Subaru Forester e-Boxer review

The new, all-wheel drive Subaru Forester makes a tentative step towards electrification with a mild-hybrid powertrain

Car type Fuel economy Emissions On sale
Hybrid 35mpg (est) 150g/km (est) November

Subaru has a reputation for building rugged 4x4s, but off-road ability often goes hand in hand with poor fuel economy. That’s something the manufacturer is attempting to address with its new, mild-hybrid Forester.

The e-Boxer powertrain will be the only one offered when the new Forester is launched in November. While it looks similar to the outgoing model, it has been constructed upon the same platform used by the Impreza hatchback, making this an all-new machine.

Look closer and you’ll see various changes to the exterior design: the front end has a sharper, more angular appearance with a more upright grille. There are also bigger windows, a flatter rear end and the Forester’s taillights have been heavily reworked, with contrasting black trim introduced to the area above the number plate.

The new model is longer and wider than before, allowing space inside to be increased with lots of knee and shoulder room for all passengers. Headroom in the rear is still a little tight, although the boot - accessed via faster electronic tailgate - measures a generous 1,779 litres when the seats are folded down.

With the Forester e-Boxer expected to be priced from £33,995, the interior takes a step forward with a more premium-looking design. It’s now classy enough to compete with the cabin of the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and certainly betters that of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

Everything seems robustly put together with a colour touchscreen that sits in the centre console beneath a second digital display on top of the dashboard. The steering wheel houses several buttons to make functions easier to control on the move and leather trim raises the ambience further.

The Forester e-Boxer delivers all-wheel drive, and Subaru refers to the hybrid system as ‘self-charging’ in much the same way Toyota and Lexus do with their mild hybrid vehicles.

Electric range is extremely limited, and there’s no ‘EV mode’ button to force the car to use what little zero-emissions driving it can muster. Instead, the e-Boxer’s electric motor runs in conjunction with the engine to improve acceleration and make the Forester more fuel efficient.

On the whole the set-up works well, with the car managing the hybrid system automatically. The engine cuts in and out periodically, with the transition remaining fairly seamless from the driver’s point of view.

The old Forester derived its economy and emissions figures from the old, less representative NEDC tests, while the new one will be rated using the new WLTP system: this means a comparison between the two generations is hard to make, but Subaru estimates the new e-Boxer will hit up to 35mpg, with CO2 emissions of 150g/km.

On the move the Forester e-Boxer is very quiet. Subaru has worked hard to reduce the level of noise and vibration entering the cabin; a cause helped by the introduction of the electric motor. Wind noise is negligible too, with little disturbance created by the wing mirrors or A-pillars.

Better still is the improvement in the Forester’s handling, with body lean in corners suppressed much more successfully than the outgoing version could ever manage. The steering feels light and responsive, with plenty of grip to help navigate tight bends.

At low speeds the CVT gearbox is more than adequate, although you’ll need to operate the paddles on the steering wheel to get the best out of it on a fast B-road.

Unfortunately our Austrian test route kept us on ultra-smooth tarmac, so it’s hard to come to any conclusions about the ride. However, Subaru tends to stay away from big wheels and low-profile tyres, which should bode well for when the going gets rough.

As expected the Forester is most at home off-road, with good ground clearance making it adept in tough conditions. However, the e-Boxer hybrid system felt out of its depth here, often struggling to work out which power source to use.

This caused the car to hesitate on some of the steeper inclines, although the Forester’s superb hill decent control system made easing down slopes a doddle.

Prices and specifications for the Subaru Forester e-Boxer will be revealed later in the summer, but it has been confirmed that UK models will get automatic LED lights, alloy wheels, heated seats and air-conditioning as standard.

Entry-level versions will miss out on sat nav, but every car will at least offer smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Toyota RAV4 is likely to be a better company car, but the Forester e-Boxer will appeal to those looking for more off-road ability. The trouble is that while the new platform makes it a much better car to drive on the road, the e-Boxer hybrid system is frustrating to use in what should be the Forester’s best environment. We’ll need to wait until the full specifications are confirmed to see if the improvement in running costs makes it worthwhile.

Subaru Forester 2.0i e-Boxer XE Lineartronic specs

Price: £33,995
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with electric motor
Transmission: CVT automatic, four-wheel drive
Power: 156bhp
Torque: 249Nm
0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
Top speed: 117mph
Fuel economy: 35mpg (est)
CO2: 150g/km (est)
On sale: November 2019
Fill-up: £62