Diesel power is all set to drive Subaru’s latest Forester model into pole position in the sport utility sector.
With the world’s first heavy-oil ‘boxer’ motor under its bonnet, the all-wheel drive Japanese car has all it takes to be leader of the compact SUV class, believes importer Subaru UK.
In its latest guise, the Forester beats all its rivals in the critical areas of economy, exhaust emissions and vehicle excise duty.
But the high output of the motor also makes it one of the best-performing vehicles of its type, claims marketing manager John Fossey.
He said: “After struggling to sell a petrol car in a sector where diesel dominates with 85% of registrations, we regard this version of the Forester as a marriage made in heaven.
It means we are now able to tackle the likes of the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail and Toyota RAV4 head on – and win.”
Since being offered in the Legacy and Outback ranges in March, the 2.0-litre diesel unit has been specified by 65% of buyers.
“Perhaps more significantly, half of the cars being traded in for these models are from the German premium brands, so we’re confident the Forester’s green credentials will win us a lot of fresh interest in the showrooms,” added Mr Fossey.
Based on the same platform as the latest Impreza, the third-generation workhorse Subaru model is stretched in all directions to offer more room for five occupants, and luggage space with the rear seat in position rises by 63 litres to 450.
Head and legroom is particularly generous and neat detailing gives the interior a quality appearance.
Though it is not intended as a serious off-roader, the diesel Forester has a 10mm greater ground clearance at 215mm and its full-time drive system uses a centre differential with a viscous-coupling to distribute torque between axles.
The engine’s extra torque also allows it to haul a 2,000kg trailer load.
Expected to account for 80% of sales, the diesel version has a six-speed manual transmission, uprated suspension and firmer steering.
Keenly priced, the car comes in three trim levels with the base X version featuring self-levelling rear suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, climate control, height and reach adjustable steering, 60/40 split rear seats with reclining backrests, driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, front fog lamps, heated mirrors and wipers and electric windows.
The XC, which is expected to be the most popular version, adds roof rails, 17-inch alloy wheels, premium audio with a six-stacker CD player, high intensity headlamps, a roof spoiler and a power-operated sunroof.
In XS trim, the car also features satellite navigation, leather trim, a powered driver’s seat, keyless entry and push-button start.
Mr Fossey said: “We expect great things of this car and believe it has the potential to be our best-seller.
Despite the economic slowdown, we are confident sales should reach around 2,600 next year, rising to 3,500 in 2010.”
Behind the wheel
A big air scoop on its bonnet, aggressive bumpers and chiseled styling give a sporting flavour to this crossover model, but comfort and refinement soon prove to underline the Forester’s character on the road.
With its long-travel independent suspension and a new multi-link arrangement at the rear, the car offers the supple ride characteristics of a saloon and soaks up surface irregularities with aplomb.
Thanks to an electric steering system and a relatively tight turning circle, this chunky model is particularly easy to manoeuvre, but while its symmetrical drive system provides the stability to allow it to hang on well through the bends, the car feels more suited to open road cruising than making spirited dashes along twisty country routes.
Top marks go to the engine, however.
Subaru’s unique flat four is a masterpiece that runs smoothly at all speeds and is vigorous in output. With ample power on tap from little more than idling speed, it pulls away smartly under progressive turbo boost, never loses its subdued demeanour and performs so well that you’d be forgiven for thinking it has a 2.5-litre capacity.
Ratios are nicely spaced on the six-speed gearbox and a long-stride top ratio allows the motor to hum along at the legal limit showing just 2,000rpm while also promising a range of more than 600 miles from its 64-litre fuel tank.
For years the underdog of the sector, the latest Forester is an attractive package that turns the tables on many rivals.
And the long overdue arrival of a diesel engine extends its appeal even further.