When I was offered a Forester to test drive I braced myself for the boxy car, but when I laid my eyes on the new Forester I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The new Forester is said to be taller, wider and sleeker than its predecessor and that it certainly is.

The design of the third-generation Forester clearly responds to the changes that the market has called for. Gone is the boxy wagon type design and in its place you have a sleeker SUV shape which is very pleasing to the eye, especially in the metallic red finish that I was given to test drive.

Subaru promotes the Forester as a family SUV. It is roomy and elegant enough for Mom to want to use it everyday for the northern suburbs school run. Despite its sleek appearance the Forester would also appeal to the more macho types with its air-intake grill on the bonnet and the bold chrome bar. The bumper with the body-coloured ‘skid-plate’ that wraps itself around the ‘chin with the large round fog lights adds that impressive look to the vehicle.

The rear is neat and tidy and not like some SUVs which look like the designers lost interest in the vehicle when it came to designing the tail. The 60/40 split back seat allows occupants to easily choose one of two backrest angles by pressing a button alongside the rear doors. There is also a retractable centre cushion table: the front half of the middle seat flips through 180 degrees to reveal combination storage box/work surface/dual cupholders. Soft blue lighting makes it equally easy to use at night. This is certainly handy when travelling at night and will certainly reduce the chance of the kids spilling those soft drinks on long distance trips.

The multi-function binnacle between the front seats was pointed out to me when the test vehicle was delivered. It serves as an armrest, storage compartment, drinks holder, and multimedia support station all in one. The latter it achieves effortlessly thanks to an integrated auxiliary socket and 12 Volt power-point. There is also an overhead console with a sunglasses case, centre tray capable of holding more than just a few CDs, and door pockets with integrated bottle holders. The people at Subaru certainly have applied their minds to making the cabin drink-spill-resistant. The glove compartment is also nice and spacious.

The instrument cluster is neat with all the necessary detail clearly visible.

The luggage compartment has a good few innovations too. There are plenty of bag hooks and also a series of tie-downs. I was pleased to see a full-sized spare wheel stored under the boot board, where a number of oddment compartments are moulded into the rubber moulding. A retractable luggage cover which extends from an aluminium sheath makes for a neat and tide finish to the luggage compartment which measures 450 litres and is capable of expanding to 1660 litres when loaded to the roof with the rear seats folded.

So how does this SUV drive?

The new Forester might carry the SUV label but it certainly handles more like a car. The test car came with the 2.5-litre DOHC turbocharged engine, which is similar to that found in the Impreza WRX and uses twin-scroll turbocharger technology to produce 169 kW @5 200 rpm and 320 Nm @ 2 800 rpm. While these peak figures are identical to the outgoing model, the newcomer‘s peak power is achieved 400 rpm lower than before while the torque peak is reached 800 rpm earlier. When I took the car for its first drive I quickly learnt that there was something more powerful and responsive under the bonnet and now understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to the WRX. The engines in these cars are something to take note of.

The all wheel drive and traction control just adds to the driving experience. With all the necessary power under the hood, driving through the windy roads in the Berg was an effortless and pleasurable experience even when it was raining.

The Forester’s offroad capability is more than adequate for its class and I can clearly understand why it has already been rated the best in its class in South Africa.

The Forester range starts with the Forester 2.5X 5-speed manual priced at

R 269,000.00, the flagship 2.5 XT Premium SportShift™ priced at R 387,000.00.

So if you are looking for a family SUV with enough ‘grunt‘ under the hood but at the same time want something that is sleek and elegant, visit your local Subaru showroom and try the new Forester. You may be pleasantly surprised, very much the way I was.

Riaz Hassim CA(SA).