Subaru has been very busy. First, it introduced the new Impreza, which divided opinion with its switch to a curvy hatchback body in place of the previous rather staid saloon shape. Then there was the introduction of the company's own diesel engine; as the first boxer diesel fitted to a passenger car, it impressed just about everyone who tried it.
Model: Subaru Forester 2.0XS automatic~
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol
Performance: 115mph, 0-62mph in 12.7 seconds, 148bhp, 33.6mpg,
Worth considering: Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4
This week, our reader-testers get the chance to try the new Forester, which in appearance and market positioning differs markedly from its predecessor.
Subaru has fitted four-wheel drive to most of its cars for decades, but these have usually been mainstream saloons and estates rather than chunky off-roaders. I liked this approach because, while the toughness and cross-country abilities of these vehicles were never in doubt, their understated appearance meant that they tended to avoid the opprobrium that many 4x4s attract. This latest Forester, though, instead of looking like a slightly jacked-up estate car, is a tall, upright – albeit handsome – SUV designed to compete head-on with mainstream Japanese mid-sized 4x4s such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail and Toyota RAV4.
If that represents a departure from what came before, the driving experience is predictably impressive. Most Subarus have the same mechanical layout, which incorporates a boxer engine and what the company calls symmetrical all-wheel drive. This means a low centre of gravity and great handling, even on the high-sided Forester.
Our test car's only real weakness was its optional automatic gearbox, which had only four speeds; the high top gear made for relaxed cruising but emphasised the wide spacing of the ratios, which meant that our test car felt a bit strained under hard acceleration.
But peppier Foresters are on the way; a diesel is a certainty, and I very much hope Subaru will find a place in the new range for a successor to the powerful, turbo-charged Boxster-bashing XT version of the old model. This Forester is fine – but the best is yet to come.
Martin Reade, 62
Research technician, Steventon
Usual cars: Mini Cooper S, Honda Civic, Lotus Europa
I liked the clean lines of the new Forester, vastly superior to the Rover Freelander. The engine has the classic Subaru roar, and pulls willingly throughout its rev range. The auto gearbox is disappointing; the four ratios seem quite wide apart and although the shift is smooth, it feels lazy and takes an eternity to change. The manual hold option is overridden by the management system, so you never have complete control over it. Ground clearance looks good, but we were unable to test its off-road capabilities. The suspension is very compliant without being too soft, soaking up the bumps and the unevenness of country tracks well. The seating provided good lateral support and had a wide range of adjustment. The dashboard layout worked well.
David Wild, 42
Sales manager, Walsall
Usual cars: Ford Focus, Peugeot 307
My first impression of the Forester was that it looks a modern car. The seats are comfortable, driving position is good. All-round visibility is good, too. It seems roomy, although it might be a little short of headroom for taller drivers, and the boot space is a bit on the shallow side. Equipment levels are more than adequate and the layout of the dashboard is very clear. On the move, the steering is accurate and road noise isn't too bad. Another plus is that it's small enough to get into normal spaces at supermarkets and shopping centres. A nice touch was the velcro-fastened flaps over the Isofix child-seat brackets. Overall, it's a nice car, but I'd struggle a bit with the boot space. A drawback for sales reps; no coat-hooks in the main cabin, although a pair can be found in the luggage compartment.
Jonathan Brookes, 30
Urban designer, Cambridge
Usual Car: Skoda Octavia VRS
Two automotive firsts for me – driving a Subaru, and driving an automatic. For me, Subarus are about the whistle-popping of turbo- chargers through a special stage, but this Forester is a very different proposition; more family (even farmer) orientated than the smaller "rally hero" Impreza, with which it shares its underpinnings. The trademark boxer engine made a pleasing growl under acceleration but the auto box felt like it needed a couple more cogs for smoother progress. Once up to speed, the engine made for a relaxed drive. Inside, there was plenty of space and a commanding driving position. The start button was a nice novelty. The new Forester definitely isn't a "Scooby-do", but a grown-up and extremely capable Subaru.
If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email email@example.com or write to The Verdict, Save & Spend, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.