7 Jun, 2019 5:15pm Richard Ingram
We find out if the new Subaru Forester e-Boxer can cut it in the competitive SUV sector
Subaru is famed for its go-anywhere, no-nonsense 4x4s. But an inevitable by-product of that unrivalled off-road ability is compromised fuel economy – a trait the firm’s petrol-only owners know all too well.
Determined not to be left behind in these eco-aware times, Subaru recently announced a new e-Boxer mild-hybrid option for its XV and Forester. Can this inject some appeal into the Japanese brand’s rough-and-ready SUVs? We’ve been to Austria to find out.
Our test drive was not only an opportunity to try Subaru’s latest electric tech, however. Sitting on the same Subaru Global Platform as the latest Impreza, the Forester you see here may look like the outgoing model, but under the skin it’s a totally new car.[gallery:8]
Squint and you’ll notice a revised front-end design with sharper angles and a more upright grille. The side profile is very similar to the old car’s, but the biggest differences can be seen at the rear. Here, you’ll notice a new light signature and contrasting gloss-black trim above the number plate.
This version is longer and wider than the outgoing Forester, and more spacious as a result. Headroom isn’t that generous, but there’s loads of knee and shoulder room. There’s a big boot (1,779 litres with the seats down) and a faster automatic tailgate, too.
The interior feels far more expensive than before, which is handy given the car’s price. We’re not talking Audi Q3 levels of fit and finish, but the cabin easily competes with that of the Toyota RAV4, and comfortably surpasses the Mitsubishi Outlander’s for quality feel. It’s also unquestionably robust. The e-Boxer set-up works with Subaru’s tried-and-tested symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, with the battery and hybrid gubbins arranged neatly over the rear axle. It’s mounted low and is light, too – adding a mere 110kg to the car’s kerbweight.[gallery:2]
As with Toyota, Subaru calls its hybrid set-up ‘self charging’, so there’s no need to plug in. Instead of offering a usable electric range, the e-Boxer aims to deliver enhanced throttle response and improved economy. Subaru also claims the motor reduces noise and vibrations, to improve refinement and ride. While our drive was restricted to a series of pre-determined routes around a test facility near Vienna, it’s clear the engineers have worked on refinement. Road noise and wind disturbance are minimal.
You’ll be pushed to achieve any distance in EV mode, and there’s no button to force the car to run on electricity. Instead, the model constantly manages power distribution – and on the whole, it works well. The hybrid assistance is mild, and the engine cuts in and out without interference.
The Forester may be targeted at country types with rugged lifestyles, but it represents a dynamic improvement over its predecessor. It offers real control through tight bends, as well as light, responsive steering and plenty of grip. The CVT gearbox is well behaved in town, and for B-road charges the steering-wheel paddles give the transmission a more stepped feel. Ultimately, the Subaru is safe and predictable to drive.[gallery:5]
We’re unable to comment on the ride due to our test route’s super-smooth tarmac, but the brand’s natural aversion to big wheels and low-profile tyres should ensure that it is relatively pleasant on rough tarmac. The new rear stabiliser should help, too.
Off-road, the Forester comes into its own. As with its predecessor, it makes light work of tough conditions and gives decent ground clearance. In our experience, though, the electric motor confuses things; the old car’s naturally aspirated petrol engine provided torque on demand, while the new set-up struggles to analyse which power source is best to use. This results in hesitation on steep slopes – although downhill sections are well managed by hill-descent control.
Subaru UK says that even the entry XE will get LED lights, alloys, heated seats and dual-zone climate control. Basic cars won’t have nav, but all support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There hasn’t yet been any confirmation as to how much more efficient the new Forester e-Boxer is over the outgoing petrol car, but the maker has hinted at a 10 per cent boost in fuel economy.
Given that the old model was assessed on the now-outdated NEDC test cycle, it’s hard to compare like-for-like, but expect no more than 35mpg, with CO2 emissions of around 150g/km. That makes the Toyota a more attractive proposition than before, and a much more affordable company car, too.
3 The Subaru Forester isn’t built for buyers looking for a sleek and stylish SUV. Instead, it trades on its ability to traverse mountains, and it’s built to last long after its rivals have been scrapped. The new platform makes it much better to drive, but the e-Boxer’s hybrid system is so mild it’s unlikely to really impact on everyday costs. Still, it’s a step in the right, electrified direction nonetheless.
- Model: Subaru Forester 2.0i e-Boxer XE Lineartronic
- Price: £33,995
- Engine: 2.0 4cyl petrol/electric motor
- Power/Torque: 156bhp/249Nm
- Transmission: Single-speed CVT auto,four-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
- Top speed: 117mph
- Economy/CO2: 35mpg (claimed) / 150g/km (claimed)
- On sale: November