Subaru Forester 2.0 XS
Model/Engine size: 2.0 XS
Fuel economy combined: 37.7 mpg
Green-Car-Guide rating: 6/10
The Subaru Forester 2.0 XS is one of the most economical petrol 4x4s , returning 37.7 mpg , it’s also highly capable off-road, and its Impreza-based platform means that it has good handling on the road.
Few people will be aware that when Subaru’s boxer diesel engine first appeared in the previous-generation Outback, it was the most economical 4×4 in its class for around 18 months – until Subaru, in a stroke of genius, replaced that model with a new, less economical version.
The Subaru Forester 2.0-litre X has a petrol rather than a diesel engine, but it shows that the brand may be back on the way to giving us more economical cars again. Subaru Boxer petrol engines have traditionally drunk fuel at a fairly heavy rate, but the official combined figure of 37.7 mpg from the latest unit is not bad for a 4×4 – not that we managed to achieve more than 30 mpg on test, probably due to the fact that most days of the test involved short runs to, from and through the Cholmondeley Castle estate.
This latest Forester has grown into a Freelander-sized rival compared to the previous model, which had an estate-like body style. That meant that it performed on the road very much like a jacked-up version of the Impreza estate, which was a good thing. The new body looks good, and it’s spacious and practical, but it means that it has a higher centre of gravity than the old model. This means that the handling has suffered, but it still handles better than many other 4x4s. This is aided by the horizontally-opposed boxer engine configuration, which helps to keep the centre of gravity low. The Forester also has a comfortable ride, although it is tuned with off-road driving in mind, so it won’t always be as composed as a normal car.
The main area in which this Forester falls down compared to the Impreza is in the performance department. This petrol-engined version doesn’t have a turbo, and it really needs one. The result is that the performance isn’t what you’d expect from a Subaru at all. You can’t actually buy a current petrol Forester with a turbo, so despite this being one of most economical petrol 4x4s, we would have to recommend the diesel – unless a prospective owner really does have a genuine allergy to derv. The diesel has so much more torque, an area in which the petrol Forester really struggles.
The Forester 2.0 litre X also only has a five-speed manual gearbox compared to the six-speed in the diesel version. A six-speed transmission would assist in giving a more relaxed cruising ability, along with better economy.
However the Forester does have a trump card up its sleeve, which is that it is highly capable off-road. The symmetrical, permanent all-wheel drive underpinnings from the Impreza rally car help with this, but the simple task of fitting the Forester with a decent set of tyres also helps. Whereas most SUVs from the likes of BMW come with tyres with hardly any tread, Subarus come as standard with tyres that can handle tarmac, mud and snow. We had chance to test the Forester’s off-road ability in a range of environments, including over a section of the Cholmondeley estate that had had been churned up by tanks and other military off-road hardware during a weekend of rain at the Pageant of Power. The Forester took the challenge of gaining traction in deep mud all in its stride, proving that people looking for a car to tow a horse box out of muddy fields could do a lot worse with their choice of vehicle.
The Forester is also fairly unique in having transmission with ‘old-fashioned’ high and low range. This makes it even more capable in sticky situations, and ideal for towing. It also has a decent ground clearance of 215 mm, and good approach and departure angles.
All this shows that the Forester is an honest 4×4 rather than a case of style over substance, and in case you wanted any more evidence of this, just take a look at the interior. Although it’s solid, as with most Subarus, the interior proves that Subaru owners are more concerned with the way their car drives on and off the road than about the luxurious interior ambience (the stereo looks particularly dated). Putting it another way, the Forester falls short of class-standards in this area.
However even the entry-level Forester 2.0 X has decent levels of equipment, including self-levelling suspension, cruise control, heated seats, mirrors and windscreen wipers, climate control and electric windows all round.
The 2.0 XS comes with alloy wheels, sat nav, leather trim, CD changer, xenon lights, electric sunroof, electric seat adjustment and keyless entry.
One thing to watch out for is the stop/start button, which is positioned very close to the edge of the dashboard, right next to the where the door closes onto the dash, and it looks as if it would be easy to get your fingers stuck if you’re looking to close the door, start-up and set off in a hurry.
There are two petrol models, the 2.0 X which costs £21,375, and the higher spec 2.0 XS which costs a considerable £4000 more at £25,375. The diesel engine is available in three specifications; the 2.0D X, at £23,070; the 2.0D XC, at £25,070; and the 2.0D XS NavPlus, for £29,070.
Subarus have an excellent reliability and durability record, proven by the many ageing Subarus still in evidence on farms and country estates.
Our recommendation to Subaru would be to give the petrol Forester a turbo, fit it with six gears to give more economical cruising, and with stop/start to keep the official emissions figure low.
The Subaru Forester is basically a good, although very overlooked, 4×4. It is very capable both on and off-road, and will appeal to people who don’t want style over substance. We would absolutely recommend the diesel-engined version, but we find it hard to recommend this petrol model. Although it has good fuel economy for a petrol-engined car in this class, without a turbo, the engine just doesn’t deliver enough performance, so instead go for the Subaru Forester 2.0D X.
Fuel economy extra urban: 44.1 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 30.1 mpg
CO2 emissions: 173 g/km
Green rating: VED band H – first year £265
Weight: 1465 Kg
Company car tax liability (2011/12): 24%
Insurance group: 19
Power: 148 bhp
Max speed: 115 mph
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Read our Subaru Forester 2.0D X review
Read our Subaru Outback diesel review (previous generation (lower emission) model)
Subaru Forester 2.0 litre XS review, Subaru Forester 2.0 litre XS road test