It may lack the oomph of some of its rivals, but Ed Coles is impressed with the off-road abilities of Subaru's self-charging hybrid workhorse
Subaru launched the Forester in 1997. Initially based on the Impreza, it gained a reputation for being a hard-wearing, no-nonsense, go-anywhere vehicle. It soon proved popular with country folk.
Subaru Forester E-Boxer
I’m trying out the latest eco-friendly incarnation of the Forester, the Subaru Forester E-Boxer XE Premium Lineartronic, a self-charging hybrid. The Forester has changed somewhat from its original estate-car silhouette and for the better, I say. The new design looks more like an SUV and there’s enough distinctive Subaru styling to set it apart.
The rugged, modern styling is most apparent on the big front grille and bumper, combined with fancy angled automatic LED lights. The 18in diamond-cut wheels add a touch of bling and I rather like the autumn-green metallic paintwork and contrasting trims.
The back of the Forester is equally rugged. It’s retained a bit of its original, boxy shape and has gained a few curves and LED lights, set off by the top spoiler.
Ducking down with the trusty feedbag, the 220mm ground clearance looks very encouraging. Looking at the front suspension, I’m confident the Forester can deal with some tricky ruts and bumps. The all-wheel-drive set-up and rear independent double wishbones look robust enough to tackle off-road tasks.
Under the bonnet is a two-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol engine, combined with a gearbox-mounted electric motor with lithium-ion battery. The petrol engine and battery work in conjunction to provide drive to all four wheels. The engine also tops up the battery, as do the regenerative brakes. The entire hybrid set-up produces 150bhp and 194Nm of torque, so there is enough power and speed to keep you amused. It’s also got enough grunt to tow 1,870kg.
The Forester has permanent symmetrical all-wheel drive and there are two X-Mode settings, including hill descent for off-piste shenanigans. In EV mode, the new model can run on the electric motor alone up to 25mph.
The Forester boasts a decent load area. Subaru quotes 509 litres, which is around 10 bags of wheat in Shooting Times terms. There’s certainly enough room for about four dogs. With the rear seats folded, the load space doubles. (Read more on transporting dogs in cars here.)
The Premium trim means plush heated leather seats and the steering wheel is heated too, while the interior is jammed with goodies. The controls are pretty user-friendly and an 8in touchscreen is used to operate most of the settings. There are a few interesting screens that show charging data and what’s happening when driving off-road.
A simple dial switch changes the modes between all-wheel drive, snow/dirt and deep snow/mud. The EV mode is also useful for improving eco credentials. Overall, the interior strikes a good balance of modern and futuristic with a touch of executive style.
Tackling country roads was quite pleasant. The chassis holds the road well and the suspension smoothly handles ripples and bumps. It’s responsive through the twisty bits, too. Performance-wise, it feels good around town and through the lanes, but you have to push it a little to get going on the open road. Once up to cruising speed, it is quite comfortable on the motorway, but I do wonder how it would fare towing, as the initial power is a little lacking.
Around town, it performs well, but I only managed to get EV mode to cut in twice — anything above 20mph and the petrol engine took over. Despite needing a tad more oomph, the power delivery and traction are pretty good, with the motor and engine working seamlessly together. It is comfortable to drive, but what is it like off-piste?
Off-road in X-Mode, the Subaru Forester E-Boxer really does come into its own. The all-wheel drive is very impressive, especially taking into account the road-going tyres. Handling over ruts and bumps is smooth and doesn’t leave you wincing. The 220mm of clearance means it can pretty much do everything a pickup can. It was nimble through the wood, with a decent turning circle and, more importantly, good traction. The EV mode worked well, too, adding a touch of stealth.
Heading over to the more hilly side of Edwardshire, I could test the second X-Mode — hill descent. Traction was good going up the inclined track. It held true on wet grass at the top and remained so as we tipped over the edge and down the other side. I’m starting to see the appeal of the Forester.
The new Forester certainly ticks a few boxes and its main strength is off-road performance. That said, it’s still an enjoyable driving experience and it has a certain quality to it. It’s well made and versatile, so with a little more power and a slightly more usable EV mode, Subaru could be on to a winner.
So what’s the bottom line? The base Forester starts off at £36,410 on the road and the XE Premium we’ve been looking at comes out at £39,410, which is not bad when compared with some of its competitors.
Need to know
- Manufacturer Subaru
- Model Forester E-Boxer XE Premium
- Power 150bhp/194Nm of torque
- Top speed 117mph
- 0-62 mph 11.8 seconds
- Battery Lithium ion
- Emissions 185g/km
- Fuel economy Low, 32.1mpg; Medium, 37.66mpg; High, 41.89mpg; Extra high, 29.87mpg; Combined, 34.72mpg
- Towing weight, braked 1,870kg
- Ground clearance 220mm