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Keepers test the new Subaru Forester on the shoot

Robin Scott asks two professional keepers to put the Forester through its paces on the shoot. On the drive there, memories of his first Subaru come flooding back

Suburu Forester

Test driving the new Suburu Forester

In partnership with Subaru 

A couple of weeks ago Subaru got in touch to ask if I would like to take the wheel of their new flagship Special Edition Forester in Hunter Green and let them know what I thought of it as shoot vehicle. I should’ve said no. Because I now want one.

It was not the first Subaru I have driven. Thirty years ago Orford Island’s cod-rich beach in Suffolk was beyond our reach until we discovered the “flying banana”.

We were in our usual watering hole one Friday night when Jim pitched up, smiling. “Right, you three” he said, “I want fifty quid apiece to pay for the 4×4 I’ve just bought from a mate to get us down that beach and into cod country…”

More than 200,000 miles on the clock

We coughed up and next day dropped by to see our acquisition – a nine-year old Subaru 1600 estate in awful bright custard yellow livery with more than 200,000 miles on the clock. “What are you complaining about” asked our team leader, “we’ve got a good set of tyres, six months road tax and a full year’s MOT for our money. So who the hell cares about colour?”

Days later the ‘Flying Banana’ made its first 240 mile round trip to the coast. It didn’t miss a beat. And it skipped over Orford’s treacherous soft sand and shingle like a kid Angora goat – quite something when you consider the old gal was laden with a forest of rods on the roof rack, four guys averaging 16 stone apiece and a boot laden with bags, bait, oilskins, pressure lanterns, gas bottle and cooking stove. Oh, and bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, baked beans and mushrooms. Everything but the kitchen sink.

The new 4×4 is a driving revelation

Thirty years is a long time in evolutionary terms where car production and technology are concerned, and the new two-litre Forester is living proof. The ‘Flying Banana’ might have been a robust, reliable godsend that lacked frills and thrills, but the new 4×4 is a driving revelation with every conceivable bell and whistle you can ask for.

An on-road sensation? Believe it. The state-of-the-art four cylinder Boxer engine has impressive acceleration and fuel consumption. This Forester’s permanent Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system and driving balance were as taut as Eric Clapton’s guitar strings when it came to negotiating the twisting B Class roads in this part of North Yorkshire. The authorities here are keen on signposting: ‘Howardian Hills…area of outstanding natural beauty.’ But what they never add to the roadside welcome is…’and suspension breaking pot-holes.’ The place is a minefield. Not that it mattered, the Forester took the worst bumps in its stride with barely a skip, jump or shudder. Minor road imperfections didn’t even register. Tight corners too. And motorways? A piece of the proverbial. Even in buffeting crosswinds it barely budged an inch. Cruising was quiet and effortless, and overtaking oomph, when needed, was there in oodles. I soon grew to love this Subaru but no way was I going to risk points on my licence so I kept everything below 90 and left the other 30mph under the bonnet untapped.

A sure-footed, safe experience

Around the shoot? Again, no problem. With the easy-fold rear seats dropped flat it carted half a ton of bagged wheat in the back without grumble thanks to its self leveling suspension system. Seats up there was plenty of rear space for three Labradors and guns sitting atop a concealed storage tray carrying cartridge boxes, cleaning kit and other valuables. Press the X-Mode button and you enter completely new territory…this extra clever system controls engine, transmission, All Wheel Drive and brakes over seriously challenging countryside. Steep hills? No sweat. The management system made hill ascent – and descent – a sure footed, safe experience. Even downhill reverse. Amazing.

What the keepers made of it

However, don’t take my word for this must-have diesel’s credentials. I handed over the Forester for a day to Jon Davis and Su Betts, keepers on Nottinghamshire’s Welbeck and Babworth Estates to find out what they thought.

The pair put it down rutted forestry tracks as well as up, down and across slippery grass hillsides at Babworth, and couldn’t fault it. Su, who spends most of her time lamping foxes at Welbeck liked the front seat space and wing mirror arrangement that allowed easy movement for her .243 rifle and moderator. And Jon? “Whow. I’m impressed. Forester is an iconic brand and this is the first time I’ve managed to get behind the wheel of one. It hasn’t disappointed.

“The X-Mode setting really is quite amazing and every bit as good as the systems you find on certain other 4Wds costing two, sometimes, three times more than the £32,000 asking price of this vehicle” he said. Which is quite a compliment coming from a man who runs a Landrover Discovery and Ford Ranger double cab truck for family trips and work.

“Impressive spec and comfort aside, the thing that really made its mark was how well it performed in X-Mode, even with road tyres. It never put a foot wrong.”

So where, in Jon’s opinion, does this jack-of-all-trades sit?

“It’s going to make an ideal shooting choice for anyone wanting to travel to shoots with friends and not worry about getting stuck between drives. It’s also ideal for a headkeeper or loader chauffeuring Guns to their pegs. Scores on the doors? Definitely 9 out of 10” he said, “this is a lot of car for the money.”

Me? I totally agree with him. Just a shame it’s not yet available in banana yellow…

Robin Scott was driving Subaru’s Special Edition Forester in Hunter Green with boxer diesel engine, lineatronic transmission and five-year, 100,000-mile warranty, priced at £31,495. Find out more at Subaru.

Find out more about the Subaru Forester on the Subaru website.