In 1997 the must-see film was Titanic, JK Rowling sent children – and adults – stark crazy with the first in a series of Harry Potter books, “Eh-oh” became the new way to greet people because of the cuddly Teletubbies, and Subaru joined what we now know to be the mid-size SUV market with the Forester.

WHAT IS THE FORESTER?

In a nutshell, this is the jewel in the Subaru crown. Since its debut a quarter of a century ago, this hard-wearing and some might say over-engineered SUV has become one of the best-sellers in the Japanese company’s line-up. At the last count, nearly 360,000 units had been sold to customers the length and breadth of Europe. Worldwide, that figure is much closer to four-and-a-half-million. So, to celebrate the 25-year milestone, the Forester has received a series of safety and technological up-dates for 2022 in a move bosses – and no doubt those working in local dealerships – hope will make it a more rounded daily driver on-road while still retaining the capabilities that make it so assured off the beaten track.

IF IT ISN’T BROKEN…

Aesthetically, the 2022-model-year Forester is broadly similar to the pre-facelifted car but there are some subtle differences, most of which are to be found at the front end. The grille, headlights and fog light covers have been reworked, and customers can now decide over three extra metallic shades: ‘Autumn Green’, ‘Brilliant Bonze’ and ‘Cascade Green Silica’. We applaud how designers have struck just the right balance between ruggedness – chunky sills, protective plastic cladding, faux skid plates – and traditional family SUV cues, namely the automated tail-gate that lifts to reveal a 509-litre cargo area, elevated ride height for improved ground clearance (200mm) and the silver roof rails to which any manner of hefty objects – from roof storage boxes to bikes to small canoes – can be secured to.

A SIMPLIFIED MODEL LINE-UP

When it comes to deciding which model is right for you, keeping the choice to three should make the process straightforward. Entry-level ‘XE’ starts at £36,410, mid-spec ‘Sport’ £38,660 and ‘XE Premium’ £39,410. All make use of the same engine – a 148bhp, 2-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol that features Subaru’s latest ‘e-Boxer’ mild energy recovery technology. With assistance from the hybrid system’s small e-motor and battery, the 0-62mph dash takes a leisurely 11.8 seconds and top speed weighs in at 117mph. Over the course of a week, down A- and B-roads and along motorways, the Forester was sheltered from buffeting, engine noise and tyre roar. Power is marshalled by a rather sluggish CVT and this is divvied to each wheel via Subaru’s trick all-wheel-drive set-up.

HEADING OFF ROAD

The added grip from all four wheels biting into the Tarmac delivers assured grip and keen handling. It is also worth mentioning the ride’s pliancy is in no small part thanks to the ‘Subaru Global Platform’; this facilitates sophisticated coil springs and dampers not forgetting the latest safety components. If you do fancy exploring the great outdoors, twisting the small knurled dial positioned on the lower console to ‘X-Mode’ unlocks clever hybrid assistance that boosts total torque lower down in the rev range. So, when you find yourself faced with a steep incline or awkward obstacles like kerbs, small boulders or bared tree roots, driving over these doesn’t lead to the risk of over-revving and wheelspin. In customary Subaru fashion, it completely removes the stress from such challenging situations – much in the same way Hill Descent does as you work your way – effortlessly and safely – down a slippy slope.

AND WHAT ABOUT PRACTICALITY?

Lined up alongside its predecessor, this new Forester is both wider and longer. That means front and rear-seat passengers have oodles of leg room and the high roofline ensures head room for even six-foot tall people won’t be a problem on short or long journeys. Big windows add to the sense of airiness and access is never a problem thanks to the jacked up body and doors that open nice and wide. In terms of cabin storage, large doorbins are backed up by a decent-sized storage cubby under the front centre armrest. With the back seats up, the boot is impressively big at 520-litres – compared to 412-litres in a Ford Kuga and 514-litres in Vauxhall’s Grandland X – and grows to 1,779-litres when these are folded flat. The icing on the cake is a well-shaped aperture and teeny load lip intrusion. And a 1,870kg towing capacity is sure to appeal to those who prefer staycations and caravanning to vacations and flying.

BUILT TO LAST FEEL

There is a well-rehearsed joke in automotive circles that Subaru cars would survive a nuclear strike – and for very good reason. Quality in the current Forester has taken at least one step forward over its predecessor in a cabin that is solidly pieced together from a satisfactory proportion of hard-wearing and softer, luxurious feeling plastics. The big news for 2022-model-year cars is the introduction of an 8-inch touchscreen that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality in addition to changes to the firm’s ‘EyeSight’ driver assist technology. On top of a wider field of view that can pick out more forward-facing objects, three new functions take the total number of features to eleven in total.

PROS AND CONS

+ Superb build quality    
+ Impressive safety kit
+ Has real off-road ability
No plug-in hybrid option
High list price
CVT still a weak link

OFF-ROAD: Given Subaru’s past glories in rallying, this technical know-how has trickled down into the four-wheel-drive systems on its passenger car range. This is supported by ‘Active Torque Split’ – a set-up that finds maximum traction on a given surface by adjusting power between each wheel in real-time. Capable of moving the Forester at speeds of up to 25mph, the mild-hybrid system helps here, too.

STYLING: Tweaks to the new Forester amount to a sharper look, especially around its nose where most of the changes have been applied. Top-spec models receive a shopping list of features, including 18-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, a sunroof and privacy glass. Adaptive LED headlights, a roof-mounted spoiler and subtle shark fin antenna appear on all three versions of the Japanese Sport Utility Vehicle.

INTERIOR: Cabin quality and the upright layout of screens and buttons are both strong points of the Forester. Equally pleasing is standard equipment because despite the high list price a DAB radio and CD player, dual-zone air con that can be adjusted via hand gestures, eight-way electrically adjustable memory seats, an 8-inch multimedia display, sat-nav and a 6.3-inch digital driver display all feature.

PRACTICALITY: Head and knee room are generous in the rear and access is helped by doors that open nice a wide – a positive for when it comes to mounting child seats to the easy-to-locate ISOFIX points. The car’s elevated stance – and motorised tail-gate – make a huge difference when it comes to loading the boot that totals 520-litres when the second row of seats are occupied.

SPECIFICATION

Price: £39,910 (as tested) 
Engine: 2-litre petrol plus one e-motor
Power/torque: 148bhp/266lb ft    
Transmission: 7-speed CVT, four-wheel drive         
0-62mph: 11.8 seconds    
Top speed: 117mph       
Economy/CO2: 34.7mpg/185g/Km 

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