Subaru has built the world's first flat four-cylinder diesel to be sold in a production vehicle. Europeans have been driving it in the Legacy and Outback since January 2008, and it was recently added to the engine lineup in the new third-gen Forester. Americans...well, we'll have to wait, but we could get the boxer-diesel Forester sometime in 2010. If, that is, Subaru gets the message (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) that American buyers are seriously interested.

I recently drove the new Forester 2.0D through the idyllic rural roads of Austria and neighboring Slovenia, and it's an appealing piece indeed. The boxer diesel is essentially an all-new engine, sharing its bore centers with Subaru's 3.0-liter gas six (to help reduce machining costs) but otherwise made mostly of unique parts. The twin-cam, four-cylinder mill displaces 2.0 liters, feeds off a common-rail fuel-delivery system, and breathes via 16 valves and a variable-nozzle turbo. Output is 145 horsepower at 3600 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at just 1800 rpm (compared with 226 pound-feet for the Forester's 2.0-liter turbo gas engine).

Subaru notes several advantages to the boxer's design. Most important, the horizontally opposed configuration is naturally balanced, requiring no weight- and friction-increasing counter-rotating shafts for smooth spinning. The engine is extremely compact, thanks to a bore pitch reduced 6 mm over the 2.0-liter gas engine. An aluminum block minimizes weight, while a low-mounted turbocharger helps drop the car's center of gravity. The engine also wears a diesel particulate filter (DPF), a closed silicon-fiber honeycomb that traps particulates passing through the exhaust.

Mated to the new engine is a new six-speed manual transmission designed especially for the boxer diesel. Subaru currently has no automatic capable of handling the diesel's lofty torque output, and given the relatively low volumes anticipated for the diesel, the company isn't inclined to spend big bucks on creating a new one. Expect the manual to be the one and only transmission offering when (if?) the Forester diesel eventually makes its stateside debut.

Official EPA fuel-economy figures of course aren't yet available, but in Europe the Forester 2.0D is rated at an amazing 37 mpg city/highway combined. If you're a driver who likes to pour on the miles, here's your rig: With its 16.9-gallon fuel tank, the 2.0D has a range of more than 600 miles. Got a boat or a trailer? No problem. The Forester 2.0D can tow up to 4400 pounds (compared with just 2400 for the gasoline-drinking, turbo 2.5-liter four in the Forester XT).

The engine lights off with a pushbutton starter and settles into a subdued clatter. You know right away it's a diesel, but the sound from beneath the hood isn't intrusive. Pull away from a stop and in a blink the turbo spools up and you're surging ahead. Subaru claims a 0-to-60 mph time of 10.4 seconds.

Aside from its new powertrain, the Forester 2.0D is otherwise the same immensely likeable and well-rounded machine that, in gas-powered form, has trumped such rivals as the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Mazda CX-7 in recent Truck Trend comparison tests.. Ride is well-controlled with a polished feel, the steering arcs through bends with nice weighting and feedback, brakes are strong, and you've always got Subaru's full-time all-wheel-drive system on hand should the road turn gravelly, wet, or snowy.

Two versions will be offered in Europe: the base 2.0D X and the more richly appointed 2.0D XS, which adds 17-inch alloy wheels (versus the standard 16s), HID headlamps, roof rails, and a seven-speaker surround-sound audio system, among other features. DVD navigation and leather are optional on the XS. The Forester's interior isn't as dressy as, say, the VW Tiguan's, but it's hard not to appreciate its roominess and functional simplicity.

There's a lot to like about this newest Forester. Fuel savings versus even the base 2.5X model's naturally aspirated gas 2.5-liter four (rated at 20/26 city/highway mpg) is significant. The Subie may not be able to rock-climb like a Land Rover, but it's a genuine SUV--albeit with far more carlike moves than truck-based rivals.

Compared with the gas Forester, the diesel will sticker for roughly 2000 euros ($2800) more in Europe. Given its superior fuel economy and enhanced "greenness" (not to mention that formidable towing prowess), the 2.0D should prove popular indeed across the Atlantic.

Even with the premium Americans currently pay for diesel fuel, the Forester 2.0D makes sense on many levels. The question is, how badly do you want it?

Send your applause Subaru's way. A few whoops and cheers wouldn't hurt, either.

2010 Subaru Forester 2.0D
Base price $28,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.0L/145-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC turbo flat-4, 4 valves/cyl
Transmission 6-speed manual
Curb weight, lb 3400 (est)
Towing capacity, lb 4400
Wheelbase, in 103
Length x width x height, in 179.5 x 70.1 x 65.9
0-62 mph, sec 10.4 (mfr)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ, mpg 34/41 (est)
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 0.60
On sale in U.S. 2010...if you want it bad enough

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