24 October 1997

UNEXCITING CLOTHES

THAT HIDE A HIGHLY

COMPETENT CAR

Both Subaru and

Ssangyong have new

models out this autumn.

But theyre aimed at

rather different markets.

David Cousins drove

them both on a test day

organised by importer

International Motors

INCREASINGLY, it seems, you need a fat wallet or an understanding bank manager to venture off road. Where once cheap but utilitarian items like Fiat Panda 4X4s, Lada Nivas or even Land Rover Defenders were readily available, now you need BMW or even Mercedes-style amounts of cash to get into many of the Jeeps, Shoguns, Discoveries and Land Cruisers gleaming in dealers showrooms.

So three cheers for Subaru, which is continuing its tradition of producing affordable, workmanlike 4WDs with the launch last month of the Forester. Selling for £16,400 on the road, its priced just below Toyota RAV4 (£17,463) and Honda CRV (£17,020) territory.

The worst thing about the Forester is probably its rather conservative (ie dull) styling. It has none of the look-at-me! chic of the RAV4 or even the upcoming Land Rover Freelander. But for many in farming that may be a good thing rather than a bad one.

And underneath the skin this is a surefooted and rather good-value machine. A 2-litre 122hp engine (theres no diesel as yet) puts its power through a five-speed gearbox with high-low ratios. Four-wheel drive is full time and low-ratio is engaged by a fairly chunky lever next to the drivers hip.

Ground clearance isnt quite in the Discovery league, but at 190mm (7.5in) its not bad for a 4WD estate. In fact the Forester hopped and skipped over a variety of off-road bumps and lumps that by rights should have been too much for it. Conditions were bone-dry of course, but even so the number of farm situations where the Subaru would grind to a halt is probably very small.

The Forester is a well-mannered vehicle on-road too, It sits no higher than a 2WD estate, so corners dont involve the grip-hard-and-lean driving techniques that most off-roaders high centre of gravity forces on their drivers.

Verdict: Not a particularly stylish exterior compared to Toyota RAV4 or upcoming Land Rover Freelander, but eminently capable on and off road. A triumph of practicality over image.

FORESTER FACTS

&#8226 Model: Subaru Forester.

&#8226 Price: £16,400 on the road.

&#8226 Engine: 2-litre 122hp four cylinder petrol.

&#8226 Top speed: 111mph.

&#8226 0-60mph: 10.3sec.

&#8226 Fuel consumption: 30.7mpg (manufacturers combined).

&#8226 Model: Subaru Forester.

&#8226 Price: £16,400 on the road.

&#8226 Engine: 2-litre 122hp four cylinder petrol.

&#8226 Top speed: 111mph.

&#8226 0-60mph: 10.3sec.

&#8226 Fuel consumption: 30.7mpg (manufacturers combined).

Conservative styling, but for £16,000 there arent many places the Forester wont go.