As a group of people, foresters – and I am assuming rather a lot here – are ruddy, earthy types who work a long hard day doing whatever it is they do (what does foresting involve?), eat cheese and pickle sandwiches for lunch and like a nice pint of egg-smelling real ale in the pub afterwards. Salt-of-the-earth types.
And the Subaru Forester is exactly the same. It looks utilitarian, despite some shiny alloy wheels and bumpers, and a huge sunroof the size of a picnic table. There is nothing pretty or svelte about the car, but it is not ugly either.
It has none of the lifestyle flashiness of similarly-priced sports utility vehicles. There are some more powerful models in the range to which the moniker 'sports' could be attached, but the 2.0 AWP is strictly a utility vehicle and a pretty good one at that. Inside it is equally workmanlike, with some cheap shiny plastics and a jumble of switches.
The seating position is poor with the steering wheel too low and far away and the seat too high, but it is the four-wheel drive chassis that stars.
This is a car that has very good off-road credentials – it won our group test against a Land Rover Freelander and Nissan X-trail last week – and yet on-road it is a good drive.
So I was ambivalent about driving it for a couple of weeks, to be honest, but the experience was less dour than I imagined it was going to be. There is some body roll, although less than would be expected, but it grips well and the steering is communicative, which is unusual for a 4x4.
Dare I say it, the Forester is actually heading towards being fun to drive, although a downside is that the gearbox is not great and needs a bit of a push to locate some of the gears.
The 30-second immobiliser has proved awkward for a number of recent drivers. Once the car is unlocked, you have half a minute to get the car started before it immobilises itself. It caught certain people out, thinking the battery had gone flat. I suppose it is one of those things that once you know about it causes no problem, and if you push the button on the key with the ignition switched on, the immobiliser is cancelled.
For a firm which needs a trusty workhorse to do a cross-over job – construction, surveying, forestry and the like – the Forester would be a good choice.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £79 per month