Being an icon has its advantages, because, in styling terms, Forester hasn't come far since its launch in 1997.

Despite being bigger than the model it replaces, the latest, fourth-generation's exterior is pretty bland, especially when compared to the original, boxy Impreza-based machine. Back then the Japanese all-wheel-drive machine quickly established its credentials as a go-anywhere car. If you de-badged the current Forester I doubt many people would guess what it was. In truth, you could do that to most midsized Crossover SUVs on sale today and get the same result!

Forester sits on a new platform and has grown (as you'd expect) into a substantial machine in the 'flesh'. New Forester features a few curves and some creases in its body that give it a fresher look compared to the outgoing version. But it is the glass area that is most noticeable: the large windows give occupants a great view of the world outside.

Inside the five-seater the cabin is a no-frills affair and doesn't set pulses racing. Forester built its reputation as a functional machine and while the dash layout and switchgear may lack a cutting edge design, you'll forgive, because it is a Forester.

On closer examination, the interior is quite practical. The doors are designed to allow very easy access. They are long and cover the side sills so you stand a chance of keeping your trousers clean getting in and out - even if the outside of the car is filthy! In the back there is a handy 'Child Step' to help kids get in and out. Boot space was never Forester's strong point but now there is a usable 505 litres of cargo space. The rear seats fold with a 60/40 split.

At the heart of Forester is its own 150hp, 2-litre boxer diesel engine. The flat-four, opposing-cylinder layout unit is coupled to Subaru's famous symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. The engine is strong with 350nm of torque and, if you drive with a light right foot, economical too. When the going gets tough Subaru's AWD set-up is superb (viscous coupling/limited slip differential).

On the open road Forester is a comfortable cruiser. Its steering has changed from the traditional hydraulic to electric. This fuel- saving system lacks 'feel', so enthusiastic drivers will find they are not encouraged to take the twisty road home. Forester is, however, a workhorse and can walk the walk: it comes with trailer stability control as standard (Towing VDC) and is certified to pull a 2,000kg 'braked' trailer (1,800kg petrol version).

Two generous trim levels are available, namely X (heated seats, Bluetooth etc) and XC (reversing camera, sunroof and powered front seat) with the diesel. A 2-litre petrol XE version with a 'Lineartronic' automatic gearbox is available but unlikely to sell in any numbers. Prices start at €34,995 and this includes a three-year (160,000km) warranty and roadside assist.

What Subaru Forester lacks in styling it makes up for in heritage. Sadly, it will not sell in big numbers here due to limited supply and the fact that the Irish market isn't a global priority for Subaru. Behind the wheel loyal buyers will continue to feel quietly confident in their niche machine.

Michael Sheridan