I THINK it’s fair to describe Subaru as a niche operator in the UK.
Buyers tend to love them - and rarely leave the marque when they buy one - but a new Subaru is never going to give Ford salesmen sleepless nights.
As a result, Subaru UK doesn’t have a huge advertising budget and, for that, I think we should all be thankful.
In Canada, where Subaru sells many more cars than it does here, its cars are advertised on television.
I’ve watched the ad spots for the new Forester - a campaign so surreal I think it will give me nightmares - and I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.
It features a deadpan performance by a giant sumo wrestler known as Byamba (a three time world sumo champion, according to his biography) who sits on the bonnet of the Forester as it is driven to the car wash, the beach etc. See below to watch the advert!
The whole “estate-car-on-stilts” look has been dropped
I’m not sure what the ads are supposed to say about a Forester. Is he there for added protection? Does his weight add extra grip to the front tyres and, if so, are there a couple of wrestlers in the boot as well?
According to the ad, “sexy comes as standard” on the new Forester. I’ve never really thought of a grown man wearing a nappy as “sexy” but I can see what they mean about the Forester.
It’s hard to believe, I know, but the Forester has been around since 1997.
Arguably, it kick-started the whole SUV crossover trend but, unfortunately for Subaru, it was blessed with the kind of bland looks only a mother could love. As a result, the Forester never really enjoyed the limelight its abilities deserved.
For this, the third generation, Forester the penny seems to have finally dropped at Subaru HQ.
The whole “estate-car-on-stilts” look has been dropped for a smoother shape that’s altogether more, er, sexy. Compared to its predecessor the Forester is longer (3”), wider (1.8”) and taller (4.3”). It’s also the first Subaru to break with the company tradition of frameless side windows.
Dynamically, it’s largely unchanged which means it drives more like a car than an SUV with little body roll, surprising levels of grip and no excessive understeer. It’s not that fast (the 2.0-litre flat-four can’t crack ten seconds to reach 62mph) but it is smooth and its driving manners are impeccable.
This comes as no surprise because the Forester shares a platform with the Impreza. To be totally accurate it shares a platform with two Imprezas: the front bit is the Impreza Wagon (which isn’t available in the UK) while the rear is based on the US-spec Impreza sedan. It’s a shame, though, that we don’t get the Forester STi as that car’s powerful 2.5-litre turbocharged engine would really set the woods on fire. At least the 2.0-litre is fairly frugal (for a petrol); I got within touching distance of 30mpg around town and closer to 40mpg at a modest cruising speed. Its carbon dioxide emissions are about what you can expect from a bog standard petrol-engine these days. There’s also a diesel version which sips less fuel, produces less exhaust gas and has a lot more torque.
Dare you watch the sumo ad? Click on the video above.
Subaru may have sexed up the Forester but hasn’t forgotten its heritage. The Forester still has permanent four-wheel drive and there’s the reassurance of a low ratio gearbox for some serious rock crawling should you need it. The extra 4.3” of height means its better off road, too.
The cabin has plenty of room for five people in two rows and there’s a decent boot with a low load lip, but the combined sat nav/audio system looks rather old-fashioned and the screen is a bit cramped when you are navigating. It is, however, mounted high on the dashboard and the dials are, therefore, easy to adjust. The backlit analogue instruments are very clear and the switchgear is straightforward. The dash is enlivened with silver plastics and aesthetically it all looks fine even if some of the plastics are rather disappointing. It’s the same story as the Impreza which shares the identical cabin architecture. A reversing camera (but no radar) and dual zone climate control are welcome additions, though.
A base Forester starts at £23,120 which looks a bit pricey against a Kuga or a Qashqai, both of which can be had with a diesel for the same money, but the Forester has the cachet of exclusivity and Subaru’s excellent 4x4 pedigree behind it. It’s a bit of a shock to find that the base 2.5-litre Forester in North America starts at £14,000, though. No wonder they sell so many more - with or without a sumo wrestler on the bonnet.
Engine: 1,995cc flat-four 16-valve.
Max power: 150bhp @ 6,000rpm.
Max torque: 146lb/ft @ 4,200rpm.
Top speed: 115mph.
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 174g/km.
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FORD KUGA: Chunky-looking 4x4 available with decent turbodiesel engines. Nice to drive but doesn’t have the Forester’s ultimate off-road ability.
NISSAN QASHQAI: Very popular crossover but not as accomplished at the Forester and the 1.5 turbodiesel engine couldn’t pull the cheese off a cold pizza.
TOYOTA RAV4: Still a great drive but it’s short on legroom and looking a bit pricey in this company.