Review: Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013)

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Good compromise between a station wagon and an SUV. Now available with 2.0 litre chain cam 'boxer' diesel engine.

New prices are expensive. Interior quality lags behind Volkswagen, Nissan and Ford.

Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013): At A Glance

Third generation Subaru Forester is a 4x4 without the bulk. It strikes a great compromise between a traditional estate and a small off-roader, like a Toyota RAV-4 or Nissan X-Trail.

Take it off-road and you can see why it's so popular with buyers who live in rural or remote locations - it'll cope with just about anything that's thrown at it from icy or snowy roads to seemingly unpassable dirt tracks. 

Power comes from a pair of Subaru's legendary 'boxer' flat engines and - for the first time - one of them is a diesel. It's been worth the wait, too, as it pulls well, will return almost 50mpg on the motorway and still retains the chracterful 'boxer burble' that owners have come to expect from Subaru's engines.

Inside, it's spacious, there's a good sized boot and comes with all the creature comforts you'd expect from this sort of car, from climate control and heated seats, to satellite navigation on top models.

A mild 2010 facelift brought a number of small improvements, including a redesigned instrument cluster, instantaneous MPG display on clock, suspension upgrades for better roadholding, standard alloys on 2.0X, one-touch folding rear seats on XS and XC and a reversing camera and Bluetooth with handsfree connectivity on 2.0D XS NavPlus.

Read how the Forester performed when it was set a unique challenge

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What does a Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013) cost?

List Price from £35,995
Buy new from £34,265

Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4560 mm
Width 1780 mm
Height 1675–1700 mm
Wheelbase 2615 mm

Full specifications

The utilitarian interior is built to cope with the demands of being a working vehicle. It's robust, well-built, but lacks the frills and tactile materials that you might expect in an soft-roader like the Volkswagen Tiguan. Much of the dashboard and centre console are dominated by hard grey plastic, whereas in an off-roader from a more mainstream manufacturer, you would expect to interior plastics to be used in a more sophisticated and attractive way - like the Nissan Qashqai.

From 2010, the 2.0D XS NavPlus gets a reversing camera with guides, which helps park in tight spaces. It's a useful extra to have, though Forester's all-round visibility is already pretty good. The driver gets a good driving position, too, with plenty of steering wheel and seat adjustment. 

Passengers are treated to decent amounts of head and legroom in the back, the ride is comfortable (improved further on 2010 models) and there's surprisingly little wind or road noise. Up front there's plenty of storage areas, including a large glovebox, a big centre armrest box and generously sized door pockets.

The large boot (combined with Forester's go-anywhere ability), means it's incredibly practical. The 450 litre boot has wide opening and low lip, making it easy to load, and can be further extended by folding the rear seats flat. From 2010, this is a 'one-touch' operation (like on the larger Legacy) on all models but the base-level X; one pull on a lever at the top of the rear seat folds it flat.

Child seats that fit a Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013) like to drive?

The 147bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is by far and away the most popular of the two engines on offer, though it wasn't available at launch. That means that the earliest Foresters are petrol only, with the diesel available from October 2009 on 08/58 plates.

The petrol engine isn't to be sniffed at, though. Torque is up slightly over the 2.0-litre that was in the previous generation car, although it isn't quite as powerful. Its 0-60mph time isn't lightning quick, but at 10.6 seconds (12.3 seconds for the auto), it's more than respectable for a car of this size; the top speed is 114mph.

It needs to be worked hard to get the best from it, which means it can be noisy, but the characterful burble of the flat 'boxer' does compensate a little by giving it a sporty feel. At almost 200 g/km, emissions for the petrol engine are seriously off-putting and make Forester look expensive to tax alongside rivals like the Skoda Octavia. Plus it's only good for 33mpg on the Combined Cycle.

And that's why most buyer opt for excellent 147bhp 2.0-litre diesel. Like the petrol it's a flat 'boxer' engine, which means you get the engine burble that you expect from a Subaru, but with much lower emissions (167-170 g/km CO2) and better fuel economy (44mpg). It pulls strongly from low revs, has 350 Nm of torque and beats the petrol to 60mph, achieving it in 10.1 seconds. It's also a better bet for anyone who needs to tow. The 2000kg braked towing weight - combined with all-wheel drive - means it's a great option for those looking to tow small horseboxes or trailer and caravans. 

Forester thrives off-road, with decent ground clearance, self levelling suspension and, of course, Subaru's renowned symettrical all-wheel drive. Forester's ability belies its size and puts many larger off-roaders to shame - the terrain needs to be seriously rough to cause it trouble. On farms, in the snow and off the beaten track, it won't be left stuck.

On road, the all-wheel drive system provides great stability and grip, which is great in adverse conditions. That said, the steering is a little light and it does tend to roll around a little, which can be off-putting if cornering quickly.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
2.0 38 mpg 10.7 s 173 g/km
2.0 Automatic 38 mpg 12.4 s 174 g/km
2.0 D 44–48 mpg 10.4 s 155–170 g/km

Real MPG average for a Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

24–55 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Subaru Forester (2008 – 2013)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Can you suggest a second-hand, cheap, small 4x4 to tow a trailer?

Can you suggest a second-hand, cheap, small 4x4 to tow a trailer? The car will be used for infrequent short journeys to pickup furniture, logs and building materials with the occasional longer trip. Ideally, I wish to spend less than £5000 and would like a car that has some interest with the potential to become a "classic".
It sounds like a Land Rover Defender would tick all the boxes, but it has potential to be a money pit for £5000. A Subaru Forester would be an interesting alternative.
Answered by Andrew Brady
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