Wouldn't it be nice to find a properly capable compact SUV? A car that could walk the walk as well as talking the talk? A car like this one, the fourth generation, improved facelifted version of the Subaru Forester.
Everything about this design puts this car with the best 4x4 estate cars in the marketplace. It seems to be nicely balanced, from the shape and positioning of its unique 'Boxer' engines to the shape and positioning of its intended clientele. People who want something fashionable, but don't need to make a fashion statement. People who want something tough and rugged, but don't need to tackle the Rubicon Trail. So the smarter styling inside and out will go down as well as the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system and the X-Mode off road technology. It's all been very carefully thought out.
This improved Subaru Forester model features a range of suspension tweaks said to improve ride quality and agility, but the key engineering elements this car's buying proposition has always been founded upon haven't changed. So you still get Subaru's trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive and the low centre of gravity offered by a horizontally-opposed, or 'boxer'-style engine. All those on offer are of 2.0-litres in capacity - and all are very different. Most British buyers will want the 147PS diesel, a willing unit with 350Nm of torque capable of rest to sixty two mph in 10.2s on the way to 118mph. To be frank, it's a better choice than the alternative 150PS petrol unit that, though returning an almost identical set of performance figures, must in reality shift a fully-laden Forester with about 40% less pulling power. Still, if your car's likely to enjoy a slightly easier life, it may just be all you need.
At the top of the range, there's a version that aims to broaden the customer base a bit, the pokey 240PS XT petrol turbo, capable of rest to sixty two mph in 7.5s on the way to 137mph. It's available only with the Lineartronic CVT gearbox that's optional on the normally aspirated petrol variant and the standard diesel.
And it's this auto transmission that you have to have to get all the technology developed for this car. Built in is an 'X-Mode' system that incorporates hill descent control and adjusts the stability control and throttle responsiveness to give maximum control in slippery conditions. Plus there's the 'Subaru Intelligent Drive' system vehicle dynamics system that enables you to adjust the response of your car to the mood you're in and the road you're on.
And off-roading? Well, you'll be surprised by just how far you can go across poorly surfaced terrain with the Subaru Forester. For a start, the 220mm ground clearance on offer is far better than most of the competition can offer, complemented by useful approach and departure angles of 25 and 26-degrees.
In its latest form, the Subaru Forester has had an exterior and interior refresh. At the front of the car, the hexagonal grille has been updated with a 'wing' motif grille mesh, while the front bumper has been reshaped and now features L-shaped chrome trim adding greater visual volume to the lower part of the front end. The wraparound headlamps - retaining Subaru's signature 'hawk-eye' shape - feature a black base paint finish and there are smarter LED combination lamps at the rear. Inside the cabin, higher quality materials and technologies have been introduced to further modernise the interior. Buyers get higher-resolution TFT displays and fresh cloth and leather upholstery options.
These improvements build upon a previous model update that saw the addition of a factory-fit 7-inch touchscreen infotainment and navigation system in all but entry-level models. As before, particular attention has been given to the controls and areas most regularly touched by the driver like the steering wheel, the handbrake and the gearshift. There's still nothing here to give Audi designers any sleepless nights but it's a big step forward for a Subaru Forester. Otherwise, things are much as they were, so there's the familiar long, wide design featuring a high bonnet leading into a muscular shoulder line running the length of the vehicle. There's quite a sleek feel too, thanks to a roofline that curves downwards towards the rear into tail lamps positioned to emphasise the body width. Plus this remains the practical AWD estate it always has been, with a 505-litre cargo area out back.
Subaru, you sense, has come full circle, established here as an SUV brand and now uncompromisingly proud of it. The company's earliest models were sold alongside farm machinery and beneath the plush polish you get in today's Subaru Forester, a bit of that same rugged appeal still remains, creating in this car a much tougher, more solid-feeling product than you'll find in compact 4x4 competitors.
It's certainly a refreshing alternative to the lifestyle legacy of soft-roadingness that has clogged up our cities and school runs with models about as suited to the Serengeti as a celebrity in the jungle. Yet crucially, it's now one you could consider as a realistic alternative to more compromised competitors. This Forester is fashionable without being trendy. And built to last while never feeling utilitarian.
In short, a Subaru Forester lease will give you the kind of car you want, a vehicle in which four-wheel drive is fundamental, rather than simply an optional extra and as a result, one of the best cars in its class to buy if you really plan on using it to its full potential. True, the result may not be as smoothly cultured as less capable rivals, but when conditions worsen, you won't care about that. And you'll probably be glad that you chose one of these.Click here to find out more about our Subaru Forester range
Audi A4 allroad
Fancy an A4 Avant with extra road presence and ability in slippery conditions? If the answer is yes, you'll be wanting an Audi A4 allroad. This is the manufacturer's alternative to a full-blown SUV and for the majority of drivers who never undertake challenging off-road trips, as one of the best 4x4 estates, it could be preferable.
The engine range is loaded with familiar Audi units. Petrol buyers get a 2.0-litre TFSI unit with a 252PS output, but most will want to fuel from the black pump. The TDI diesel range kicks off with a 2.0-litre TDI 150PS unit, an engine also offered in 190PS guise. From a standing start, the 190PS variant gets to 62mph in 7.8seconds. Top speed is 136 mph. Pokier options are provided by 3.0 TDI models with 218 or 272PS outputs. Naturally, quattro all-wheel drive is standard on all models. The quattro drive set-up is partnered with the updated wheel-selective torque control system, which is active on any surface. Depending on the engine, there is a choice of a manual six-speed transmission, the seven-speed Stronic auto or an eight-speed tiptronic auto.
