Provided by Independent.ie

Sometimes I wonder who the real boss is: the car or me. I felt a bit like I was at an airport security check as I froze while this week’s review car took a ‘digital picture’ of my old visage.

It needed the ‘facial recognition’ so it could adjust seating, air con, mirror angles and so on to my preferred settings every time I sat in. It could also alert me to fatigue (it did, twice) or distraction (a few times – there are three screens and a rash of buttons on the dash). Sometimes I feel a bit overpowered by the technology.

I sat for a good while in the Subaru Forester e-Boxer SUV a few times, going through the myriad buttons, elements and prompts on the screens. Like a child exploring a sweets extravaganza, I pointed, picked and poked. I found it fascinating, illuminating and a tad confusing.

The overriding fact, of course, is that this all shows lots of commitment to, and achievement of, higher safety, driving and comfort standards.

The facial recognition technology is only a start for the Forester. If I were to detail half the bits and pieces on board, I’d occupy all the space allotted for this column.

So take my word for it that this new Subaru Forester e-Boxer ‘mild hybrid’ is as well equipped to deal with hazards, driving errors, comfort and general requirements as anything out there for that sort of money.

They claim the car has a different sort of ‘mild hybrid’ system set-up, but basically it boosts the engine at certain times and is claimed to make the car more efficient.

I didn’t get too hung up on all that because we are not talking full hybrid or plug-in here. Subaru claim, however, that from standstill, or low speed, an electric motor alone can power the car for up to 1.6km.

When all is said and done, however, the standout factor for me was how well this car drove, felt and reacted on some sprightly travels through Wicklow, Meath, Kildare, Westmeath and Offaly.

Foresters have always been about taut driving benched on an outstanding suspension. I’m happy to say the new one has improved again thanks to being built on a new platform. Is there a better handling mid-size SUV for the money?

I always fear using the term ‘handling’ because it is in danger of making me sound like a ‘petrol-head’ (I’m definitely not). No, the big effect of good handling, for me, is that a car will react more predictably to the enormous pulls and pushes of sudden changes in direction, speed or underfoot conditions.

Of course it added enjoyment to my drives as well; there was great feedback from chassis and steering on narrow Wicklow roads in particular (SI-DRIVE let me choose between ‘Intelligent’ and ‘Sport’ modes).

And the latest all-wheel-drive system underpinned each journey with a great sense of security.

This is quite a deceptive car, though. It doesn’t look big or bulky and is relatively low as SUVs go, though it boasts good ground clearance (220mm) and wide approach-angle. And at 1,870kg towing capacity is best-in-class.

As a driver, I had to get used to sitting a bit further back than maybe I’d expect or prefer. It took me a while to grow accustomed to, as it gave the impression of the front of the car being a long way off. I prefer to sit higher and nearer. Big leather seats kept us in deep comfort as we swept along highways and byways.

Driving us was a four-cylinder 2-litre ‘Boxer’ engine that has been heavily overhauled. It is called ‘Boxer’ because pistons are horizontally opposed to each (like boxers jabbing) unlike in-line conventional internal combustion models.

However, it was not the quickest to respond nor the smoothest under pressure; it whined a bit when the right foot pressed hard. Neither was it frugal, despite its mild-hybrid claims. I averaged 8.2litres/100km which is a long way from what a diesel would do. It would be my one major reservation about buying it. Admittedly I drove it with a degree of urgency – prompted in part by its sporty-drive nature – that most people would not. Still you need to be aware that a 2-litre petrol engine in a car of this size is going to consume a share of fuel. Subaru claim 6.6litres/100km. Somewhere between the two figures would be a fair reflection, I reckon.

Despite that major reservation, I enjoyed driving this latest Forester a lot. If the facial recognition technology was reporting to base, I reckon it would file my expression as “relatively happy most of the time”.

Facts & Figures

Subaru Forester e-Boxer SUV

Prices from €45,545. XE has LED headlights, electric/adjustable driver’s seat, driver monitoring system, Eyesight, X-Mode 2 functions.

XE Premium costs €49,245; includes 18in alloys, sunroof, leather seats (heated rear), satnav, electric tailgate.

2-litre ‘boxer’ 150PS petrol; AWD, 184g/km, tax €390, 6.6l/100km, 5-year/160,000km warranty.

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