IN these days of stylised SUVs and pretentious crossovers, a particular marque stands out from the herd.
Subaru was one of the pathfinders in the now surging sector more than two decades ago when it introduced the Forester - a go-anywhere four-wheel-drive family wagon with upright stance and few concessions to fashion.
Now in its fourth generation, the formula has remained constant. Its practical tall design allows huge amounts of passenger space together with a 505 litre boot in a body that's unusually light and airy thanks to a massive glass area.
All Foresters have symmetrical four-wheel-drive and the boxer flat-four engine has a high sump - ideal for off-road adventures - and a low centre of gravity for fine on-road balance.
So despite its unsporting, somewhat awkward looks, the Forester rides, drives and traverses rough terrain better than most. Which is probably why the brand commands such respect from pundits and loyalty from customers alike. It is also one of the most consistently impressive performers in reliability surveys.
There's a choice between 2.0-litre petrol or diesel models. I opted for the petrol which, though less economical is quieter and more refined.
The Forester's forte isn't speed but it doesn't hang around with a 0 to 62mph time of just under 11 seconds. Its urge comes in a discrete smooth flow, making progress effortless and unflustered. The flat four engine is quieter than most conventional units and there's ample torque.
A Lineatronic gearbox is offered as a substitute for the standard six-speed manual, and serves the Subaru well. It's a constantly variable system which finds the right ratio for the speed. Less frenetic than most CVT gearboxes, it complements the creamy engine.
Steering wheel paddles allow you to over-ride the calculated gear changes and have a bit more fun.
The 2.0-litre the petrol isn't the most frugal of engines, nevertheless my average over 520 miles was a respectable 38mpg.
One of Subaru strengths is a comfortable ride - whether an off-roader or a fire-breathing sports saloon. So it was unsurprising to find the Forester capable of absorbing all the bumps, ripples and pot holes in its path with barely a tremor being transmitted to its passengers.
Steering is pleasantly precise if a bit numb - probably necessarily so for a genuine off-roader. Generous suspensions movement inevitably results in some cornering roll but the Forester is quite adept at being hustled through bends.
Standard kit is generous in the Premium model tested and includes huger glass opening sunroof, climate control, sat nav, heated front seats, roof rails and power tailgate. There are plenty of cup holders and deep, useful pockets and cubbies for stowing family odds and ends.
A standard safety feature is Subaru's EyeSight equipment that monitors traffic and pedestrian movements and can help avoid or minimise frontal impacts via a twin camera imaging system. It's like having an extra foot on the brake and has earned accolades as one of the most worthwhile safety accessories.