The Audi A4 allroad is a little better off piste than before. Ride height has been increased by 23mm and larger wheels compared with the AudiA4 Avant provide an additional 34mm of ground clearance. As an alternative to the standard suspension, this model is available for the first time with optional suspension with damper control. Sensors measure the movements of all four wheels plus lateral and longitudinal acceleration. The damper characteristic adapts accordingly to the surface conditions and the driving situation. The results are enhanced handling with even greater comfort and impressive off-road capability. Furthermore, the driver can push a button to choose the default setting of the suspension in Audi drive select and call up the desired handling characteristics at any time.
The A4 allroad certainly looks more SUV-like this time round, powerfully flared wheel arches and a re-styled rear bumper attracting attention. These are finished in matt structure grey or painted in the body colour. The robust underbody guard and the rear diffuser are finished in selenite silver. The distinctive front end with jagged headlights, unique bumper and model-specific air intakes underscores this car's now more extrovert character. Vertical chrome slats adorn the sculpted Singleframe grille, while allroad badges decorate the front wings and the tailgate. The higher roof rails round out the typical allroad look. Plus there's the option of Audi's clever Matrix LED headlights.
At the wheel, there aren't many changes in this Audi A4 Allroad over any ordinary Avant - but that's no bad thing. That means a classy fascia with its distinctive continuous air vent strip. Out back, the luggage compartment offers 505-litres of storage space in the standard configuration. Total capacity with the rear seats folded down and loaded to the roof is 1,510-litres. An optional rail and load-securing kit makes it easier to transport individual objects. A power luggage compartment cover and the electric drive for the tailgate are standard. With the optional sensor control, the driver can open and close the lid via a foot gesture.
If you're after a true multi-purpose vehicle in the £35,000-£40,000 bracket, the temptation is to look at the various SUV options but taking out an Audi A4 allroad lease with this latest generation version could actually prove a more agreeable everyday option for many drivers. Residing somewhere between a compact executive estate and a compact SUV, it aims to balance road-going competence with light off-road ability. Factor in the big boot and Audi's quality interiors and you have what should be a convincing product.Click here to find out more about our Audi A4 allroad range
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
Volkswagen's second-generation Passat Alltrack is one of the best 4x4 estates that continues to strike an appealing balance for many buyers who don't need - and probably don't want - a traditional compact Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4-style SUV. It has the quality look and feel of something premium and much more expensive, blended with an extra dose of subtlety that'll suit potential buyers. Plus it'll be as good off road as you'll need it to be. In other words, it ticks a lot of boxes.
The VW Passat Alltrack isn't much different to drive than the standard 4x4 estate cars as only a few changes have been made over the regular Passat. The heightened suspension does have a small effect on handling though, as the centre of gravity is now a little higher. It's a small price to pay though as it stops the underside of the car from being damaged when off road and allows it to go over ground that the regular car couldn't look at. Performance is a fraction down on the regular car but not enough to be noticeable and the Alltrack has more than enough power for most, especially in the models with the more powerful engine. Two engines are currently available for the UK market, both 2.0TDI diesels. One is the 150PS version which comes with a manual gearbox. The other has 190PS and comes only with the DSG automatic. The extra power of the pokier model is desirable as is has extra torque more widely spread over the rev-range. Not only is this useful for off-road but it allows the car to give its performance in a more relaxed manner.
The performance is very accessible off road too. This car's Haldex all-wheel drive system uses sensors to detect any loss of grip and transfers power to the wheels with most traction. As well as making off road driving easier, this set-up ensures the driver has optimum traction during more spirited driving or in adverse weather conditions.
As is expected of any contemporary Volkswagen, the build quality of the VW Passat Alltrack is excellent; materials are both hardwearing and aesthetically pleasing and the general feel of the whole car is solid but luxurious. As this is the Alltrack model.
The bodywork, suspension and numerous other areas have been tweaked to cope with rough terrain. The exterior of the Alltrack looks more workmanlike than the standard Passat thanks to its plastic wheel arches, raised suspension and modified bumpers. However, the sleek lines and distinctive styling features such as LED lights remain. The Alltrack is certainly one of the more subtly designed vehicles of its kind and is all the better for it.
The interior of this MK8 model Passat follows the design principals of the exterior - simple but elegant. All controls are ideally located and in true Volkswagen style, feel of high quality in terms of materials and ease of use. The combination of stitched leather and metal accents give a premium feel to the cabin and by simplifying the controls, the designers have avoided an excess of buttons and switches - an affliction which many cars suffer from.
We've had 4WD Volkswagen Passats in the UK since 2001 but they've been a rare sight. This second-generation VW Passat Alltrack version though, deserves wider acceptance. It's the car that so many buyers of compact soft roaders should be looking at - but probably aren't. Less extrovert than RAV4s, CR-Vs and the like but, in truth, probably better suited to their owners' needs - providing those don't include anything too extreme on the rough stuff.
This, indeed, is a car perfectly suited to those who don't believe in going to extremes. In going for a VW Passat Alltrack lease, you'll be getting an SUV-style 4x4 estate that gives you the quality and cred of an Audi allroad for not much more than the price of a comparable Skoda or Subaru. A car, in other words, that the marketers have thoroughly thought through. Just as you'd expect from a Volkswagen.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Passat Alltrack range