2005 Subaru Forester Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Recently redesigned, now with a turbo option.
There used to be a poster of Ted Turner wearing cowboy boots and a charming cocky grin, saying, 'I was country before country was cool.' The Subaru Forester could borrow that expression and say, 'I was crossover before crossover was cool.'
The Forester may have invented that style of semi-SUV in 1998, before the word came along. Now the new crossover vehicles are finding their own identities, including higher performance, but the Forester isn't letting them get away.
The new 2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT (T for turbo) brings 210 horsepower to the table and a dazzling 235 pounds-feet of torque for exhilarating acceleration performance.
The rest of the Forester line continues to offer reliability, fuel efficiency, cargo room, safety, and its time-tested all-wheel-drive system. Extensively revised for 2003, the second-generation Forester is roomier and more upscale than before. It has comfortable, highly supportive seats. On the road, the Forester offers excellent handling and brakes. It's a better vehicle on treacherous roads than an SUV.
The 2004 Subaru Forester comes in three versions: the basic 2.5 X ($20,895), the well-equipped 2.5 XS ($23,145), and the new high-performance 2.5 XT ($24,970). The X and the XS produce 165 horsepower and 166 pounds-feet of torque, while the turbocharged XT raises the level to 210 and 235.
Standard features include a 80-watt stereo with CD player, remote keyless entry system, 16-inch sport wheels, variable intermittent windshield wipers and a trailer harness connector.
The 2.5 XS adds automatic climate control, Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), lower body cladding, leather accents and a six-disc CD changer. Forester XS with the Premium Package & Leather ($25,695) comes with an automatic transmission, monotone exterior cladding and a large power moonroof.
The 2.5 XT adds the turbocharged engine, upgraded brakes (four-piston front calipers), a hood scoop, and 16-inch alloy wheels with 215/60 R16 all-season tires. Forester XT with the Premium Package & Leather ($27,520) includes the automatic transmission, leather upholstery, sunroof, and monotone exterior cladding.
The Forester is available with a choice of five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic ($800). All Subarus come with all-wheel drive. A limited-slip rear differential is optional. Also available are heated front seats and exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer.
Safety features include ABS and pedals that give way in a crash, reducing leg and foot injuries. The airbag system is extensive, including front airbags with dual stages for the passenger, and side-impact airbags in the front. Other safety equipment includes a child restraint system called LATCH and front seat active head restraints.
Subaru offers a bevy of factory-installed accessories that add to the Forester's versatility. A supporter of Tread Lightly! and the official vehicle of groups like the American Canoe Association, Gary Fisher Bicycle Components, and the Professional Ski Instructors of America, Subaru offers components for carrying bikes, skis, kayaks and canoes on top of standard roof rails.
The Subaru Forester isn't an eye-catching car, although the hood scoop on the XT is subtly impressive. It's relatively small, noticeable when parked alongside a mid-size SUV like an Explorer. It's boxy, as is any such car that uses space so efficiently. It's when you look for the details that you begin to understand the effort in the design, the function and the possibilities.
The grille has a wide but not unattractive mouth, and is complimented by the contemporary contoured headlights. There's 7.5 inches of ground clearance, under a large molded front 5-mph bumper with integrated fog lights and a horizontal air intake at the bottom. The standard roof rack with cross rails is flat black, and the body cladding comes mostly in different shades and textures of gray on different models, but the higher-priced monotone looks best because it doesn't add clutter to the car's shape.
The aluminum hood is sculpted with a slight wide bulge, and the front and rear quarter panels have sculpted lines that flow rearward, and would be more effective without the cladding. The RT features good-looking alloy wheels, called six-spoke but actually 12 as the spokes are grouped in twos.
The vertically triangular taillights frame a large hexagonal rear gate with a lot of glass for good visibility, and which opens with an easy touch.
The seating position is high despite the fact that the Forester isn't a tall vehicle. This is nice, in the non-SUV department. The optional leather interior looks and feels stylish, and, not surprisingly, the instrument panel and controls are well and efficiently designed, using what Subaru calls a motorcycle-style instrument cluster. The driver's seat is highly adjustable and provides good bolstering, while the adjustable steering wheel has excellent range. The driver is afforded panoramic visibility from the big windshield, big side glass, and thin A-pillars. A wide rearview mirror and big outside mirrors provide a good view rearward. The wiper blades are designed to sweep a large area of the windshield clean.
Rear-seat passengers get good head and leg room. The Forester has great cargo capacity for its size, and lowering the 60/40 split rear seat doubles that capacity from 32 to 64 cubic feet.
The Forester works for a wide range of people, and when you consider all the airbag and seatbelt tricks, it keeps them all safe. It earned the highest possible ratings for crashworthiness in 40-mph frontal and 30-mph side impact crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the only small SUV to earn that rating in both tests.
The interior materials are nice, though the top of the dash looks like plastic. Three big HVAC knobs make it easy to adjust the temperature. The audio controls are on the fussy side, however, and the stereo sounds tinny.
Standard features include remote keyless entry, good storage space in the console, a separate storage compartment for the front passenger seat, dual visor vanity mirrors with lids, dual sunglasses storage compartments, illuminated window switches, rear window de-icer, remote release fuel door, two 12-volt outlets located in the front cabin and the cargo area, tie-downs for gear and groceries, power windows and locks, and finally a full-size spare tire.
The Subaru Forester is more fun to drive than any sport-utility vehicle and will run circles around them. It handles like a car and can be driven like one. It rides well and takes bumps very well.
The Subaru Forester 2.5 XT is very fast, and the power is so steady and linear that you'd never know it was a turbo, although the functional scoop on the aluminum hood for the intercooler tells you something special is under there. Its excellent throttle response, clutch take-up, and all-wheel-drive traction allow incredibly quick launches for those so inclined.
The XT's turbocharged 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, four-cylinder engine makes 235 pounds-feet of torque, an increase of a whopping 43 percent over the non-turbo engine, and with Subaru's experience with turbocharged engines from its years of racing in the World Rally Championship, there are no turbo lags or bugs, period. Subaru's variable valve timing system helps too. The horsepower peaks where it's effective, at 5600 rpm, and the torque is strongest at a beautifully low 3600 rpm. One drawback to the XT is its lower fuel mileage of 18/23 mpg EPA City/Highway with the five-speed, compared to the XS model's 21/27. And the XT requires 91 octane fuel.
The standard engine delivers good acceleration, though it doesn't match the exhilaration of the turbo. Subaru's horizontally opposed engine structure (called a 'boxer') is similar in concept to Porsche's. The engine design offers the ability to achieve a low center of gravity and a more rearward placement, putting less weight forward of the front axle, which helps balance handling. Though powerful, Subaru's engine isn't as smooth as some.
The five-speed manual transmission works well, though it feels a ropey and has a long throw. A special and exceptional feature is Subaru's Hill Holder clutch, which prevents the car from drifting backwards when the clutch is engaged on a hill, such as pulling away from stop signs or red lights.
The Forester offers excellent handling. The variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering offers quick response, while allowing a turning circle of 34.8 feet. The ride is relatively firm due to the short 99-inch wheelbase. Equal-length axle shafts help eliminate torque steer. Underneath the skin, Forester's new body structure is strong and light, further improving handling and reducing stopping distances.
The cabin is quiet, even at triple-digit speeds, as we learned on the high-banked oval at Talladega Motor Speedway. Newly designed suspension struts help reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Believe it or not, the Forester is aerodynamic, achieving a 0.36 coefficient of drag. That helps reduce wind noise and improves fuel economy.
The brakes are excellent. We didn't experience any fade while braking hard for the first infield turn off of the oval lap after lap.
Later, we tested XS at Mudfest near Seattle, the Northwest Automotive Press Writers' annual event for new and redesigned SUVs. On an obstacle course consisting of cinderblocks and wood blocks, the Forester's 7.5 inches of ground clearance passed the test, while the ride was surprisingly non-traumatic. But it dazzled us on the slalom course. There were more than 30 SUVs of all sizes there, and the Forester XS was the hands-down winner in the slalom. It felt like a sports car as it weaved through the cones at more than 40 mph, when some of the other SUVs struggled at 30-35. It was precise, quick and steady, and was the only SUV that could clip the cones with control.
Two different all-wheel-drive systems are available. 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, which shifts when the front or rear tires slip. Foresters with automatic transmissions use the Active All-Wheel Drive system, in which a variable transfer cl.
When it comes to versatility there's no vehicle like the Subaru Forester. It has it all: performance, reliability, economy and function. Subaru's engineering and track record are exceptional.
Subaru Forester 2.5 X ($20,895), 2.5 XS ($23,145), 2.5 XT ($24,970).
Options As Tested
Subaru Forester 2.5 XT ($24,970).
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