Trawl through the list of new vehicles available in New Zealand and it is interesting to note that there are now quite a number of medium- sized 4WD sports utility vehicles powered by turbo-diesel engines.
Holden, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Suzuki are among those vehicle marques to offer diesel versions of their medium SUVs, and they're all good vehicles too - they do a nice job in offering that uniquely diesel combination of excellent low- down torque and miserly fuel consumption.
Not only that, but if you really have to own an SUV, then it is the mid-sized versions that probably best suit the New Zealand road sizes and our lifestyles.
Up until recently Subaru hasn't been able to be part of that, although it must be said that the petrol versions of its famous boxer engines have always been quite famous for their torquey operation anyway.
SUBARU FORESTER 2.0D EUROSPEC
POWER PLANT: 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel horizontally opposed engine, 108 kW at 3600 rpm, 350 Nm at 1800 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Permanent all-wheel drive. Six-speed manual transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, double wishbones at the rear. Full suite of electronic stability and traction control aids.
HOW BIG: Length 4560mm, width 1780mm, height 1700mm.
HOW MUCH: $45.990
WHAT'S GOOD: Frugal but powerful turbo diesel engine gives this vehicle the X-factor.
WHAT'S NOT: Pity there's not an automatic version.
OUR VERDICT: This new model appeals as the best of the fleet.
But last year, Subaru New Zealand got the opportunity to try things out in the diesel market by importing a limited number of European-spec Legacy and Outback models, and they were very well received.
So this year, when new- generation versions of the Legacy and Outback were launched, the company quickly followed it up by importing the diesel models as well - and at the same time it introduced a turbo-diesel version of its medium-sized SUV, the Forester.
They're all models that are specified for the UK market, so in that regard they've got the European-spec indicator stalks on the wrong side of the steering column, and they have a few other bits and pieces that make them different to the usual Subaru fare out of Japan.
But all that adds to the attraction of these new vehicles.
They're still Subarus, and as such they have their permanent all-wheel drive systems and their horizontally-opposed engines. It's just that this time around those engines are diesels, with all the good things that come with that.
And good vehicles that the diesel-powered Legacys and Outbacks are, it could be that the best of the Subaru bunch so far is the Forester.
The more compact size of the vehicle and its shorter Impreza- length wheelbase seems ideally suited to the characteristics of the diesel engine, and to my mind that helps gives Forester the title of best all-rounder of the fleet.
The engine aboard the Forester is identical to the unit that powers the Legacy and Outback models, although a slightly smaller air intake for the turbocharger has reduced the maximum power by two kilowatts to 108 kW at 3600 rpm.
Maximum torque is the same though at 350 newton metres at 1800 rpm, and as such the Subaru cleans out every other medium- sized diesel SUV on the Kiwi market. The closest anything else gets to it is the Holden Captiva and the Nissan X-Trail, both of which offer 320 Nm.
The Subaru engine is very good. Start it up and it sounds more like your ordinary boxer engine than a clattery diesel, and it offers plenty of pull from not much above idle.
This is mated only to a manual transmission, which in some respects is a little unfortunate because autos are the way to go these days, but the better news is that it is a six-speeder which gives the driver ample opportunity to get the best out of the engine - particularly its potential for low fuel consumption.
This vehicle has an official overall fuel consumption of 6.3 L/100 km under EC regulations, but in fact it is possible to get much lower than that. And exhaust emissions are low too, at 167 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
As is the case with every Subaru on sale in New Zealand, the Forester has permanent all- wheel drive. Fuji Heavy Industries says this is an advantage over many of the Forester's rivals because they offer part-time systems where the 4WD has to be engaged manually or is only done automatically once wheels begin to slip.
It doesn't really matter. What is a given is that the AWD combines with a low-slung boxer engine and consequent low centre of gravity to give the Forester outstanding handling and control on all road conditions.
Because the new diesel Forester is a European-spec vehicle, it comes with certain standard items that set it apart from the petrol-engined versions. Naturally the indicator stalks are on the 'wrong' side of the steering column, but other special features include heated front seats, a windscreen wiper de-icer, and heated wing mirrors. Pretty Euro, huh?
Other features it shares with petrol-engined Foresters include height and reach adjustable steering column, climate control air conditioning, cruise control buttons on the steering wheel, leather wrapped steering wheel, self-levelling rear suspension and front fog lights. It sits on 16-inch alloy wheels.
There are split folding rear seats that recline, automatic headlights off, CD sound system, cargo security blind and hooks and a height adjustable driver's seat.
There's a high level of safety with the Forester. The vehicle has dual front, side and curtain airbags, an energy-absorbing engine cradle, ring-shaped reinforcement frame body, and strategic strengthening of the body using high tensile steel.
In addition, the vehicle has a wealth of handling aids including electronic stability control and ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and anti- whiplash active headrests.
It all adds up to a new Subaru Forester that has tremendous appeal. That combination of handling ability, distinctively European specification and grunty turbo-diesel power means that I think this vehicle is the pick of the Forester bunch.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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