Subarus have generally been wonderful cars to drive. But they lack showroom appeal because they do not shine in the one area that makes a difference to the masses - design.
Like it or not, people are shallow, even when it comes to their choice of cars. They are drawn to stylish, fashionable and sporty designs.
So, like the homely girl with a heart of gold who never gets to be prom queen, Subarus tend to get left behind in the sales race. Even if it is ahead of many others in race rallies.
The Japanese marque has made some improvements in the last few years though. The BRZ, XV and Legacy models are examples of Sooby's which are not half bad- looking.
But in my opinion, the Forester is the one that has made the biggest improvement. The previous cars were frumpy and dated even when new. And as they aged, they had a tendency to degenerate into panel vans with windows.
SPECS/SUBARU FORESTER 2.0XT
Price: $124,800 with COE
Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve flat-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Continuously variable transmission with manual select
Power: 240bhp at 5,600rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 2,400rpm
0-100kmh: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 221kmh
Fuel consumption: 8.5 litres/ 100km
Agent: Motor Image Enterprises
The last Forester blew in like a breath of fresh air when it was introduced about three years ago. It had a proper SUV stature and stance, with all the shiny, sporty bits that outdoorsy types like on their cars.
That Forester has just been given a facelift. The changes are confined largely to aesthetics, with no significant alteration made to the powertrain or chassis.
Before you dismiss this as a cheap shot at retaining public interest, consider one detail: The current- generation Forester is probably the most engaging SUV you can buy for less than $150,000. Heck, I would even go as far as to say it is the best SUV you can buy for less than $250,000.
The car feels as solid as any German premium entry and is as sure-footed and agile as an SUV the Italians might have made.
Its best traits lie with its confident steering and balanced chassis. The premium XT variant is endowed with a decent 2-litre "boxer" engine turbocharged to make 240bhp and 350Nm of torque from 2,400rpm, and the rugged all- wheel-drive is a pleasure to drive. Not so much for its mechanical prowess, as for its dynamic finesse.
The tallish car has an unbelievably neat and tight turn-in, excellent body control and a no-nonsense point-and-shoot effortlessness that eludes many of its overly sophisticated rivals.
At the wheel, you feel completely at ease. You enjoy above-par visibility all round, adequate amenities and superb driveability. Indeed, this is one of the few SUVs a driving nut would approve of.
Although you do not get fanciful shift levers or electronic parking brakes with auto-hold function (the car makes do with an old- fashioned handbrake), there are things such as keyless access and ignition, a multi-function steering wheel and an extremely powerful two-zone climate control which makes the absence of rear vents irrelevant.
Now, the car is even better looking. It gets new alloys, a modified front grille and daytime-running LEDs. These do not alter the design drastically, but are sufficient to refresh the car's appearance.
The same applies inside. You will notice new trim (such as floor mats framed in red) and a new LCD cluster display.
New features include memory seat, cornering lights, thicker window glass for better insulation and better soundproofing materials embedded within body panels.
The last two enhancements work, as exterior noises are kept well at bay. Too bad the cabin betrays a minor rattle when the car goes over poorly paved tarmac.
There is one modification that is material to driving dynamics. Subaru says the car's suspension alignment has been tweaked to offer even sharper handling. While it is not immediately apparent, it is safe to say the car drives as well as it did the first time round. And compared with the competition, it is still pretty much on top of the heap.
In fact, I would say that the car would be perfect for drivers who dislike SUVs for their general clunkiness and propensity for exaggerated body movements. And SUV lovers will find hardly anything to complain about.
It is tall and rugged enough. And it is equipped with Subaru's famed symmetrical all-wheel-drive, which, in the case of this Forester, varies torque between axles when slip on either end is detected. (Under normal conditions, it is front-wheel biased for fuel efficiency.)
The car has ample room for five people and a fairly large stowage area. The motorised tailgate of the test-car requires manual lifting, but closes as usual - with the touch of a button.
Most importantly (at least, for the majority of buyers), the car now has more showroom sparkle and street presence. You could say the homely girl with the golden heart is now ready to show the traditional prom queens some sharp and manicured nails.