When any product from the Subaru family crosses your path, the words ‘simple’, ‘straightforward’ and ‘sensible’ immediately spring to mind.
Sure the company went through a glory period in the 28 years between 1980 and 2008 when it was beloved of every rallying petrolhead the world over as it produced a string of Legacy RS and Impreza models to win multiple constructor and driver World Rally titles, cementing a sporting legacy (sic) which lasts to this day.
And, I know, none of those cars were anything close to being sensible, simple or straightforward.
I know of many who reluctantly took down the bedroom posters of the late Colin McRae power-sliding luridly over massive Finnish ‘yumps’ or through dark, foreboding British forests on his way to famous WRC victories.
“But mum, I love that poster.” “Yes son, but you’re 50 now and have been married for years and have your own children…”
On the back of those worldwide successes, Subaru not only forged a reputation as a sporting manufacturer, but it used those triumphs wisely to spread the message that these — largely — four-wheel drive machines with a — by now — unique four-cylinder horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ engine layout were hardy, sturdy and go-anywhere family cars.
After the Impreza, came such as the Forester, the XV and the Outback and each of these machines gained traction among an increasingly loyal fanbase because they were a fantastically reliable, unbelievably hard-wearing variety of saloon, hatchback and SUV models.
Indeed — and this is possibly not the message Subaru wants transmitted worldwide — the number of old Subaru’s you see around the place, happily plying their trade decades after they were built, is far more numerous, I would suggest, than from any other manufacturer.
Far from the wild rallying machines Subaru (largely thanks to the efforts of performance partner Prodrive) made, the company’s day-to-day machines are much more prosaic and mundane and traditionally, despite considerable efforts by the company’s engineers to make them otherwise, not terribly economic or even lively to drive.
The Forester, habitually, has been just that sort of car — really good to own, will go anywhere, anytime and for years longer than most of its rivals; but it’s thirsty and doesn’t go anywhere particularly quickly.
For those who’ve owned one, however, trying to separate them from their beloved Forester is as visceral as ICE officers trying to split an immigrant family at a Mexican border post. Subaru owners will forgive the car’s many inadequacies because they love it so much and, generally, they will only part with it at gunpoint.
The latest one — the fifth generation, believe it or not — aims to solve economy problems with the addition of hybrid technology. Now, call me a sceptic if you will, but I believe that these hybrid and mild-hybrid things so many manufacturers are introducing right now are mere window-dressing to placate the green agenda.
Not that there is anything wrong with a green agenda, but it seems to me that so many policy makers are happy to drown their climate-change and environmental concerns in cockamamie solutions which actually do nothing to benefit the planet and manufacturers — not just Subaru, it has to be said — are keeping them placated with nonsense like this which will have little future credibility.
For example, my wife has a Range Rover Evoque with mild-hybrid technology. It might as well have a pack a Duracell batteries in the boot for all the good it does for our little blue planet. These systems are a sort of panacea for the truly unconcerned but very PC crowd; they appear to be helping solve our carbon problems but frankly do bugger-all.
That’s very much the case here. The Subaru mild-hybrid system — the e-Boxer — introduces to the two litre four-cylinder petrol engine a 10kW electric motor and a 4.8 Ah lithium-ion battery.
Technically this allows for (very limited) electric motoring and Subaru itself says that it will “drive in EV mode for distances ranging up to 1.6 km and reach speeds up to 80 kph.” Well, wow. One point six kilometres. Gosh.
The Forester is equipped with a swathe of electronic indicators to tell you how you are driving and managing all that great electrification. Fascinating stuff, but largely useless when it comes to saving the planet.
But that’s of little consequence here. What matters to Subaruistas is that it is a Forester. Nothing more, nothing less. It could have wooden wheels and they wouldn’t care less. And I won’t even mention the grim CVT gearbox or the eye-popping list price.
They also don’t really care that there’s only 150 bhp on offer here (oh, and the 13.5 extra you get from the electric motor) for a top speed of 188 kph and a 0-100 kph time of, gasp, 11.8 seconds. Nor do they appear to care that — going by Subaru’s claimed figures — it will return 8.1 l/100 km (that’s just 34.5 mpgin old money).
Big and bomb-proof with unique character of its own
They probably don’t even care that the consumption figures are wildly optimistic. By my count — and on the back of two separate tests – it will actually return somewhere between 9 l/100 km (31 mpg) and 11 l/100 km (25.4 mpg).
Nor do they mind that despite the ‘hybridisation’ the CO2 emissions are 154 g/km for an annual €390 road tax bill.
What they do care about is that this car will scoff at forest trails, guffaw at slopes an Alpine skier wouldn’t tackle and ford rivers web-footed critters would avoid. It will also do so over a period of time that geologists would find hard to categorise.
They also like that it is big — some would say ugly — and has Subaru’s fantastic asymmetrical four-wheel drive system and is largely indestructible.
They will also like this fifth gen. car because it has a heap of new kit aimed at keeping you infotained and connected at all times, as well as cosseted in leather upholstery and spoilt by stuff like heated front and rear seats, sunroof, parking cameras and a suite of stuff that comes as standard with the Premium model we tested.
I like Subaru and I like their products. Indeed I have liked their idiosyncratic approach to making cars for as long as I can remember. I even liked this Forester, despite the many and manifest chinks in its armour.
I suspect, however, that, like most Subaru owners, I liked it for its bomb-proof character and its many incredible talents and not for the bits which the company hypes as ‘technological advances’ but are in reality crack-papering exercises.
Now, pardon me, but I must go and try and salvage that Colin McRae poster.
From €45,545 - €49,245 as tested in Premium spec.
A great, if thirsty, Boxer engine, blighted by a faintly ridiculous hybrid system.
Not great, but that will not deter fans of the brand.