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First drive: Subaru Forester – on sale now

Subaru

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Review

With its new looks and claimed class-leading performance, Subaru is gunning for some big names with the latest incarnation of its all-wheel drive Forester.

Originally launched in 2002, Subaru has made substantial exterior and interior changes to the latest model added a new engine, revised suspension and simplified the range.

It’s a combination the carmaker feels can challenge BMW X3, Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail and Toyota RAV4.

Two engine options are available, each with a choice of two trim levels. Prices start at £17,595 for the normally-aspirated 2.0 X manual rising to £21,495 for the XE automatic. The 2.5-litre turbo model starts at £21,995 for the XT manual, running to £26,145 for the XTE auto.

The Impreza-based Forester has always offered an attractive mix of practicality and performance. But the 2006 version promises more of both than ever before.

Power and torque are up for both the normally-aspirated and turbo engines. The new 2.0-litre Boxer unit produces an extra 32.5bhp bringing peak power to 156bhp at 6,400rpm, while torque is up slightly to 137lb-ft at 3,200rpm.

The jewel in the crown, however, is the 227bhp, 2.5-litre turbo XT. First introduced on the 2005 model, the 2.5-litre turbo gains around 18bhp and 56lb-ft of torque. The result is peak torque of 236lb-ft and a braked towing capacity of 2,000kg.

To further appeal to the towing fraternity, the 2.5XT comes with a limited-slip diff, full-time symmetrical all-wheel, self-levelling rear suspension and hill-holder clutch on the manual. The new Forester is more than just a facelift. Everything has been revised, even the door handles, which now boast ‘low-friction resin bushings’ and a ‘disulphide molybdenum coating’. Impressive, if baffling, stuff.

Subaru has taken a long hard look at the old model and striven to imbue the new version with a quality feel throughout. It describes the car’s interior as having a reassuring, expensive air and the exterior as confident and upmarket. Marketing-speak aside, the new Forester does tick these boxes.

Year-to-November 2005 UK sales of Forester stood at 255 units; Subaru plans to sell 2,500 in 2006. Compare this with Honda’s planned 25,000 CR-Vs (petrol and diesel), and it’s a modest figure. But volume has never been Subaru’s primary focus and with its aspirations of becoming a premium brand – both in terms of product and customer service – it’s a figure in keeping with this plan.

Will it upset the market leaders? As far as quality, performance and versatility are concerned, new Forester scores well. But its appeal remains the same: discerning customers who want reliability and performance in an understated package that breaks from the norm.

Strengths: Handling and performance
Weaknesses: Lacks road presence of some rivals
Opportunity: Help to push brand upmarket
Threat: Badge strength of key rivals
The USP: Understated performance and versatility
Prices: £17,595-£26,145
Engines: 2.0-litre 156bhp, 2.5-litre 227bhp
Performance: 0-62mph: 11.9/6.0sec; top speed: 118/134mph
Transmission: 5spd man; 4spd auto
Efficiency: 30.4-26.4mpg; 220-254g/km CO2
CAP RV 3yr/30k: £9,850 (44%) – 2.5 XT
Rivals: CR-V, X-Trail, Rav4, X3

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