2007 Subaru Forester Sports XT Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Subaru Forester Sports XT
"Crossover" means a motor vehicle that offers a cross between carlike comfort and SUV style, with SUV ground clearance. The car is usually some sort of family sedan, and your typical crossover is really the contemporary station wagon. Your typical crossover is practical and roomy, and can hold people and cargo in almost endless variation. Your typical crossover is also, for the enthusiast driver, about as exciting as the family sedan in its ancestry, which is to say "not very".
The Subaru Forester XT is a little different, as the car in its ancestry is a WRX. Or, to be more exact, a WRX STi. Coming from that gene pool, boredom is guaranteed to be banished.
The Forester debuted a decade ago as the first Subaru made expressly as a crossover, following in the successful footsteps of the Legacy-derived Outback and smaller Impreza Outback Sport. Shortly after the third-generation Forester debuted in 2002, the Forester XT was unleashed, with a modified, detuned version of the STi's ferociously turboed and intercooled 300-hp 2.5-liter boxermotor. The 2003 Forester XT had "only" 210hp, but with the looks of a lowly small crossover it was a fine wolf in sheep's clothing. Despite 7.5 inches of useful ground clearance, it had a low center of gravity and fine handling and traction thanks to its boxer engine and Subaru all-wheel drive system.
The Forester got a minor facelift and, for the XT, some more important upgrades under the skin a year ago. The addition of variable valve timing to both naturally-aspirated and turbo engines added significant power, and suspension revisions added a bit more clearance.
Last year, the Subaru Forester XT was offered only in fully-equipped Limited trim. For 2007, the Sports trim level is added to both the naturally-aspirated X and turbo XT models. With unique front styling and the deletion of roof rail crossbars, it has a sportier look. An upgraded audio system with Sirius satellite radio capability adds appeal, as does a lower cost than the Limited model.
Best of all, the Sports XT gets new shoes. A plus-one conversion, from 215/60 HR16 to 215/55 HR17 noticeably improves handling, bringing it closer to WRX levels. And there is no compromise to Forester utility. As ever, it's a fine vehicle for active, outdoors-oriented people - especially if one of the activities enjoyed is driving.
APPEARANCE: Forester Sports models get a mesh grille in place of the Limited's horizontal slats and a sportier, more WRX-like front bumper. Roof rack crossbars are removed as standard equipment, but are available as options. The differences are small but notable, and really do add a sporty touch. But it's not too sporty, and the Forester Sports XT still has a stealth factor that a WRX, even a WRX wagon, could only dream of.
COMFORT: Any color you want as long as it's black - that's the spec on the Forester Sports' interior scheme. Upholstery is cloth, not the Limited's leather, but that's okay - cloth grips better when it's time to play. The front seats are well-bolstered, supportive, and heated. The rear seat has a reasonable amount of space and comfort, and can fold flat to carry a bicycle, snowboard, camping equipment, or other moderately large items. Instrumentation is complete, and little touches like a gas gauge that holds its reading with the power off and lights that go out when the key is removed can prevent nasty surprises of the non-moving kind. Interior storage includes a covered box atop the instrument panel and a large locking glove box. Both Sports models get an upgraded audio system with MP3CD capability and a jack and power point for an external music player. Sirius satellite radio can also be specified, to further enhance the in-car audio experience. A huge sunroof allows an open-air experience in good weather.
SAFETY: The Subaru Forester has received a five-star rating, the highest possible, in Federal frontal and side crash tests, and has gotten the highest possible rating for a 40-mph frontal offset collision in IIHS tests. Its ``Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame'' unibody structure provides both rigidity for good handling and side protection and front and rear crumple zones for occupant safety. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard in the XT.
RIDE AND HANDLING: (insert smiley-face emoticons here) What would a WRX mini-SUV be like? This. The Forester Sports XT's fully-independent strut-type suspension has an appropriately firm tuning for a sport ride and very good handling. The greatest improvement is in the tires. They're still Yokohama Geolanders, but the shorter sidewalls of the 215/55 HR17 size fitted have less flex than the previous 215/60 HR16s, and the tread compound seems stickier, too. Both turn-in and adhesion are improved. The classic Subaru boxer engine and unibody structure design mean a low center of gravity even with a very useful 7.9 inches of clearance, and the Forester XT can go where normal sports sedans fear to tread. That clearance is also pleasant when encountering unavoidable road debris, not to mention steep driveways, potholes, and other hazards of life on the road.
PERFORMANCE: (insert more smiley-face emoticons here) The Forester XT is little heavier than a WRX wagon, and it has a lower final-drive ratio, so it's a quick little beastie. 60 mph will come up from at standstill in a very un-crossover-like six seconds. While it has plenty of utility, sport is emphasized, and there is no shortge. If this year's 224 horsepower (at 5600 rpm) and 226 lb-ft of torque (at 3600 rpm) seem less than last years 230hp / 235 lb-ft ratings, they aren't. SAE calculation methodology has changed. The turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed engine is as healthy as ever. It illustrates all that is good about turbocharging done right, with good and instant power just about anywhere in its rev range. There is no need to run it up to redline, but it doesn't fade at the top, either. The standard five-speed gearbox can be improved with the optional short-throw shifter. Unfortunately, my test car wasn't so-equipped, but I've used it in a WRX STi and it's a worthwhile investment. All manual Foresters have Subaru's Hill-Holder clutch, which makes stopping on an uphill grade easier on both the drivetrain and the driver. As with all Subarus, every Forester XT comes with a version of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Manual models have a locking viscous-coupling center differential with a static 50:50 torque distribution, which automatically transfers torque to the set of wheels that can best use it. Viscous limited-slip axle differentials route torque to the wheel on that axle that can best use it. The result is the traction in slippery conditions that has made AWD Subarus favorites in the Snow Belt ... and excellent traction on dry pavement as well.
CONCLUSIONS: Sport counts for as much as utility with the 2007 Subaru Forester Sports XT.
SPECIFICATIONS 2007 Subaru Forester Sports 2.5 XT Base Price $ 25,995 Price As Tested $ 27,235 Engine Type horizontally-opposed turbocharged and intercooled aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with variable valve timing Engine Size 2.5 liters / 150 cu. in. Horsepower 224 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 226 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 99.4 in. / 176.6 in. Curb Weight 3320 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.8 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P215/55 HR17 Yokohama Geolander G900 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS and EBD standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink strut Ground clearance 7.9 inches Drivetrain inline front engine, permanent all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 27 / 20 0 to 60 mph 6.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Popular Equipment Group 2 - includes: cargo bin, all-weather floor mats $ 170 Sirius satellite radio $ 445 Destination and delivery $ 625