Subaru has managed to pull off a neat trick – combining the good old fashioned flat four petrol engine with the very latest in hybrid technology.
Wisely it has steered away from the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) set-up favoured by Mitsubishi and instead opted for full hybrid which gathers waste energy to recycle it. Buyers are already turning their backs on PHEV although Volvo becoming a late adopter and offering to pay for a whole year’s electricity consumption might temporarily recharge demand.
Hybrid is the way to go for now unless you want a wholly electric car or have a system for charging at home utilising photo voltaic (PV) panels already installed. PHEV involves a bigger battery pack, of necessity also heavier, and a charging system in the car plus dragging out cables stored in a bag somewhere in the load space to connect the car to a charging point.
It all sounds ideal but in wet weather, finding somewhere to put the dirty umbilical cord while it dries and also while keeping your hands clean might not be the best way to start your day. There’s then the temptation to not bother if the car has a perfectly adequate petrol or diesel engine, negating the whole exercise.
Subaru has fitted the new system, called e-BOXER, to the Forester, new from the ground up for 2020. It continues with the two litre petrol engine but now backed up by an energy recovery system to feed the battery pack neatly placed above the rear differential, where it keeps the centre of gravity low and counterbalances the low-slung engine at the front. Drive to all four wheels is through a CVT transmission which never pauses for ratio changes, meaning that grip is never lost, even momentarily, in poor conditions.
An important difference between the Forester hybrid and many other hybrid 4x4s is that both the front and rear wheels are mechanically connected. If 4x4s have a system where the conventional engine powers the front wheels and the electric motor attends to those at the back then it will not keep you out of trouble in serious off-road conditions although the “goo and go” puncture repair kit will not.
Switching between drive modes for the 4x4 system involves nothing more demanding that twisting a knob to one of two settings for mild or severe conditions – press on the knob and the car returns to normal road configuration.
This fifth generation Forester feels much more substantial than previous models, which has helped it become the best-performing five star Small Off-Road / MPV car in the 2019 Euro NCAP tests (as did the automatically disabled front passenger airbag when a child seat is installed), and is certainly roomy inside. Specify the XE Premium trim and you’ll want for nothing in the way of creature comforts. Heated front seats and steering wheel are joined by heated outer seats in the rear so your passengers will not find the leather trim too cold to touch.
Ride quality is better for the driver than passengers, who find the conditions a little too harsh on the back routes where the Forester is most at home. The spacious interior also delivers for load capacity – 520 litres with the rear seats in place and as much 1,779 litres with the seats folded. Hobbyists will love this.
Drivers might not be so enamoured with Subaru’s “Eyesight” safety system. It’s too Nanny State for our liking, interrupting at the slightest opportunity and basically driving you nuts with its interventions which bong and beep while flashing up messages that disappear too quickly to be useful.
The trouble with this is that rather than protecting you, it’s just a good reason for switching it all off. But do that and have an at-fault accident and your insurers might try to reject your claim.
At first, the 36 mpg average fuel consumption was a disappointment but it has to be borne in mind that the permanent 4x4 introduces a fuel-drinking drawback that other hybrid 4x4s don’t have – but then they can’t do what the Forester does. It’s horses for courses – and the car’s 1.87 tonne towing capacity means it should pull your horse!
Car: Subaru Forester e-BOXER 2.0i XE Preimum Lineartronic
Does it fit your ego...
0-62 mph: 11.8 secs
Top speed: 117 mph
PS: 150 @ 5,600 – 6,000 rpm
Torque: 196 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
...and your wallet...
Combined: 34.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 154 g/km
Best bits: true hybrid 4x4