The Subaru Forester is a compact sport utility vehicle that competes with the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Saturn Vue, even though it looks more like a tall wagon than a traditional SUV. All-wheel drive is standard, and trim levels include the base 2.5 X, Sports 2.5 X, upscale 2.5 X L.L.Bean Edition, Sports 2.5 XT and 2.5 XT Limited. Turbo models with an automatic transmission have a tweaked all-wheel-drive system for 2008, and they also gain an electronic stability system. Changes for other models are largely cosmetic.
A 173-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder powers all but the 2.5 XT, which gets a 224-hp turbocharged four-cylinder. There is an optional four-speed automatic transmission.
Ground clearance is 8.1 inches (7.9 inches for 2.5 XT models).
The Forester features flared front fenders and blister-type rear quarter panels. For 2008, all Sports models get a new front bumper, black-painted headlight and taillight surrounds and silver-painted roof rails. The Sports 2.5 XT adds a body-colored roof spoiler and new 17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels.
Sport bucket seats in the front and a 60/40-split folding rear seat can accommodate up to five occupants. Subaru emphasizes the Forester's high seating position. For 2008, an audio system with seven upgraded speakers and a subwoofer is standard on Sports and L.L.Bean models. L.L.Bean models also get a standard auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear cargo area carpeting and a standard cargo accessory tray.
Standard features on the 2.5 X include power windows and door locks, keyless entry and a CD audio system. A Premium Package adds automatic climate control, a panoramic moonroof, heated seats and a power driver's seat, among other items. Sports models add to that aluminum alloy pedal covers and anthracite black cloth upholstery, among other features. The Sports 2.5 XT adds a different gauge setup. The L.L.Bean edition has embossed leather seats, a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel with a matching shifter handle, and L.L.Bean-embroidered floormats.
Under the Hood
Subaru's Impreza series uses the same 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder as the Forester. The regular engine develops 173 hp. A turbocharged version that yields 224 hp goes into 2.5 XT models. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on all models except the 2.5 X L.L.Bean Edition, which gets a four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic transmission is optional for other models. A Hill Holder clutch on manual-shift models makes it easier to start the car on inclines.
For 2008, turbocharged models get Subaru's Variable Torque Distribution that uses a electronically controlled hydraulic transfer case to control power distribution between the front and rear wheels. Turbo models also get an electronic stability system.
Dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags, front active head restraints and antilock brakes are standard. The ABS system has electronic brake-force distribution for better front and rear proportioning. Side curtain airbags are not available.
The frisky Forester XT is sensible and satisfying, especially with the turbocharged engine and the manual gearbox. There's a bit of turbo lag after pushing the gas pedal. Foresters ride pleasantly enough over smooth surfaces, but bumps and ruts can produce somewhat harsh reactions.
Space is ample in the front and adequate in back, with abundant headroom and toe room, though knee space is less bountiful. The front seat bottoms are short but nicely supportive. The gauges and controls are ordinary but sensible.
The easy-to-drive Forester maneuvers nimbly, handles with a light touch and yields a friendly, comfortable feel. Some driveline noise occurs during acceleration.