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NEW CAR REVIEW: 2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT




MODEL: Subaru Forester 2.5 XT
ENGINE: 2.5-liter turbocharged horizontally opposed four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 210 hp @ 5,600 rpm/235 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 99.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 175.2 x 68.1 x 65.0 in.

There's no mistaking that the Subaru Forester is a Subaru. And as Martha Stewart would say, "that's a good thing."

In the Northeast and the rest of the snow belt, Subaru vehicles are popular because of their practical size, fuel economy, and full-time all-wheel drive. It's the all-wheel drive that is Subaru's best selling point. There are many people who must get to work before the snow plows come, and you'll often find these people driving Subarus.

The Forester is rated as a special purpose SUV. In the Subaru scheme of things, it's the biggest, bigger than an Outback but bigger than an Impreza. It's ranked as a compact SUV.

Critical to Forester's performance is a turbocharged 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine rated at 210 horsepower and 235 lbs-ft of torque. The engine drives the wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. These numbers aren't staggering in their enormity, but 210 horses are plenty enough for a vehicle that weighs 3,135 pounds at the curb. And we averaged almost exactly 20 mpg in our test.

The engine was noisy when we kicked in the loud pedal, but it was relatively quiet under normal driving conditions. There was no tendency for turbo steering under hard acceleration. The automatic transmission was smooth, except for a harsh downshift to first at stop signs and traffic lights.

Unlike the Impreza models with the same engine, there isn't a ton of extra-spirited performance in the Forester 2.5XT. But having the turbo under there does add just enough power to keep you out of trouble.

Subaru's all-wheel drive system is what sets it apart form other small car manufacturers. According to Subaru, "to achieve maximum traction and performance, every Subaru integrates a unique system combining all-wheel drive with a symmetrically balanced horizontally opposed engine and an optimally tuned independent suspension. The result is exceptional handling and control in all driving conditions."

Basically, all Subaru vehicles are extremely similar. The "SUV" style vehicles (Forester and the Outbacks) are compact station wagon style. At the recent New At the recent New York Auto Show, Subaru was bragging that its vehicles represented the first crossover vehicles. Okay, if they say so.

Being a wagon, the Forester is extremely practical. Behind the second row of seats are 32 cubic feet of cargo space. This doubles to 69.1 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded completely. You can fold the rear seat backs 60/40, too. Now that's a lot of cargo volume, even in standard configuration. And there's a shade to pull over any cargo back there for privacy.

Other storage areas include a nice cubby on the top of the dash, over the digital clock, pockets in the doors with mesh so you can see what's in there, a small CD-size area in the arm rest that includes a power outlet.

For the drinkers in the crowd, there are two cupholders for front passengers and two more for those in the rear.

Those rear seat passengers had good legroom, even behind the driver. I tend to move my seat back, but keep the seat back erect, so there's always a legroom challenge behind my seat.

Assist handles were located over all four doors. This is an aid for senior citizens. Shoulder belts are provided for all seating positions as well as headrests.

For safety, the Forester 3.5WX has front and side air bags.

Styling wise, as I said earlier, it's a Subaru. There's a roof rail but owners are cautioned to use only Subaru-approved roof rack carriers. I liked the huge sunroof that extended back to offer sunshine for rear seat passengers as well. And there's a huge turbo hood scoop. For dramatic effect, I guess.

The Subaru Forester isn't going to shock you in any way. It will give good service in all kinds of weather, and it's the "desire to want to drive at any time" demographic Subaru wants for its drivers.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate