With a new Subaru Forester due in the UK late 2019 you could forgive the Japanese all-wheel drive specialists for running down the clock and shifting focus onto other models like the XV compact crossover, or the Outback estate.
But the Forester SUV is still a key part of Subaru’s lifestyle-focused UK line-up and, instead, they’ve opted for a final refresh to keep the current generation Forester competitive while the UK waits for the replacement model which made its motor show premier last year.
The 2019 model year features a new front bumper, designed to give the car a sportier appearance, the boot floor has had a practical refresh with a new water-repellent floor material and rails added for easier stowing of heavy luggage, and inside the car the interior trim has been updated with new dark-carbon detail replacing plastic dash inserts featured in the 2018 model.
Subaru Forester XE Premier
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Top speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
CO2 emissions: 168g/km
The new front splitter looks good and the boot floor is a practical addition – but if the aim of the carbon inserts in the interior was to bring the cabin up to date then it’s shy of the mark for me. I test drove a 2008 Vauxhall Astra SRi with the same finish and it’s all I can think of when I look at the revised Subaru detail.
If you’re wondering, I didn’t buy the Astra.
The rest of the dashboard and interior on the Forester is unchanged from the previous model year and while I like the layout, the chunky feel and the seat comfort, there’s no getting round the fact that the main dashboard material leaves a lot to be desired. Hard, inexpensive-feeling plastic dominates and the 30k-plus Subaru lags behind competitors that cost considerably less.
But what’s new? The selling point of a Subaru has never been luxury. Reliability, robustness, four-wheel drive and offroad motorsport heritage have long been the hallmark of the Subaru brand.
Perhaps to distinguish it from the compact crossover XV, the Forester very much feels like it’s been tuned as an old-style SUV. The soft suspension soaks up bumps in the road surface like they aren’t there, yet on the flipside there’s some wicked lean in the corners and you can feel the car dipping when you apply the brakes.
I don’t actually mind that. It’s a car that actually feels like it could do the business off-road. An antidote to the more modern SUV that might look the part, but is so car-like in its characteristics that it all feels a bit put-on.
What I do mind however is the combination of the 148bhp 2.0-litre engine powering our test car and the CVT gearbox. For those unfamiliar with the distinction between CVT and a more traditional automatic box – CVT stands for continuous variable transmission. It’s technology that’s better for fuel efficiency but the power delivery can lack the immediacy of a traditional auto or manual gearbox.
This, combined with a lack of low and mid-range grunt from the engine means the car feels like it’s working awfully hard without doing a whole lot until it hits its stride – and it makes rather a lot of noise in the process.
There’s a turbocharged variant of the engine available that puts out 237bhp, which may remedy this issue but it’s significantly dearer.
For a big lump of petrol-powered SUV the Forester returned a fairly respectable 30mpg for the duration of our one-week road test. That’s not far off Subaru’s predicted combined figure of 32.2mpg but still way off what you might get from a more modern diesel engine or a smaller capacity turbocharged unit.
I like the Forester. I like its big bouncy SUV feel and its chunky off-road appearance. It’s got a five-star Euro NCap rating and Subaru score highly in every reliability test going. It’s not cheap though, it feels far from premium in the cabin and if you’re from the segment of the market that likes their cars to look like off-roaders but drive like hatchbacks, you’re going to be disappointed.