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2006 Subaru Forester XT Review

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2006 Subaru Forester XT

There have been two dominant traits in Subaru's lineup over the years. The company first came to notice long ago as the maker of small all-wheel drive wagons with excellent all-weather capability. And then, starting in 2001 in the U.S. (and much earlier in Europe), there was the rally-replica WRX. The AWD wagon concept gave rise to the Outback wagon/SUV crossover, and later the even more SUV-like Forester from Subaru, not to mention a host of small crossover vehicles from all competitors. The WRX brought a completely new customer base to Subaru, and inspired a few competitors as well. What would happen if the two streams combined?

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That question was answered with the debut of the Forester XT partway through 2003. The XT added serious sport to Forester utility in the form of a 210-horsepower version of the WRX STi's turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer engine. Because of the low center of gravity engendered by its unibody structure and horizontally-opposed engine, the Forester XT had sports-car, not sport-utility, handling abilities and 7.5 inches of ground clearance, as much as many an SUV and plenty adequate for forest roads as well as clearing the odd piece of highway debris. It combined sport and utility like nothing else.

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LL Bean interior

For 2006, Subaru has some very useful revisions for the Forester lineup. The trim levels have been redefined. X denotes non-turbo, in base, Premium Package, and yet fancier L. L. Bean trim, while XT means turbo, fully-equipped Limited model only. All models have had a minor facelift, with new front and rear fascias and lights. The new i-Active variable valve lift system helps bring naturally-aspirated models up to 173 horsepower (from 165), while revisions to the XT's turbocharged and intercooled engine add 20 more horsepower, for 230. Suspensions have been retuned on all, and ground clearance has increased, to 8.1 inches on X models and 7.9 for the XT.

I've just finished a week with an XT. The original was on my short list of favorite cars, for its combination of useful space, all-road, all-(reasonable) weather traction available from its all-wheel drive, near-sports car grip and handling response, and powerful but friendly turbo motor. And the new model is just a little bit better, slightly more refined in its ride comfort and interior and exterior design. It still handles better than any of the small crossovers, if not quite at WRX levels because of the high SUV-type tires. It's as close to a do-everything vehicle for an outdoors-oriented person as I've ever seen, and it'll do everything in comfort. And quickly.

APPEARANCE: The basic two-box micro-SUV shape in unchanged, but, like all 2006 Foresters, the XT gets a new grille and four-lamp headlights in front that give it a slightly cleaner, less cluttered look. All models except the base X have new body-color outside mirrors that are a little larger, for improved visibility, and have integrated turn signals. At the rear, the taillights get a sporty look with clear lens sections. The XT can be told from other Forester models by its functional hood scoop, which feeds air to the intercooler.

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Standard interior

COMFORT: Inside as out, while the basics are unchanged, there are detail improvements. As the top-of-the-line model, the XT has leather upholstery and the Premium Package's upgraded AM/FM/6-disc in-dash CD changer/weather band audio system, heated front seats, with the driver's eight-way power-adjustable, heated outside mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers, and large glass moonroof. It's pleasant and rather upscale-looking, with good use made of varying materials and textures. While not large, it seems larger than would be expected from the Forester's external size. Seat comfort in front is very good, and the new luminescent gauges are shaded from glare and easily visible. The center stack controls, audio and climate systems, are simple to use. Front storage includes useful door pockets, and the lack of a real console box is made up for by a useful storage compartment in the top center of the dash. The 60/40 split folding rear seat offers very good leg and head room for the size of the car, with, unsurprisingly for its width, good room for two adults or three children. It gets a new fold-down armrest this year. There are new utility bars and cargo hooks back in the cargo area, and a useful optional removable rubber mat that can make transportation of wet and/or dirty things less unpleasant. Actually, there are many interior and exterior options for the Forester that can customize it to a wide variety of needs and desires. Access to the rear cargo area is lower than in most crossovers, and much lower than in traditional SUVs.

SAFETY: The Subaru Forester meets all Federal passenger car safety standards, 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 all models but the X.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Compare the Forester to other small SUVs, and there's no comparison. Subaru's chassis design and the shape and position of the engine allow good ground clearance - at 7.9 inches equal to many a ``real'' SUV - and a low center of gravity. Add the rigid chassis and fully-independent long-travel, rally-derived strut-type suspension, tuned a little more stiffly this year for improved grip with no real loss of comfort, and the result is pleasantly un-SUVlike behavior on entertaining roads. The relatively high-profile P215/60 tires help ride comfort, too. But they are more SUV tires than sports car tires, and don't have the sharp turn-in and ultimate grip that would be obtained with low-profile performance tires. Not really a problem - utility and performance? Forester XT. A little less space and utility and more performance? WRX wagon. The Forester XT puts the ``sport'' in sport-utility.

PERFORMANCE: The Forester XT is only about 60 lbs 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-SUV-like six seconds or so. While it has plenty of utility, sport is emphasized, and there is lots of that with 230 horsepower (at 5600 rpm) and 235 lb-ft of torque (at 3600 rpm) from the turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed engine. It illustrates all that is good about turbocharging done right, with good and instant power just about everwhere 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: Utility meets sport in the 2006 Subaru Forester XT.

2006 Subaru Forester XT

Base Price			$27,895
Price As Tested			$28,590
Engine Type			turbocharged and intercooled
				 alloy dual overhead cam horizontally-
				 opposed 16-valve four-cylinder with
				 variable valve timing
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 150 cu. in.
Horsepower			230 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			235 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		99.4 in. / 176.6 in.
Curb Weight			3310 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.4
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				Yokohama Geolander G900 P215/60
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink strut
Drivetrain			front engine, full-time all-wheel drive

 EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 26 / 20
 0 to 60 mph				6.0  sec

Rear cargo tray 			$  70
Destination charge			$ 625