Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Freshened Subaru Forester Still the Best Compact SUV?

If the title seems a little odd, it’s simply the fact that the Subaru Forester benefits from a number of design improvements for 2006 that make it even better at what it has always been - one of the best compact cross-over-type sport-utility vehicles.

Since its inception, the basic concept of the Forester was to provide buyers with an affordable, fuel efficient compact-sized package capable of doing modest off-road duty, thanks to its excellent all-wheel-drive system, carry a decent amount of cargo and keep four adults in reasonable comfort while doing so.

That’s pretty much exactly what the Forester has been and continues to be for 2006. Among the most important changes are restyled front and rear fascias that give the vehicle a bit more of a serious look, more horsepower under the hood, some suspension revisions that improve ride comfort and some material upgrades for the interior.

On the mechanical side, the standard boxer 2.5 liter four-cylinder that has powered the Forester since its debut eight years ago is now rated at 173 horsepower, while the turbo version of the same engine that is available in the more expensive models produces 230 horsepower.

Subaru continues to give you the choice of either a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed stick shift. My five-speed turbo tester turned consistent mid-six second 0-60 mph times. Rather impressive for a crossover SUV, wouldn’t you say?

The impressive performance is not limited to a straight line, though. The revised suspension gives the Forester a little more comfort on congested city streets but retains the Forester’s poise and confidence in the twisties.

There is also a bit more off-road undercarriage clearance, so the Forester is able to navigate logging trails and farm backroads without a worry. I wouldn’t suggest the Forester for your next boulder-climbing adventure but it’s good to know this Subaru can handle snowstorms, moderately rutted trails and endless interstates with equal aplomb.

The interior changes include a new center console with a sliding armrest and more storage space. Passengers in the rear seats get more thigh room, thanks to a forward repositioning of the bottom cushion and the quality of materials used throughout the interior gives the Forester a distinctly more upscale look and feel.

The Forester has a solid reliability record and with the rear seats folded flat there is more than 54 cubic feet of available storage room for utilitarian purposes. The exterior styling is instantly identifiable as Subaru but stands out a bit more in a mall parking lot.

Pricing remains a plus, with the loaded turbo Limited edition checking in with a base price at $27,895. Fuel economy for the automatic transmission turbo Limited is 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

This review originally written for The Examiner newspapers in Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburbs and the Patuxent Publications newspapers in the Baltimore suburbs.