Motoring review: Subaru Forester XT

'It's a new Subaru but where is the Impreza magic?'

Price: £30,995
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre petrol
Power output (ps @ rpm): 240 @ 5,600
Top speed (mph): 137
0-62 mph (seconds):
Fuel economy (mpg): 33.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 197

Far too many hours of my semi-misspent youth were spent hammering around country lanes in a noisily tuned Subaru.

Sure, it was in a pixelated version of the famous Impreza WRX in the late Colin McRae's eponymous 1998 video game (and its many sequels), but those hours spent ruining my eyes in front of a PC did nothing if not imbue a fondness for the Japanese manufacturer.

The Forester, Subaru's bulky crossover SUV, may lack the cool of those classic Impreza's – and certainly the brand has faded in the UK since those heady nineties' days – but it has improved its looks significantly in its new fourth generation. Formerly a boxy beast, this is a car you'd take home to meet your mother.

The sporty grills on the XT model that I tested give the Forester an air of unreconstructed power, and while its 2.0-litre petrol engine doesn't always back that up on the road, it still carries a certain swagger.

But – as the legions of Subaru devotees in the UK will tell you – swagger is in the eye of the beholder. And the new Forester certainly has enough to recommend itself as your new drive.

Its 240ps engine makes easy work of pulling along its two tons of metal in most situations, though it lacks grunt when overtaking – especially in a fully-loaded car. Loading it is no problem either. I took four passengers camping and we managed to fit everyone's tents, sleeping mats and wellies in with minimal fuss into the 60-litre boot.

The campsite's rocky entrance also offered a good opportunity to test out the Subaru's suspension and 4x4 capability. An empty field and a few twists and turns may have sent my passengers a bit green, but the dry weather and reactive suspension certainly retained an air of control. The car's X-mode (which softens the throttle response and helps with descents) also makes off-road handling slightly McRae-like. Slightly.

Elsewhere, the roomy cabin boasts a nice leather trim and the XT model features a huge panoramic sunroof that opens up the whole cabin (so big that I had to close it after a few minutes to avoid burning). The XT also comes with 18-inch alloys, satnav and the usual in-cab modcons. It's not quite luxury, but it's not a million miles away.

And, though the drive is smooth, quiet and consistently paced, it's lacking what one clever copywriter once dubbed "va-va-voom". For those raised dreaming of a souped-up Subaru (or, like Ryan Giggs, who went out and bought the full Colin McRae-spec version) it's not going to make your blood pulse.

However, like many of its close rivals, such as the Hyundai ix35, it looks smart, performs decently and is unlikely to let you down as a generously proportioned family car.

As the XT is the two-litre turbocharged version at the top end of the Forester range, I'd be tempted to splash out not a great deal more (around £1,500) for a basic BMW X3 SE. Or, if it was time to treat oneself, hoick up to the X3's M Sport range (from £34k) – the most fun I've had in a 4x4 ever (and What Car's reigning SUV of the year to boot).

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