No longer looking like a shrunken SUV with greenhouse glazing, the latest Subaru Forester is the best 4WD for ‘real country life’ in its price bracket, says Charles Rangeley-Wilson.

I have a deep affection for Subarus in general, the Forester in particular, although, with each new version I try, I’m increasingly sure that, just under ‘heavy metals’ on the order forms that keep those factories in Japan’s Ota in Gunma Prefecture on the roll with raw material, there must be a line for ‘epic amounts of ganja’. How else to explain the bewildering bestiary of machinery that emerges from the place?

If one engineering constant unites more or less everything Subaru makes—its fabulous Boxer engine mated to permanent all- wheel drive (AWD)—it’s all Wacky Races meets Last of the Summer Wine after that. You could line up the Justy, the Brat, the Alcyone, the Sumo, the Tribeca, the Baja, the Impreza, the Outback and the BRZ—to name just a few of the often weird, always surprising and mostly wonderful machines Subaru has conceived—and never guess they all came from the same stable, let alone what Subaru’s designers were on as they drew them.

And that’s the case with the Forester. I’ve owned two in my time. The first was a Turbo S, which was so bat crazy when I tried it, I had to have one. It was like a shrunken SUV, with greenhouse glazing, Farmer Palmer comes to town suspension and an engine out of a rally car. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, Subaru gave a 70bhp boost to the next incarnation XT and I had to have that one, too. I tried and nearly bought the 350bhp STi, but it really was a teeny bit too bonkers.

Thus it was with some trepidation that I fired up the latest model delivered to my driveway: a diesel. The reality of not many miles to the gallon and higher CO2 emissions than a 747 have put paid to the rabid Foresters of yesteryear. You can still buy a mildly crazy 241bhp petrol version (with a reformed drink habit), but you won’t find too many on the road. In reality, it’s all about the diesel these days. Still Subaru. Still doing things its own way: it’s a flat-four diesel, mated to the same symmetrical AWD.

From the point of view of the vehicle dynamics, the set-up is hard to fault. The Boxer engine has perfect balance, a high sump and a low centre of gravity. Although the symmetrical AWD exerts a heavier toll on the drinks bill, it’s really the best and simplest way to achieve the traction, grip and stability that you want in a 4X4 you intend to use as a 4X4. I doubt there are many places you can take a Land Rover that you couldn’t take a Forester.

For the purposes of getting the vehicle muddy, I did try a few very rutted and slippery tracks round Norfolk and it sailed up them all.

The suspension is as pliant as ever, nothing like the fashionable-firm of the European opposition. It feels weird at first, but magic carpet after a while. Then again, everything about the Forester feels weird at first and rather fabulous after a few days. The sit- up-and-beg driving position. The amazing all-round visibility: still like driving a greenhouse. The way you simply step in and step out of the car: so dignified! The satnav looks as if it’s 10 years out of date, but works perfectly.

The audio and phone interface blinks into life with amusement- arcade graphics, but is as good a system as I’ve used. The plastics are all a bit melted-down Athens taxi, but, then again, you can hose or sponge the mud and dog hair off them.

For someone prepared to buck the trend and drive a Scooby Forester instead of the more urbane alternatives, I doubt you could find a better real-life country vehicle for the money. In Australia and New Zealand, where SUV consumption is dictated less by fashion than the need to not break down in the Outback, these things are everywhere. Nuff said.

On the road: Subaru Forester 2.0D XC Premium

Priced: From £32,180
Annual Road Fund Licence: £500 (for cars registered after April 1, 2017)
Combined fuel consumption: 46.3mpg
Power: 147bhp
0–60mph: 9.9sec (estimated)
Top speed: 116mph