Since then its field has been churned up by BMW, Volvo, Volkswagen and Porsche, none of which competes directly with the Forester, but all offering speed plus the ability to negotiate medium ruts.
The Japanese rally expert’s answer is the Forester 2.5 Turbo. Modifications to the long established 2.0-litre 16v horizontally-opposed four-cylinder boxer engine include enlarged bore and stroke, pushing output from 170bhp to 208bhp, engine size to 2.5 litres and 0-60mph acceleration to just six seconds (the 2.0-litre XT does it in a creditable 7.9sec).
But the new range-topper isn’t all about power: crucially the engine upgrade comes with a sintered steel journal cast cylinder block to reduce NVH. Not only is this unit silky smooth, it’s quiet.
However, the biggest and most welcome change of all is to the ride and handling. The low slung boxer engine and Impreza chassis make the Forester a good compromise between car and mud-plugger, but it still had a tendency to bodyroll and wallow.
Across the range, front and rear struts have been fitted with rebound springs to reduce pitch and minimise roll, while the coil springs and damper valves have been tweaked and the suspension bushings revised to improve steering feel.
The self-levelling rear suspension has been improved, too, allowing it to return to unladen height from fully loaded twice as quickly as it used to.
Result? A vast improvement: the new, improved Forester has ploughed firmly into a sector where the expectation is carlike manners, executive toys and four-wheel-drive function.
Standard kit includes 12-spoke alloys, black leather interior, stacker CD, satnav, aircon and cruise control. At less than £25,000 on-the-road the 2.5 XT presents a sensibly priced alternative to BMW’s X3 3.0i and even the Volvo XC90.
Strengths: Performance, handling, equipment, price
Weakness: Conservative styling may deter potential buyers
Opportunity: SUV lovers with a need for speed
Threat: Prettier crossovers
The USP: It’s very quick for a 4x4
Price: £24,695 (OTR)
Engines: 2.5-litre boxer 4cyl turbo, 208bhp, 236lb-ft
Transmission: 5spd man, full-time AWD, centre differential, rear limited slip differential
Performance: 0-60mph 6sec, top speed 140mph
Efficiency: 25.7mpg, 261g/km CO2
CAP RV (3yr/30k): £9,700 (40%)
Rivals: Freelander 2.5 Sport, Shogun Sport, RX300, BMW X3/X5, XC90