Motoring: It's not a lumberjack, but you won't care

You should be able to get tartan and denim trim in a car called Forester, and a lifestyle option pack with axes and a chain-saw - but you can't. Subaru has missed a trick there, then. Frivolous? Not at all, says John Simister.

The Subaru is about nothing if not niche marketing, and niche marketing is a serious business. Exploit new trends, create demand where none existed, that's the idea.

Fat 4x4s of the Discovery and Shogun genre are variously practical workhorses, social status statements, or objects of derision, depending on your standpoint. This last view has taken a hold recently, because there are few sights dafter than that of a gas-guzzling, bull-barred, fat-tyred Tonka toy parked half on the pavement outside the school gates. The clever thing to do, if you want to combine a 4x4's usefulness with social sensibility, is to find one which is a little lower, less visually aggressive and less needlessly profligate with the Earth's natural resources. In short, you want an estate car and a 4x4 in one. And that's the new niche.

You've probably read about the Land Rover Freelander - seen the ads, had the mailshots. It's the highest profile of the "soft-roaders", and the best suited to all-terrain travel. But there are others: Toyota's RAV4 defined the breed, Honda's CRV enlarged it and the Forester, launched just before the Freelander, refined it.

Of them all, the Forester is the only one to have meaningful four-wheel drive happening all the time. The others only divert power to their rear wheels when the fronts are slithering. In practice it makes little difference one way or the other, because automatic all-wheel drive is always there when you need it, but it does give the Subaru an uncannily secure feeling when you're going quickly on a wet road.

Here is the Subaru's great strength. Relatively low in build, half-way in height between a full-size off-roader and an ordinary estate car, and with a low centre of gravity thanks partly to its unusual flat-four engine, the Forester is an entertaining drive. It corners quickly, steers accurately and rides well, calling for none of the relearning of motion physics that you need for a 4x4 of the tall and topply variety. Part of the prowess comes from the fact that under its loftier build, the Forester has broadly the same underpinnings as the Impreza Turbo, which is one of the most road- adhesive cars known to the world today.

True, the Forester goes squidgy in a bend long before the hot Impreza, as you might expect, but then it's also able to tackle fields and farmtracks, provided they're not too lumpy. A Freelander can venture further into the wilds, long after the Forester has pulped its underpinnings, but for the uses to which most will put an off-roader, the Forester should do just fine.

It's lively, too, the uneven and lazy beat of its flat-four disguising the fact that there's 122bhp on tap and vigorous acceleration provided you're prepared to work the engine hard. There's even an extra set of low-speed gear ratios, just as in a proper 4x4. It's frustratingly easy to operate the low-range selector lever instead of the hand brake, though, because they are right next to each other.

You step up into a Forester, but only slightly, and the driving position is normal and car-like apart from the extra space above your head. But not many cars give you an extra power socket in the back, and a plastic recess which is intended to double as a washing-up bowl. This is one of a claimed 20 storage areas - I confess I didn't count them all - which include a fishing-rod compartment (but not an axe-holder). Unlike many 4x4s, the Forester has its spare wheel stored conventionally inside, so it can have a conventional, lift-up tailgate. This is easier to live with than the over-engineered contraptions found elsewhere.

The Forester brings together the best aspects of an estate car and a 4x4. It's cheap, too, relatively speaking. It's no beauty - it looks a bit dated and square-cut, in fact - but neither is it kitsch. If they thought about it, a lot of people could need one quite badly.

SUBARU FORESTER

Specifications

Price: pounds 16,400. Engine: 1,994cc, four cylinders in horizontally opposed pairs, 16 valves, 122bhp at 5,600 rpm. Five-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive. Top speed 111mph, 0-60 in 10.3sec, 26-31mpg.

Rivals

Honda CRV LS: pounds 17,020. Noisy, otherwise average in every way. Options include a portable shower.

Land Rover Freelander Station Wagon i: pounds 17,995. Expensive next to Forester, but chunkier looks, better off-road ability, competitive on-road prowess.

Toyota RAV4 GX 5-door: pounds 17,463. Not particularly tough, but light weight gives lively if buzzy performance. Looks cute, feels cheaply made.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

    £16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea