Subaru Forester Review
The Subaru Forester was introduced to the US in 1998 as a cross-over car / SUV. Providing the utility of an SUV with the performance and ease of a car, the Forester has found very loyal consumers who swear by Subaru’s multifaceted vehicle. Highly capable in any weather situation with its all wheel drive and higher ride height, the Forester doesn’t provide outrageous off-road capabilities, but the majority of consumers will never see such terrain anyways. The Forester provides what the average driver will realistically encounter in their daily lives with the ability to handle some surprise situations with ease. While not the most beautiful vehicle, the Forester is absolutely one of the most well rounded vehicles out there.
See also the main fact sheet for the Subaru Forester.
- Cargo space of an SUV, but drives like a car
- Excellent turbo technology on the XT
- Great all-weather vehicle
- The three rear headrests block rearward vision (The Detroit News)
- Stiff suspension makes for a rough ride (Kelley Blue Book)
- Less refined than the Honda CR-V (Kelley Blue Book)
Performance and Handling
The Forester is much better than nearly any SUV that comes to mind for driving the way most people drive most of the time: on paved roads, back and forth to work, to dinner and a movie, or collecting the kids at school. It rides better. It's more nimble and it gets better mileage. The Forester is also more pleasant, even more fun to drive, than just about any SUV. It will run circles around most of them. It handles more like a car and can be driven like a car.
Even more exciting is the XT's turbocharged, intercooled 2.5-liter, dual-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine makes 235 pound-feet of torque, or more than 40 percent more than the base Forester engine. For 2006, improvements to its variable valve-timing system (VVT) and intercooler increase horsepower by 20 to 230. That gives the XT a power-to-weight ratio on par with the Ford Mustang.
Yet the XT engine isn't the least bit peaky or finicky. Thanks to Subaru's experience with turbocharged engines from years racing in the World Rally Championship, there are no turbo lags or bugs, period. The VVT helps, too, by eliminating the compromises in a fixed-timing engine and delivering an amazing balance of lower-rpm torque and free-breathing horsepower. Horsepower peaks low enough to be effective in most driving situations, while off-the-line torque comes on strong as low as 2500 rpm.
Simply put, the Forester XT Limited is very fast, and the power is so steady and even that there's almost no clue it's a turbocharged engine. It's so much fun that you'll want to floor the gas pedal at every opportunity, just to feel the exhilarating rush of acceleration.
There's a drawback, to be sure. The XT requires more expensive premium fuel to get the full effect. Other Foresters do not, nor do many SUVs. There's also a mileage penalty. The XT automatic delivers a smaller mpg: 21 mpg city, 26 highway, according to the EPA. That's less than normally aspirated Foresters (23/28 automatic, 22/29 manual), but still a lot more than most SUVs.
The standard Forester engine delivers decent acceleration, to be sure, however not quite as exhilarating as the XT. Subaru's horizontally opposed engines (called "boxers" because the pistons repeatedly punch outward) share their design concept with Porsche's highly regarded boxer engines. The advantage is good power in a compact package, and a low block-height that helps lower the center of mass in the car. Subaru has perfected this design. Subaru's four-cylinder engine isn't as smooth as some, but company engineers have done a good job insulating the Forester's interior from the vibration.
The five-speed manual transmission works well. The gear ratios deliver a good mix of acceleration and quiet cruising, even if the throws between gears are long. The Forester's shifter will neither delight the senses nor irritate to the point that it overwhelms what's good in the car. Subaru's Hill Holder clutch remains a very useful feature, particularly if you live in San Francisco. It prevents the car from rolling backwards as the clutch pedal is released on a hill.
The automatic transmission gets the same middling rating as the manual. It's not the quickest to downshift, and in some circumstances it seems to get confused as to what gear it wants. In the turbocharged XT, there's more than enough power to make gear selection less critical. In normally aspirated Foresters, we recommend the manual to those seeking to extract maximum performance or driving satisfaction.
On the road, the Forester handles better than just about any reasonably priced SUV on the market, and far better than most. Its rack and pinion steering is more direct than that in a Ford Explorer or Chevrolet TrailBlazer, and the Forester's 35.4-foot turning circle is small by SUV standards (and smaller is better for crowded parking lots and backcountry trails). Its ride is firmer than a softly sprung sedan, with a bit of chop thanks to Forester fairly short wheelbase, but it's firm in a fashion we like.
The brakes are excellent. We experienced no apparent fade after three consecutive full-on stops from 65 mph, and Forester comes to a halt in short order.
The suspension settings in 2006 seem to have moved Forester a bit closer to the SUV side of the crossover equation and further from the car side. The steering feels a hint more numb than before, and the Forester more reluctant to turn, with more lean in the body through a fast curve. None of it seriously detracts from the Forester's handling edge compared to a truck-based SUV, and many drivers will never notice. But if you're inclined to attack a winding road, even in your little SUV-car, you probably will notice.
The Forester's all wheel drive system varies in design and operation, depending on the transmission. Models with five-speed manuals use what Subaru calls Continuous All-Wheel Drive, in which a viscous coupling center differential divides engine power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels, then shifts power one way or the other when the front or rear tires slip. Foresters with automatic transmissions use the Active All-Wheel Drive system, in which a center clutch delivers power where it's needed as determined by electronic sensors that measure wheelspin. The net effect is the same. Mud, rain or snow, the AWD helps ensure safe forward momentum and directional control by making best use of whatever traction is available. With tires suited to the task, you pretty much have to be a dunderhead to get the Forester stuck in anything short of axle-deep mud or packed snow that high-spots the frame. In short, weather isn't likely to stop a Forester.
