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September 23, 2022

How good an SUV is the Subaru Forester hybrid?

A quarter century after it debuted as one of the first crossovers, does the reinvention of the Subaru Forester as an SUV work?

By Glenn Brooks

As the brand becomes ever more mainstream, will electrified models such as the revamped-for-2022 Forester e-Boxer lead to stronger UK sales for Subaru?

It’s odd really, that writing about any Subaru in a European regional context should be sort of similar to what many here once thought of Kia. If they had even heard of it. Quirky, hailing from somewhere indeterminate in Asia, not sure how many dealers exist or how good the resale value might be.

Crossing over to be an SUV

Incredible too that showing most British people the six-star logo and asking them to name the car brand would likely draw blank stares. But then Subarus have never been for everyone even if millions and millions of Americans would claim otherwise.

Ah yes, the USA. That’s where the original Forester, a wagon on elevated suspension, went mainstream from 1997 onwards. Generation five, launched there towards the end of 2018, has been the most successful yet.

IM Group, the importer for the British market, hopes some of Americans’ love for SUVs – the reason why the latest model is no longer a crossover – will see the Forester become better known here.

Not too big, not too small…

On paper, this model seems perfect for the UK. It’s only 4,640 mm long, not too wide, has a standard hybrid powertrain and comes with the benefit of all-wheel drive.

…and just right in other ways too

This being a Subaru, the AWD system offers way more than a bit of extra grip for wet days. The driver gets to choose either the automatic default or can turn a dial with settings for snow, dirt, deep snow or mud. There’s also hill descent control and 220 mm of ground clearance.

There isn’t anywhere near an extravagance of power or torque so grip is never going to be an issue on dry roads anyway. Come the winter though, this would be an especially handy vehicle to own. That extends to the cabin, with lots of very durable looking materials covering most surfaces. Perhaps a few softer plastics here and there would be nice though.

The instrument cluster consists of real, circular speedometer and tachometer gauges and the air controls are also classic tech – no digital overwhelm is possible here. This sort of thing is no doubt part of why Subarus tend to be highly rated in surveys which ask owners about their initial impressions of a new car. There’s nothing in a Forester e-Boxer which will frustrate or annoy.

They’re watching you

Well, perhaps one thing. That is until you get used to a couple of cameras aimed at your eyes. I was reminded to keep mine on the road when fiddling with AWD options. And if don’t want big brother rightly pointing out such things, just put sunglasses on.

Subaru calls the observation system EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. Once it recognises you, preferences for the seat’s positioning, mirrors and any usual air-conditioning preference are set. Which, if the car has more than one regular driver, saves time for everyone.

Solterra soon

With the US the company’s number one market by an enormous margin, electrification of the trademark flat-four engines hasn’t been a priority. That’s all changing, as the Solterra proves. The electric crossover – just 50 mm longer than the Forester, incidentally – isn’t yet available in Britain but it’s headed here soon.

As the brand embraces ever more electrification, HEVs are becoming the default propulsion system. And while we don’t yet know what Solterra pricing will be, the e-Boxer models (XV and Forester) are way more affordable than most similarly sized EVs.

Small battery but big boot

The only real area that Subaru needs to work on with its e-Boxer powertrain is more range in what is an automatic electric-only mode. That’s because in the Forester, the battery’s capacity is a mere 13.5 kWh. It was probably a case of offering a big boot or making owners suffer major luggage bay encroachment for a few more miles running on stored ions.

As it happens, cargo capacity is excellent, at 509 l, expanding to 1,779 with the rear seats folded. You can also recline the front passenger’s should the need to carry a 1.98 m long package (or person?) arise. Even Kwasi Kwarteng could enjoy a kip with 20 mm to spare.

At 11.8 seconds, the zero to sixty miles per hour time is similarly relaxed. The car itself isn’t especially heavy; it’s just that power and torque from the 1,995 cc engine and single motor are only 150 PS and 194 Nm. At least the standard CVT irons out any potential flat spots in the delivery.

Summary

Along with the desire for a selectable EV mode (that there isn’t one is likely due to the range being so limited), perhaps the only other thing an owner might wish for is a touch more get up and go. These really are the only flaws in what’s an otherwise competitive and unusual entrant to the 4.5-4.8 m long SUV class.

The newly facelifted Subaru Forester e-Boxer is offered in three model grades: XE, Premium and Sport. Combined consumption is 32.1-41.9 mpg and Average CO2 (WLTP) is 185 g/km. Pricing starts at GBP37,895.

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