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Subaru Forester XS Limited


Generally speaking I'm not a great fan of silver-painted cars.

Given a choice between a silver car and an identical model finished in another hue, I'd go for the other one. Black I like. Rich yellows. Deep blues. Electric metallic blues on Ford Falcons.

As I said most anything other than silver. Except for Subaru Foresters. I have a soft spot for silver-painted Foresters.

It all started with a Limited 2.5, the old model with the different look grille a different brand logo. It was an official Subaru New Zealand new car, but used grille and badging like those on Japanese used import Foresters.

We drove that car over one summer holiday period and it proved just the ticket.

It was smooth, it handled well, it was comfortable.

We knew already that the Forester was a competitive proposition on forest tracks or in heavy, muddy, rutted going.

Subaru NZ had demonstrated as much during the model's launch. Then we'd charged along sandy tracks in the Waiuku Forest, crept down a rough if not that challenging paper road in the Tasman coastal foothills, and then tackled a muddy track that could easily have sidelined a 4WD. The Forester came through brilliantly.

This type of vehicle may be called a soft-roader in some quarters, but the Forester is more than capable.

We didn't subject the Limited to more than mild off-road driving along forest tracks, but despite the fact that it was skewed more towards luxury than the version we drove on the launch we had no doubt it could still do the job.

The Limited equivalent in the new Forester line-up is the XS with luxury pack.

The new Forester retains the traditional five-door, four-wheel drive wagon lines of the original.

But they've been made a little more contemporary, a little more rounded.

We particularly like the tailgate treatment with the recessed panel whose lines meet the rear windscreen's to form a hexagon.

We also like the detailing of the lower part of the rear bumper; the headlights, and the slot in the bottom of the front bumper that echoes the black-coloured grille.

The result is the familiarity of an old friend brought subtly up-to-date.

Like that Limited we'd so enjoyed the test XS was painted silver. And it's a colour that gives the Forester a real lift, especially in XS Luxury Pack form with body-coloured front and rear bumpers and lower door panels.

The Forester is powered by a naturally-aspirated, fuel-injected four with horizontally-opposed cylinders.

The 2457cc engine delivers 112kW of power at 5600rpm and peak torque of 223Nm at 3600rpm.

That's enough to give the four-speed automatic gearbox-equipped wagon a top speed of 188km/h. Subaru says it will reach 100km/h in 10.4 seconds.

On the highway cycle the Forester will use 7.4 litres of 91-octane petrol every 100 kilometres. The city cycle consumption is 10.4 litres per 100km and in the combined cycle fuel use is 8.8 litres/100km. The fuel tank holds 60 litres.

The engine seems to have recovered some of the appealing flat-four beat that Subaru had tuned out of previous models and that can only be a good thing.

Two of the motoring sounds we like best are flat fours and V8s burbling away at idle or under moderated acceleration.

The engine is nicely smooth and power delivery is crisp. At cruising speeds the only sounds you hear are wind or road-related. The flat four is a model of aural decorum at 100km/h.

The four-speed shifts smoothly and the centre console-mounted lever can be used to change gears manually when you want to hold a ratio for cornering on demanding roads.

Cornering is a Forester strongpoint and on sealed roads it gives little away to regular model Imprezas.

The only clues to the higher ride-height and higher bodywork and the dual-purpose-style tyres are a feeling of tip-toedness when you're pushing the car hard.

The only time the Forester gets flummoxed is when it's called upon to tackle a sequence of fast-arriving tight corners.

The first few are fine. But by about the fifth the front end starts to want to run wide, and the effect of a relatively high-bodied vehicle being called upon to change direction constantly begins to be felt. The answer is to lift off and the front end regains its bite.

It has to be said, though, that most vehicles of this ilk - save perhaps Honda's CRV/HRV - would have wanted to run wide much sooner in the sequence and at lower speeds.

The permanent four-wheel drive (All-wheel Drive - AWB - in Subaru-speak) ensures excellent dry road grip. In the wet it's stupendous. The car tracks unerringly and at dry-road speeds.

Gravel road handling is predictable and safe.

The Forester rides on MacPherson strut front and dual-link strut rear suspension.

The tyres are 215/60 R16 Yokohama Geolanders mounted on 16-inch diameter alloy wheels.

Front brakes are ventilated discs; there are solid discs at the rear. An ABS anti-skid system is standard.

Ride comfort is a Forester strong point and it handles bumps with disdain.

Comfort - not just ride comfort - is also high on the Subaru design agenda.

The leather seats are comfortable and have enough side bolstering to hold passenger and driver securely during brisk cornering.

A nice touch in the front seats is the folding armrests.

Climate control air-conditioning and a six-disc Compact Disc player are standard. Other standard gear includes electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors; cruise control; electrically-wound windows and central door-locking.

Luxury Pack Foresters get front and side airbags, a sunroof and leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear-lever.

The Subaru Forester is an appealing four-wheel drive compact wagon. It's rewarding to drive with car-like attributes. It seems well-built and is well-equipped. It's easy to get into and out of and has very good sealed road manners and real off-road ability.

It's long been our pick of the compact SUVs, and it continues to be so.

AutoPoint road test team; words and photographs by Mike Stock

Auto Trader New Zealand