By Jim Bray
In theory, if you take a nice vehicle and add a turbocharger to it you’ll
up the driving fun ante.
In practice, at least as far as the Subaru Forester is concerned, this is
exactly what happened. Yippee!
The Forester is Subaru’s SUV, though the company likes to say it has
the functionality of an SUV with the driving experience of a sports car. And
that isn’t a bad description, because it really does balance both tasks – though
that also makes it come off as not quite master of either.
It’s close enough for me, though. Not only is the Forester, especially
this Forester, my favorite Subaru, it’s one of my wife’s favorite
cars of all the vehicles we get to review – probably the one she’d
run out and buy first if the Lotto Gods were to smile upon our family.
Outside, while this Turbocharged Forester looks pretty much like a Forester,
one exterior detail gives it right away: the functional hood scoop that allows
the Forester’s engine to swallow gobs of air that would otherwise merely
rush over the roof and away.
Other than that, the first thing I noticed about the Forester turbo had nothing
to do with its performance. It was the gigantic sunroof that’s so big
you could probably parachute into the Forester through it if you were careful
to avoid the roof rack. This thing opens enough to let sun and fresh air into
front and back seat areas. It’s a sunroof and a half, and I loved it.
It also features a nice auto open and auto close (half way, for the latter)
feature that should be standard on all sunroofs.
If only it
had been warmer when we had the Forester…
Anyway, as is Subaru’s wont, the Forester comes equipped with full time
all wheel drive. This gives it a handling leg up over vehicles that spend their
lives in two wheel drive mode, only sending torque to the second pair of wheels
when the car’s digital brain notices wheel slippage. This isn’t
too a big deal most of the time, and it does add weight and complexity to the
vehicle, but when the roads get lousy it’s nice to have.
The Turbo Forester, a.k.a. the 2.5XT, ups the horsepower ante from the 165
nags of the 2003 2.5X Forester I drove a year ago, tipping the horsepower scales
at 210 horses @ 5600 rpm. Torque climbs from 166 to 235 lb.-ft, @ 3600 revs.
This makes quite a difference. The more equine-challenged Forester is fun to
drive, but the extra oomph makes this one fun.
If only I’d had a chance to try the 5-speed manual transmission...
The engine is at heart Subaru’s 2.5 liter single overhead cam horizontally
opposed four cylinder “boxer” engine. The turbo sucks back more
gas than its less capable brethren, but that’s only to be expected. Sucks
back your cheeks more, too.
The four speed “electronic direct control” automatic is fine for
a slushbox. It shifts well, and generally at the proper times, and you can
run it high into the revs without it freaking out and upshifting in a panic.
This is as it should be. There’s no “pretend manual” feature,
but all that really means is that if you want to shift for yourself you go
down through the numbers in the traditional linear way rather than using the “rocker
switch” up or downshifts of a pretend manual.
The XT doesn’t beat you over the head with creature comforts, but everything
you really need is there. You get automatic climate control, with big buttons
that are easy to figure out, a pretty good AM/FM/Weather Band stereo with 6
disc in-dash CD changer, two tweeters and a subwoofer that’s optional
on other trim levels. Door locks are powered and include keyless entry (and
it doesn’t wail like a banshee when you press the "lock" button,
which is nice!).
The windows are power-operated, with the usual driver’s side auto down
feature. I really liked the big side mirrors, which offered good visibility
backwards and to the side, without blocking the view forward like some mirrors
has a high ceiling and overall the car, er, SUV has lots of room. The seats,
at least up front, are comfortable and well bolstered. They’re also heated
and you can adjust them easily to find the perfect driving position. The seats
weren’t powered on my tester, but they’re easy enough to move.
The steering wheel is comfortable in the hands and tilts manually, though it
doesn’t telescope. There’s also a good left foot rest that comes
in handy when cornering.
The rear seats hold three in a pinch (and not much of a pinch), and they split
60/40 and fold down to create lots of storage space between the front seats
and the big hatch/tailgate. All three rear seats get three point belts.
And here’s a nice touch: when you fold down the driver’s side
sun visor, which is otherwise unremarkable, there’s a little holder for
credit cards and a pen there. Low tech, but wonderful ergonomics and thoughtfulness.
Of course you’ll want a security system if you’re leaving credit
cards in your car! Fortunately, the Forester has an anti theft system available,
though the brochure says it’s an option.
Forester has a great greenhouse, with good visibility in all directions and
there’s a most welcome wiper/washer (with intermittent setting) on the
You also get 12 volt power outlets in the front console and the rear cargo
Stopping the Forester are four wheel power-assisted disc brakes with four
wheel, four channel, four sensor ABS. Steering is speed sensitive power assisted
rack and pinion. Other safety features include dual front airbags, side impact
door beams, front/rear crumple zones and active safety head rests up front.
The 16 inch aluminum wheels are very nice; the performance tires work well
The Forester is quite nimble, and it doesn’t feel big or like an SUV – though
it doesn’t quite feel like an Acura NSX, either…
But for an SUV, it’s a comparative gas. The weather conditions when
I had the Forester meant I didn’t get a chance to really put it through
its paces, but in my everyday-type driving the Forester performed well, with
plenty of get up and go for freeway entrances (and displays of testosterone).
It has plenty of torque, and is a comfortable and pleasant environment in which
to harness it.
And even harass it a bit. The Forester seems to like being driven in a spirited
manner and it doesn’t take a lot of convincing to indulge it. I wish
I’d had a chance to take a long trip in it.
This isn’t an inexpensive vehicle, however. The XT starts at just over
twenty five grand U.S. (about 36k Canadian) and can go beyond $31,000 U.S.
(nearly $39k Cdn) if you keep adding stuff to it. Of course, you get a lot
of vehicle for that.
The turbo package packs in a bunch of other extras, too, including special
seats, the abovementioned seven-speaker, six disc sound system and a chromed
As with the Forester I drove a year earlier, my wife liked the XT so much
that it’s near the top of her wish list for our next vehicle – though
any Forester that makes itself home in our garage will proudly display a manual
But that would be a vehicle with which I could easily live.