Looks ungainly, feels like a Tardis. Subaru is a master of understated elegance, but they’ve consistently dropped the ball with their Forester. Never a looker in previous guises, the latest model retains the startled-kangaroo expression of its forefathers. In Wilderness trim, swathes of black plastic and elevated suspension make it look particularly unhappy, with faint whiffs of the Pontiac Aztec.

The payoff for the cabin’s ungainly styling is a ridiculous amount of space. Considering the car is only 182 inches long, it’s astonishing that rear seat occupants luxuriate in almost 40 inches of legroom. If you have adult children, it’s hard to think of a crossover SUV that offers more room in the back. Nor is this achieved at the expense of cargo space – the tailgate swings up (usually electrically) to reveal over 35 cubic feet of storage. Dropping the rear seats more than doubles this tally, with the added advantage of a low loading area and minimal intrusions.

Drives slowly, feels like a limo. Despite Subaru’s legendary motorsport heritage, the Forester isn’t going to set the keen driver’s pulse racing. Combining all-wheel drive and a CVT transmission with a relatively lackluster 2.5-liter gas engine means there’s more noise than acceleration when you bury the loud pedal. This is a car built to tackle rough terrain rather than the standing quarter mile, with exceptional off-road prowess. Wilderness models finally redeem their awkward styling with skid plates and extra suspension travel, while Subaru’s AWD system has been honed to perfection over several decades.

Not only is the Forester capable of traversing inhospitable terrain, but it’ll also get you there in true comfort. This is the car’s strong suit – a ride that blurs out bumps and jolts in a manner many European rivals could only dream of. Nor is this achieved at the expense of handling, with light and responsive steering enabling drivers to thread it along at pace. If only the engine was a match for the suspension and steering. Nor is fuel economy anything to write home about, hovering around 30 MPG combined in most trims and dropping to 26 in less aerodynamic Wilderness guise.

2023 Subaru Forester Interior

Built to last. Settle into the supportive driver’s seat, and there’s a logic to everything in the Forester’s cabin. There are no surprise-and-delight features here, but everything works and feels like it’s been assembled to last. Those outsized climate dials are a case in point, while physical buttons for the radio and navigation will delight anyone who’s raged at unintuitive infotainment systems in the past. What a shame cheaper Forester models are fitted with a basic 6.5-inch screen because the eight-inch screen in higher trims is better in every way. It’s worth the upgrade, for sure.

As well as offering enough space for a basketball team to relax, the cabin is also wonderfully light and glassy. The panoramic sunroof fitted to Premium models and above is almost unnecessary.

Reasonably well equipped. Let’s immediately caveat that heading by ruling out the $27,000 base Forester with its steel wheels, 6.5-inch screen, and CD player. Premium trim feels less Millennial; it brings a heated power-adjustable driver’s seat, panoramic sunroof, and alloy wheels, while a $1,165 bundle adds a power tailgate and blind-spot/rear cross-traffic monitoring.

The latter is a worthy addition to an otherwise impressively safe SUV. Visibility is unusually good, while the IIHS and NHTSA have no significant concerns. The standard safety kit extends to automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise, and active lane control. If you want to go off-road on a regular basis, Wilderness models cost around $35,000 and offer wipe-clean upholstery and a heavy-duty roof rack alongside elevated suspension. For a couple of grand more, you can secure the flagship Touring trim – the only Forester with navigation, and the first with a driver attention monitor and Harman Kardon audio system.

Final thoughts. The Forester is something of a hidden gem in Subaru’s range, cherished by owners but overlooked by everyone else. The dowdy styling plays a big part – it lacks the showroom appeal of the evergreen Outback or the futurism of the all-electric Solterra. Yet once you climb inside and discover the greenhouse-on-wheels aesthetic, it’s hard not to be impressed by a cabin that’s built to last and fitted with everything you need. It’s not opulent, but it’s intuitive and practical, with lots of cubbyholes.

Sitting in a display model won’t uncover the Forester’s trump card – its ride quality. Few SUVs cosset their occupants to this extent and even fewer combine refined road manners with acres of space for those in the back. If your budget extends beyond the poverty-spec base model, and you’re not fussed about having a lethargic yet occasionally noisy powertrain under the hood, the Forester will be a highly dependable addition to any family.

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