The Subaru Forester comes standard with the following features:
- 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS)
- Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)
- Daytime Running Lights
- Driver and front-passenger front airbags
- Front seat-mounted head/chest side-impact air bags
- Active front-seat head restraints
- LATCH system: Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children
- Safety brake pedal system
- Energy-absorbing collapsible steering column
- Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame body structure
Reliability and Maintenance
Subaru's warranty provides its 2007 vehicles with BASIC COVERAGE for 3 years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Subject to the exclusions listed in this warranty, it covers the entire car. WEAR ITEM COVERAGE is 3 year or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Items covered are brake pad/shoe linings, clutch linings, and wiper blades. POWERTRAIN COVERAGE for all models is 5 years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. Subject to the exclusions listed in this warranty, it covers the major powertrain components listed below.
Interior and Comforts
The Subaru Forester is not a tall vehicle, compared to the typical SUV. Yet its seating position is high, providing more of the commanding view that many buyers seek in an SUV. Forward visibility is less likely to be obstructed by other vehicles than it is in the typical sedan. Indeed, visibility is great in all directions. The driver peers through an expansive windshield and big side glass with thin A-pillars. A wide rearview mirror and big outside mirrors provide an excellent view rearward. The driver's seat is simple to adjust, but it can be tailored for a wide variety of tastes and sizes, and it has good bolstering. The adjustable steering wheel has good range.
A new center console has more storage space and a sliding armrest that's just right for elbow resting. It also has an extra set of cup holders that can be flipped forward or back for use by either front or rear-seat passengers. The base Forester 2.5X now has a net pocket on the front-passenger seatback, and the seat fabric has been upgraded.
Rear-seat passengers get good leg and head room, even with the optional moonroof, and now they get even more thigh support. The bottom rear cushion has been extended forward two inches, without reducing leg room, and Subaru has added a fold-down armrest with storage in the rear seatback. Materials inside the Forester have been steadily upgraded over the years, to the point where all are decent quality. The instrument panel and controls are efficiently designed. Three big HVAC knobs make it easy to adjust temperature and airflow. The upgrade stereo in our 2.5XT Limited produced good quality sound, and like most things on the Forester, the buttons are better than ever (in this case, bigger). The gauge cluster is highly legible.
The optional leather interior looks and feels stylish. In 2006, the Forester L.L. Bean added a new MOMO wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel and matching shifter handle. The water-resistant surface on its cargo area floor and rear seatback has been expanded to the cargo area sidewalls. All these touches are nice, but Forester's interior materials are good in all cases, and we'd rather put the extra money for the L.L. Bean package toward the higher-performance XT turbo.
The Forester has great cargo capacity for its size. Lowering the 60/40 split rear seat increases that capacity from 32 cubic feet to 56.4 cubic feet. That's comparable or slightly less than compact SUVs like the Ford Escape or Honda CR-V, and those who put a premium on cargo space should note: The lower headliner on Foresters equipped with the moonroof robs more than a cubic foot of cargo volume.
The standard retractable cargo cover sits high enough to accommodate taller objects like a big cooler. There are now more hooks and tie-down options than ever in the Forester's cargo hold. A side storage pocket contains a 12-volt power outlet, and there's another 12-volt outlet in the front center console.
The 2006 Subaru Forester has been restyled front and rear, though those who know the Forester won't confuse it with any other car. The new grille is a bit larger, and the headlights and taillight clusters have been reshaped. The net effect is slightly more serious, perhaps more rugged, maybe a bit less frumpy.
Subaru fanatics, and believe us, there are plenty of them out there, will immediately notice the new Forester's slightly taller stance. With adjustments to the suspension, ground clearance has been increased from 7.5 inches to 8.1 inches (7.9 inches on the 2.5 XT Limited) to enhance all-road driving capability. That half-inch is a significant difference.
The Forester isn't likely to turn a lot of heads, although it's sculpted aluminum hood, and particularly the working air scoop on the 2.5XT Limited, subtly scream for attention. Compared to the typical mid-size SUV, the Forester is a small vehicle, but it makes efficient use of interior space. It is, by intent, a fairly boxy machine, and its beauty lies more in its functional design. Despite its upright shape, the Forester is impressively aerodynamic, with a sedan-grade 0.36 coefficient of drag. Other things equal, the more aerodynamic a vehicle is, the less wind noise inside and the better its fuel economy.
The standard roof rack remains flat black. Yet for years, less-expensive Foresters had unpainted gray lower body cladding that only cluttered up the car's shape. For 2006, the lower bumpers and protective cladding are painted to match the body on all variants except the L.L. Bean Edition, which has a contrasting metallic finish down low. It's a welcome improvement, and gives the vehicle a classier look. All Foresters except the base 2.5X also get larger body-color side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Styles and Options
The Subaru Forester is available in 3 trims: 2.5 X, 2.5 X L.L.Bean Edition, and 2.5 XT Limited.
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WikiCars Contributor Favorites
Subaru Manufacturer Sites
- Subaru Forester - Official US Site