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Car reviews - Subaru - Forester - 5-dr wagon

Launch Story

Subaru logo2 Jun 2010

By PHILIP LORD

THANKS to the European car market’s obsession with diesel and Subaru’s desire to become more than a bit-player there, Australians now have the choice of a petrol or diesel Forester.

But the new, expanded model choice in the Forester range doesn’t stretch to the transmission – the Forester 2.0D is a six-speed manual, take it or leave it. You can again thank the Europeans and their desire to shuffle their own gears.

Among the few clues that this is a diesel are the tailgate badge and bonnet (to feed the top-mounted intercooler), but otherwise it could be any other Forester.

The interior is also familiar territory, with the comfortable seats and plenty of room. Three adults sitting on the rear seat may find themselves too close for comfort - nothing unusual for this class of vehicle - and the centre seat belt sash is not ideally positioned in the cargo area ceiling, but the generous storage areas, the clear vision out and the materials appear to be of good quality.

Starting the engine, the speedo and tacho needles proscribe their signature arc across the dials and the diesel fires without the vibration and clatter you might expect. This is a refined engine from the moment the pistons first compress the fuel mixture and it combusts, and it seems even a bit better suppressed in NVH than even the petrol engine.

If you listen for it, you will hear the characteristic diesel rattle, but it is a subtle compared with some noisy diesels.

The clutch is positive on take up, with Subaru avoiding the path taken by other manufacturers to make it too light – which reduces feel and makes smooth clutch take up harder.

It has a hill-holder function, too, which is even useful in the urban stop-start traffic environment in which many Forester diesels operate.

The gearshift quality is not so well executed, feeling rubbery, with a long throw. It is the sort of thing that you would learn to live with, but you would immediately notice the contrast when driving a good manual-shifting car.

Thankfully, gear changes are not frequent anyway, as the engine’s superb torque lugs along in third gear when the driver would be obliged to grab second gear in the petrol model.

Stretch the engine to its 4800rpm redline and two things become apparent – the linear torque delivery – it really does have a petrol engine feel about it – and the smoothness.

It does not feel especially quick, but neither is the normally aspirated petrol model.

The diesel’s flat torque curve lacks the peaks and troughs of the petrol engine, so Subaru’s claim of identical acceleration figures rings true.

Although there is a disconnected feel to the accelerator when taking off – the engine can feel as if it is not responding in accordance to throttle input – but once rolling, all is sweetness.

The mid-range torque does not slam your back into the seat as it does with some turbo-diesels this diesel is far more subtle than that.

The diesel is economical too, provided you are not rummaging too deeply in its performance cupboard.

We saw a low of 6.2L/100km on the trip computer during the launch when driving at 100km/h, and a high of 8.4L/100km when shuffling between second and third gear on forest tracks.

This third-generation Forester may lack the chassis response clarity of the prior Forester, but for many this will be a good thing, because with it is also less fidgety.

It has a generally supple ride, and while it feels soft in its responses, it changes direction with suitable obedience and poise. The stability control – which can’t be switched off, though traction control can – is not too quick to quell yawing but if a dangerous slide is underway it works a treat.

The only quibble about the dynamics relates to steering: like many of its type, the feel is quite remote, and over stony dirt or pockmarked blacktop it can suffer from some steering kick and rack rattle.

The relaxed driving style that this engine encourages could make the Forester 2.0D far more palatable than many might expect, and its refinement and performance are good enough to make many reconsider whether the Forester’s naturally aspirated petrol 2.5 boxer has the punch or stamina of the new diesel.

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