The 2011 Subaru Forester arrived on my doorstep without much fanfare, looking quite modest and left in much the same way. Put simply: It didn't amaze me, but it did prove itself to be competent and practical in the areas that count. Since I live in Colorado's Boulder County, the areas that count are performanceparticularly on rougher roads and in inclement weather and space for kids, gear, dogs and anything else you happen to ride around with. This is an outdoorsy, mountain-loving, animal-loving, family-friendly place and the Subaru managed to embrace all of that.
For all of its embracing, the 2011 Forester isn't the most stylish or feature-filled car on the road, but interior and exterior panache aren't the Forester's thing. People who drive and want a Subaru don't seem to care about panache, they care about practicality.
My test car, the 2.5XT Touring trim, has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In it, I had no problem accelerating and conquering mountain roads, dirt roads, snowy roads or city roads in this car, and Subaru's standard all-wheel-drive system worked nicely.
The Forester starts at $20,495. The 2.5XT Touring trim, which is new for 2011 and the top of the line, has a starting MSRP of $29,995. My test car had a final price of $30,789, thanks to the addition of all-weather floormats and a destination charge.
On the whole, the 2011 Forester looks like a tall, boxy station wagon. The Forester 2.5XT Touring has a functional hood scoop, which feeds air into the intercooler; the other models don't have this bump on the hood. It gives the hood a sportier look overall, but not necessarily a prettier look. Roof rails are standard to complete the Forester's look.
The Forester's boxy look translates into plenty of head- and legroom for passengers while still being a manageable size that's easy to maneuver in and out of parking spaces and other close quarters.
With ground clearance just under 9 inches, this is a midsize SUV that even small kids can get in and out of independently. My 4-year-old mastered the ins and outs of this car without a problem, and my 2-year-old learned to manage it on her own over the course of a week. Neither of my children could quite reach the door handles, but the doors were certainly light enough for them to move around once opened.
The Subaru Forester 2.5XT has a powerful 224-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-estimated 19/24 mpg city/highway and uses premium gas. The Forester also has a 170-hp four-cylinder engine that gets 21/27 mpg and uses regular gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The 2011 Forester's interior is sparse and filled with black plastic. It's unexciting. Lack of style aside, the interior gets the job done, offers a couple of standard features like Bluetooth connectivity and a backup camera, and has plenty of passenger and storage space. I would appreciate a bit more of color and soft surfaces in the Forester, though.
The Forester's lacking any high-tech gizmos or gadgets that you might expect to find in a car from the 2011 model year. While I'd like to complain about this, part of me was relieved that there were no unfamiliar gadgets to figure out. I didn't once have to stop and learn how to operate anything or pull out the owner's manual to figure out how to make things work. I like high-tech gadgetry and flair, but on some of the fancier cars these days I find myself constantly reaching for the owner's manual, which is something I often don't have the time or patience for.
The cargo space is cavernous and offers a few extra cubbies and shelves to keep things tidy. The 60/40-split rear seats flip down easily, and there's a well-placed button in the cargo area that also allows you to fold the seats. When the seats are down, the cargo space seems large enough to fit a horse in it. In reality, with the seats up, cargo space is almost 31 cubic feet and with them down, it's about 63 cubic feet.
A center armrest and cupholders in the rear seat instantly makes the rear seat feel lounge-like and puts passengers at ease. It actually worked well for holding my children's sippy cups, and my son could even reach his cup on his own.
In the front row, the driver and passenger have standard heated leather seats. The Forester has a standard MP3 jack as well as steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls. There are cupholders and bottleholders for containing all your beverages as well as a tiered center console that offers plenty of storage. My test car also had a standard panoramic moonroof that adds a little sun- or starlight to your driving experience.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2011 Forester delivers on safety. It's been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety award, a car must receive the top score of Good in front-, side-impact, rear and roof-strength crash tests as well as have a standard electronic stability system.
During my test drive, I put the stability control, which Subaru calls the Vehicle Dynamics Control system, to the test. While driving home on icy roads one evening, I hit a patch of black ice and felt like I was losing control of the Forester, but with VDC and my expert steering (naturally) I was back on track within milliseconds and made it home safely.
In addition to the electronic stability system, the Forester has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, all-wheel drive, active head restraints in the front row, backup camera and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows.
My car seats fit well in the backseat and left plenty of legroom for the driver and front passenger when installed. I was able to fit my rear-facing infant-safety seat, a booster seat and a forward-facing convertible seat across the backseat, but it was a tight fit. However, I wasn't able to fit two convertibles and the rear-facing infant seat that I need for my children, so I could only safely transport two of my children in the Forester at a time.
As usual, I was disappointed in the Latch connector availability. I had to dig deep to find the two sets of Latch anchors despite the presence of a swell Velcro flap to signal their location in the seats. I still have cuts on my fingers from digging around to find the anchors.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Subaru Forester here.