Motorcheck Used Car Guide: Subaru Forester

Years built: 2009 to 2013
Bodystyles: five-door crossover 4x4

What is it?

Subaru Forester 2Sudden cold snaps. Flash floods. Tractors dumping mud (and worse) on winding back roads. Pot-holes the size of King Kong’s footprints. There’s a lot to deal with out there on Irish roads, and much of it is weather related, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we’ve gone SUV-crazy in the past couple of years. We need cars that can deal with our natural terrain.
The thing is that most of the SUVs we buy are actually namby-pamby front-wheel drive cars with a bit of extra ride height and not much else when it comes to tackling seriously rough stuff. If you’re looking for a car that can take on the very worst that Irish weather and roads can throw at us, but don’t want to go down the full-size-Toyota-Land-Cruiser-VX route, then have a look for a Subaru Forester.
The SH generation Forester was the third in the line of Subaru’s crossover 4x4, and it was the first one to look more like a tall SUV and less like an estate on stilts. It was also the first Forester to benefit from Subaru’s then-new 2.0-litre flat-four ‘Boxer Diesel’ engine, which brought running costs down considerably compared to its petrol-only predecessors.

Which one should I buy?

Subaru Forester 3If you’re looking only for original Irish-market cars, then there’s not a lot of choice to go around. The Forester was never a huge seller here, and its relatively high Co2 emissions. At 170g/km, they push the Forester up into the unpopular Band D for motor tax, which will set you back €570 a year. Still, you may well think that’s a relatively affordable cost for the Forester’s capabilities.
Those capabilities basically include it being a proper, serious off-roader. The Forester uses permanent 50:50 split four-wheel drive, unlike most of the competition’s variable split systems. This gives it astonishing traction on pretty much any surface, from soaking wet tarmac, to muddy fields to sand to rocks to everything. It is just astonishingly capable, and only much bigger, heftier vehicles such as a Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover Discovery can beat it when it’s off road.
On road, it’s a little less brilliant – there’s a good bit of body roll, and it’s not especially fast, but it does have excellent steering and that diesel engine should return a solid 45mpg in daily driving.
Basic X models came with Bluetooth, air conditioning, a USB slot for a media player, cruise control and heated seats. Top-spec XS models got a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, HID headlights and electric adjust leather seats. It’s the spec to go for if you want to have something comfortable that’s rugged when you need it, but those putting their Forester to hard work might be better off with the X.
It’s worth shopping around a little as previous owners often spec their cars with useful accessories such as hefty rubber mats to protect the boot and interior, but don’t necessarily pay extra for such things.
How much should I spend? Around €14,000 for a 2012 XS-spec Forester
Here’s one we found:
2012 Subaru Forester 2.0 TD XS Boxer Diesel. 207,000km, one owner, FSH, €14,995 from a Subaru main dealer.

What goes wrong?

Subaru Forester 5Subarus are generally exceptionally well built and reliable, but there are a couple of things to keep an eye out for. Signs of oil leaking from the front of the engine probably means that the hydraulic belt tensioners for the alternator need work, radiators develop ‘cold spots’ which can lead to over-heating while a steam-train style ‘chuff-chuff’ sound means that the diesel injectors need work.
While the interiors are put together well, some of the plastics are cheap and mark easily, so may need replacing if the car has had a hard life. Check for a noisy gearbox, or one that seems reluctant to shift between gears, while a knocking sound from the suspension means the anti-roll bar drop links need attention. Finally watch for uneven tyre wear and rumbling noises which may mean a damaged wheel bearing.

Anything else?

Subaru Forester 4Subaru dropped the old, invigorating Turbo S model for Europe when it introduced the third-gen Forester, so those hoping for some Colin McRae excitement will be disappointed. There were hot Foresters for other markets though, notably Japan and Australia, with as much as 260hp from a turbo 2.5-litre flat-four, so if you fancy some importing there are more exciting Foresters to be had.
And when you’ve found your perfect Subaru Forester don’t forget to get hit history checked by