Subaru's new Forester is more spacious, poised and refined, even if it remains frumpy
Subaru's Forester grunt The Subaru Forester has a brake-based torque vectoring system that allows for surprisingly aggressive cornering speeds. PHOTO: KONG YONGYAO

Looks familiar, doesn't it? You are unlikely to mistake its shape for anything but a Subaru Forester - a design that has not changed much for five generations.

But in a market now overstuffed with flamboyantly styled city baubles, does the Forester with its go-forth-and-conquer posturing fit?

Subaru maintains its relevance. Bold statements need to be backed up, though.

To that end, the new Forester packs plenty of changes beneath the skin, the biggest of which is its new platform, imaginatively named Subaru Global Platform. It promises greater rigidity, comfort and, most importantly, crashworthiness.

The car's interior is as robust as before, but is not more cosseting. Evidence of artful imagination - for so long almost entirely absent in Subarus - includes the geometric positioning of screens and controls on the dash, while key controls remain within easy and intuitive reach.

This clarity of execution extends to a great view out through large windows and around impressively thin A-pillars, giving the sport utility vehicle a spacious, airy ambience. With 20mm more space between the front passengers and 33mm greater tandem distance between the front and rear seats, the gains in comfort are palpable. Plus, the motorised tailgate moves much faster now.

On an off-road course here, the Subaru chugs over heavily broken terrain, through a mud pool, across a steeply banked slope, up and down a steep incline and through a slippery slalom with little fuss.

This is little surprise, considering the Forester has always been positioned at the more capable end of the crossover spectrum.

Then to the racetrack, where a previous-generation Forester is present for comparison. The old car does its best, but clomps around the circuit with all the subtlety you expect of a bull.

So you start your lap in the new one gingerly, anticipating the lurching, lunch-regurgitating inelegance that, incredibly, does not materialise (too much). Despite not actually seating you any lower than its predecessor, its increased composure makes it feel that way.

The all-wheel-drive keeps its mass in check and retains its balance impressively. A brake-based torque vectoring system allows for surprisingly aggressive cornering speeds.

While full judgment must be reserved for when the car is sampled on public roads, this demonstration of talent bodes very well.

One major irritation lies in the way the drivetrain groans in a turbo-less struggle to get the sizeable vehicle up to a gallop.

A continuously variable transmission is also wholly inappropriate for track work, unfairly being forced to exhibit the worst of its inevitable droning nature. Out in city traffic at reasonable speeds, however, this is less likely to be a major concern.

The Forester always had a bit of an agricultural reputation. Yet, Mr Takeshi Shoji from Subaru's vehicle research department answers my question on what compromises were made to give this new car its vaunted adventuring abilities with one word: none.

As far as this test-drive goes, it does seems so.