. Buying a car these days is more about having the newest and best looking over the most practical and better suited. It’s all about “keeping up with the Jones’s” and less about getting the best car for the money.

I probably get approached by 5 people a week either at work or in my social circle asking me what car they should buy next and every time I suggest something other than an Audi or Mercedes they look at me like I’m mad and inevitably ignore me and go buy a white bog-spec Q3. Here in the UK we are so obsessed with style over substance and our throwaway culture of short-term leasing and eye-watering finance deals means that we don’t care if a car can do 250,000 miles with no issues as we’ll probably get rid of whatever we have now in 30,000 miles time and then get something else and the problem doesn’t stop here, it’s a part of a much bigger problem in the car market.

Not a Starbucks in sight – a proper SUV in its proper environment

To sum it all up, the Subaru Forester is a great compact SUV, and in my honest opinion, better than 99% of its competitors but its lack of glitz and glamour means no one will buy one which is a real shame. It’s underrated, understated and unfortunately unloved but hopefully, loyal Subaru owners and none-image conscious buyers will keep the dream alive and keep buying them instead of trading them in for a new Evoque as these really are great cars.

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