With diesel demonised, Subaru has returned to petrol for the latest incarnation of its popular SUV. But will the Forester 2.0i XE Premium Lineartronic cope with farm and family, wonders Charlie Flindt
The U-turn on diesel being considered planet-saving hit Subaru harder than most. Now they have returned to petrol for the Forester 2.0i XE Premium Lineartronic. Charlie Flindt finds it roomy, practical and good off-road, but he has a word of warning.
For more shoot wagons, Charlie Flindt was impressed by the Toyota Land Cruiser Commercial – could this be the Defender’s obvious successor?
FORESTER 2.0i XE PREMIUM LINEARTRONIC
Let’s be honest: no-one jumps into a Forester expecting a torrent of cutting-edge technology wrapped up in the very latest fashionable SUV body. What you’re driving is a no-nonsense SUV (the latest in a long line of Subaru SUVs that were launched before we Brits adopted the term ‘SUV’) with classic Subaru features: the flat-four engine, the permanent 4wd, the respectable ground clearance and all in a practical body shape that looks (if we’re still being brutally honest) a tad long in the tooth.
There is, however, exciting news – under the bonnet. The flat-four diesel, developed by Subaru at vast expense and effort, is no longer available. The U-turn by experts on diesel’s ‘planet-saving’ status has hit Subaru harder than most. The company had a product that finally boosted fuel economy but kept the engine’s USP. Diesel is now, of course, boo-hiss evil, and new legislation on the oil-burners arrives with terrifying frequency. Subaru has shrugged its shoulders and said, “Enough!”
So, in a way, we’re stepping back in time. The Forester is still a roomy, practical estate car (with what is perhaps the world’s slowest and wheeziest tailgate), with 4wd and ground clearance that make it a firm favourite with us country folk. We did a bit of moderate off-roading on the farm, which it loved, although mud was in short supply. Some of the bodywork feels flimsier than usual – I dreaded to think what one of Mrs Flindt’s chummy Holsteins would have done to a side panel if it needed a scratching post.
A 600-mile round trip to be tearfully proud parents at Durham Cathedral proved less successful – mostly because we seemed to spend too much time in filling stations. The flat-four petrol was never fuel-efficient, and all that extra drivetrain doesn’t help – and that’s why the diesel version was such a revelation. Mind you, the mountain of end-of-student-days clutter probably didn’t do much for fuel consumption, even if it showed up just how practical the Forester is as a load carrier.
What’s also much missed is the standard manual gearbox – it too has vanished from the spec sheet. Subaru perseveres with the curious stepped/variable chain-drive transmission, which never seems happy, and occasionally – accelerating away from the latest jam, for instance – just seems noisy and odd. An old-fashioned, five-speed box would be much nicer and, I suspect, more economical. Come to think of it, Subaru could reinstate production of the old dual-range gearbox, which gave a slightly lower ratio set of gears. And then, perhaps, an eight-track player. (Look it up, kids.)
While we’re indulging in nostalgia, Subaru is, of course, looking forward and the E-boxer self-charging hybrid is on the way soon. Lots of batteries, electric motors, energy-recovery systems and sophisticated electronics. What could go wrong? As it happens, if it’s built by Subaru, not a lot. Unless you’ve got mice in the farmyard.
If I were Subaru, I’d be wary of committing a small fortune in money and hours to an amazing new engine technology that we are earnestly assured will save the planet. Because they used to say that about diesel.
FORESTER 2.0i XE PREMIUM LINEARTRONIC
♦ Engine: 1,995cc petrol boxer
♦ Power: 150PS
♦ Max speed: 119mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 11.8 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 32.2mpg
♦ Insurance group: 16
♦ Price: £31,330