UK CAR Reviews: Subaru Forester Turbo S
Over the last decade or so, Subaru has been building up an increasingly large and loyal following for their quirky cars.
I suspect that in most people's minds, there are two types of Subaru: reliable and friendly four-wheel drive vehicles, much admired by would-be small farmers and berzerko copies of the Impreza Turbo WRC in its many limited edition forms.
The Forester S-Turbo combines those two vehicles into a single entity and creates a complete new niche market for itself. Despite the 4-wheel drive and raised ride-height, Subaru emphasise on the road going attributes of their 50/50 drive system, which redistributes torque to the grippy wheels when wheel spin is detected. Safety is a key factor here, especially when you're trying to put some way serious BHP to the tarmac.
The car portrays a powerful stance of authority; alloys and air scoops give the game away with not too subtle hints about the monster lurking under the bonnet, but all in all it's not badly styled.
With the optional leather upholstery, the interior is about as good as any oriental car short of a Lexus and a million miles from Jap cars of old. It's still not up there with the best of the European stuff, but then again it's not priced up there either.
Like the Impreza, this car is powered by an inter cooled turbo-charged 'boxer' engine or flat four. An engine configuration that's almost unique now since Alfa have gone back to straight 4 motors. It has been re-worked to make it more usable on the streets and in a Sainsbury's car park, but behind the smooth delivery is the barely disguised rally motor trying to escape. I guess one of the advantages of having a reliable, fire breathing turbo motor, is that you can turn the turbo up or down easily and tweak the motor to produce whatever characteristics you wish.
Many years of development have gone into this motor and in this tune, it is both flexible (with no-discernable turbo-lag) and powerful, pushing the big, blunt Forester close to 125 mph with electric acceleration.
Yet the five-door estate body will comfortably carry five passengers, pack over 53 cubic feet of luggage and tow around 1800 kg which is plenty enough for most.
And consider the amount of engineering you're buying. It's yours for around a reasonable sounding £22k with Subaru's three year (or 60,000 miles) warranty.
There are lots of 4x4's in today's market. The Forester matches the competition well, making all the lifestyle statements of the Freelander, Honda HR-V and the RAV4.
But there, the similarity ends. The Subaru, like many others, is never intended to go into serious off-roading; climbing a few kerbs or traversing a bumpy back lane is as much as most owners will ever stretch to (something a 2CV would manage as well as most 4X4s). In reality, the Forester will negotiate the farmers field on the camping holiday, the speed bumps on your local back street and the arduous trek across across the local supermarket car park at least as well and any Shogun, Range Rover et al.
Subaru recognises this in the same way the new Volvo cross-countries do and chooses not to compromise the car in the name of fashion with crude XC suspension and chassis.( If you really want to go green laning, buy a Defender.)
Instead, Subaru give us a stiff, monocoque body and fully independent suspension, tied together by front and rear anti-roll bars to provide a firm, flat, roll-free ride and the Forester is even fitted with self-leveling rear suspension units to help with the monumental loads the car is capable of carrying.
Despite the elevated drive-height, which marginally improves visibility, you don't feel like you're perched miles from the road. The deeply bolstered seats are most un-4x4 and are a perfect match. Note must be made of the responsive steering which offers a lot of feedback through the wheel's well-padded rim. It allows you to push with ease toward the Forester's exceptionally high limits without feeling like you're not quite in total control; this is not something all "performance" cars can manage, never mind "off-roaders". The 4 (permanent) wheel drive displays near-perfect grip at all time, encouraging you to make use of the capable chassis and engine and the inclusion of a rear LSD helps gather it all back up when you finally push it too far.
It's a fair bet that in a straight shoot-out, the Forester would give an awful lot of more overtly sporting cars a run for their money with its combination of handling and speed. On the road, there's probably no conventional 4x4 off-roader to match it. For a car of this size and supposed target market, it is remarkably nimble.
The engine we all know about; but also, seemingly finding its way from the performance cars, is a light, swift gearshift and light but not devoid of feeling pedals. The quad discs offer excellent braking power but more importantly, they are the kind you can give a good old squeeze and modulate easily, the ABS only cutting in late in panic stops.
For me it's only a shame they didn't go even further with the road bias, but that may start to impinge on Legacy territory. I'm not sure, without driving the Legacy, which would suit me more. My suspicion is that if I was in the market for a 4x4 super estate, I would probably head toward the Legacy or some form of Audi Avant Quattro. If you don't need 4x4 then your choice is much much wider. But if you feel you may one day need to traverse some difficult ground and need that little extra ground clearance, the Forester gives you that safety margin without you having to lug around in some old super tanker, just in case.
If you're thinking of hanging on for the first second-hand Forester's to come to market, though, I think that the scale of its residual may be a bit of a shock, because if Subaru can keep up their spectacular results at the top of the JD power surveys, this car is going to be in heavy demand.
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