When I first plop down in the driver's seat of the 2006 Subaru Forester, I mistakenly think, "this looks like a pretty basic car," until I look up. Spying the magnificently expansive moonroof, which spans the length of the front and back rows, I predict that driving this car with the pint-sized gang should be fun.

Right, I am! Viewing the golden leaf colors of fall in the foothills is a complete hit. All eyes are turned to the sky, with the aspen leaves dancing in the gentle fall breeze. My children become delirious with joy when spotting an airplane traveling overhead. Talk about real and simple entertainment. I wonder what it would take to have one of these moonroofs put into my own car.

Initially, I think that storage space is limited in the Forester. One after another, I slowly discover all of the clever little nooks placed throughout the vehicle. The compact center console includes a small recessed shelf, which I can open to make use of an additional, albeit small, compartment including a power outlet. I can flip back the center console and expose two cupholders that are very convenient for my 4-year-old to use. The back passengers also have access to two additional cupholders, but since they are lower to the ground, I find the flip tray option to be more convenient. For my caffeine-laden drink, the two cupholders in the front keep me happy, and for anyone counting, that brings the total number of cupholders to a whopping six. Not bad for a small SUV!

The unique compartment in the dash gets me all excited, since the large cover makes me think it will store a book neatly. The opening is actually much smaller than the cover, but it still houses CDs perfectly, and I am thrilled about the functional use of space, nonetheless.

Up above, I take note of two overhead storage compartments for sunglasses, and a visor that makes organization easy. A vertical cloth band (which can also hold bills, letters, etc.) allows me to easily grasp and flip open the visor to expose one pen insert and two card inserts, ideal for that ever-expiring insurance card.

Additionally, there are driver/passenger side mesh pockets, a passenger side mesh nook near the front center of the car (perfect for an extra set of keys), a glove box, one mesh magazine (or coloring book) holder behind the passenger seat, and five small compartments in the cargo area (one of which also includes a power outlet).

The cargo space boasts four shopping bag hooks, two handles (which could be used to clip light items to), and a tailgate grip handle. The highlight, however, is the plastic insert that protects the flooring. This is definitely one of my favorite features and I would like to add this to my wish list for any mom-friendly vehicle. Say goodbye to crumpled blankets, plastic tarps and stained cargo carpeting.

I load my obnoxiously muddy stroller from a pumpkin patch outing into the back without a care. Later in the day, I remove the plastic insert, douse it with the garden hose, and "voila" ... brand, spanking new again. Now, if only I could say the same for my not so pretty leather flats, which have been transformed into mud stilettos.

When desperately trying to install a third child car seat in the back, I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my son's fall break means no carpooling. It is all but impossible. Very possible and easy to get to, however, are the Latch connectors. Even though I do not recommend this seating configuration (nor does Subaru, as the back is always the safest place for children), a forward-facing child car seat could be installed in the front in a pinch, as the front passenger side airbag is activated only when a certain weight level is reached.

Driving this manual makes me wish for an automatic transmission. The clutch is bothersome to depress, but does supplement my Pilates work-out nicely. I also have to give that extra bit of TLC to shift into second gear smoothly; otherwise the car bucks and jerks.

I love surprises and this car continuously surprises me. I haven't even mentioned the simple to use Weather Broadcast button, or the cushy tushy heaters in the front. How about Subaru's standard All Wheel Drive feature? All of this at an affordable price!

*For more information on the Subaru Forester and its safety features visit Cars.com.

LET'S TALK NUMBERS

LATCH Connectors: 2

Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some