Review: Subaru adds hybrid appeal to its smart Forester

There have been countless highlights in the Subaru range over the years. We all know the iconic rally-bred Imprezas, and some of us might be old enough to remember back to the 284 pick-up truck, but one enduring model stands out as an enduring success – the Forester. The Forester was a jacked-up estate car before jacked-up estate cars were cool, and it mobilised generations of rural-dwellers who needed something that could cope with the rough stuff but realised a full-on SUV was a trifle pointless.

The latest generation of the Forester is instantly recognisable, but bigger than ever. Truth be told, it’s now become more of an SUV than a bloated estate car, but customers want SUVs and they say the customer is always right.

The new version uses a platform that can be shared across the Subaru range, which is going to come in handy with the next round of launches, but what’s interesting about the new Forester is it introduced a brand new hybrid system. Yes, that’s right, Subaru has finally joined the electric set.

It’s called e-Boxer and, as with any good hybrid system it seamlessly switches the way the car is propelled based on your driving conditions. So you could have an electric motor assisting the internal combustion engine, or the engine can shut down entirely and the motor can take the strain. The trouble is, unlike any good hybrid system, the e-Boxer system is only capable of one mile of range.

And even the gentlest caress of the throttle will fire the oil-burner back up. So although the intentions are good, Subaru’s hybrid system is better seen as a very effective stop/start mechanism, than a proper hybrid.

Review: Subaru adds hybrid appeal to its smart Forester

The good news is, this obviously improves fuel economy, if not by much, and it works wonders for C02 emissions. So the e-Boxer Forester puts out just 154g/km.

That’s enough to get it waved into the Ultra-Low Emissions Zones that are springing up. Another good result of this new platform is its low centre of gravity. The heavy electric gubbins are stored beneath the floor, which makes for a decent balance in the bends.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly sporty, but it holds the road very well and it’s comfy to boot. Any brisk progress on the open road is hampered somewhat by the CVT gearbox, which flails around the rev range and adds more noise than shove. It’s a shame, because Subaru’s brilliant boxer engines should be a tuneful delight, rather than a temporary annoyance.

But the interior’s good. Spec levels are very high, and safety is top-notch. The entry price for the Forester e-Boxer is around GBP36,000, so the fact so much equipment gets thrown in is a good sweetener.

Review: Subaru adds hybrid appeal to its smart Forester

It’ll also be reliable, too.

It’s as well built as anything you’d expect from the brand, and the trademark toughness means the hybrid system doesn’t make the Forester feel any less the sturdy workhorse it’s always been known as. It’s hard not to like the Forester. While it’s certainly grown upwards and outwards, it’s still a fine-looking car.

I don’t really see the point of the hybrid system, if I’m to be brutally honest. I struggled to manage more than 30mpg and, although the emissions are much better thanks to the electric assistance, are traditional Subaru buyers really going to care? Will they ever bother visiting a ULEZ?

But as an overall package it’s still a versatile and very capable off-roader that will still appeal to the mud-pluggers amongst us.

It’s now just better at tackling the urban jungle too.

If only a bit.