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2011 Subaru Forester 2.5X Premium Review and Road Test

2011 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5X PREMIUM (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyers Guide

A Boxer Without Rhythm
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

I was a bit disappointed in the new Subaru Forester. Not that it isn’t a perfectly good crossover, or that it wouldn’t be a fine ride for anyone needing, or wanting, an all-wheel drive hauler of people and stuff. It’s just that it doesn’t have the unique, sort of quirky, personality we used to love with our Subarus. How many of you remember the Subaru Brat, for example.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The first thing I noticed as it sat in my driveway is its pleasant, but homogenous, style. With an SUV-like, high stance and all the trendiest styling queues, like wraparound headlights and taillights, large, slightly bulging wheel arches and just enough body creasing to break up the large spaces, the Forester distinguishes itself little from the mass of competitors in this mid-size CUV genre. The distinctive Subaru badge in the grille and an exaggeratedly upswept chin suggesting off road competence are the only hints that the Forester may be something special.

Based on essentially the compact Impreza platform the Forester feels plenty big enough to make most small families comfortable. With a good 8.9-inches of ground clearance you will get around in the snow and slush of winter but might not want to challenge serious off-road trails. Subaru’s wonderful Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system gets high marks for efficiency and effectiveness in all conditions.

Every Subaru has the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system - from the bottom of the line Impreza compact to the Tribeca CUV and the upscale Legacy sedan. While most other all-wheel drive, or 4-wheel drive, systems start with a front or rear wheel drive and add mechanisms to engage the other axle, Subaru’s system integrates both axles in series with the engine, thereby eliminating many mechanical components. It sends all power evenly to all wheels all the time. If one wheel encounters a slippery spot all the power ends up with the other wheels.

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The interior is nice but undistinguished as well. Because of the large doors and modestly high stance ingress and egress are as easy as anything I’ve driven recently. The fat, multi-function steering wheel feels good. The ultra-simple HVAC controls fit the no-frills theme inside. The plain fabric seats are comfortable. Materials, fit and finish inside are good with non-glare, smooth surfaces everywhere. At least five shades of grey coordinate well with a splash of red and blue in the gauges. Above the center stack an inset panel tells us the time, ambient temp and mileage status.

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This Forester happens to be equipped with a small-screen TomTom navigation system with audio controls built in. I found it to be about as user-unfriendly as any system I’ve encountered recently. It’s a rather homely looking thing as well.

The next thing I noticed as I drove into town was that the Forester is so quiet and well insulated I could not hear, feel or sense the unique rhythm of the boxer engine. Another thing that makes Subarus unusual is the horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine design. Rather than having all the cylinders in a row (inline engines) or in a “v” configuration, the boxer engine has cylinders going opposite directions along a horizontal plane. Anyone who has driven old VWs, most Porsches or any older Subarus will probably know what I mean when I talk about the unique feel and rhythm these engines produce. Sadly (though most buyers will be pleased) we have no feel of the engine running.

The boxer engine, by the way, is the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder boxer with dual overhead cams. Acceleration is best described as leisurely with only 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque motivating this 3,300-pound car. The EPA rates the Forester at 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway using regular fuel. I managed a tad over 27-mpg in my week on the road.

A turbo version is available with Forester’s upper trim levels. It makes 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet or torque. You sacrifice only about 2-mpg at each end of the spectrum and must use premium fuel. It also costs about two grand more than its normally aspirated counterpart.

A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard with the bottom two trim levels and a 4-speed automatic is standard with everything else. Our test car, second from the bottom level, lists the automatic as a $1,000 option.

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With rear seat backs easily folded flat we have an impressive 68.3 cubic-feet of cargo space to fill with our stuff. With the seatbacks in position we have a good 33.5 cubic feet. The rear hatch is well-balanced, easy to lift and close.

For safety and security all Subarus are loaded with the latest technology, just like most cars today, from multiple air bags to chassis dynamics to sturdier substructures. We don’t have any NHTSA safety ratings on this one yet, but there is no reason to think they won’t be as good as anything on the market.

Subaru’s full warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

The base price on our Forester 2.5 Premium is $23,495. The entry-level 2.5X shows a base price of $20,495. The top of the line 2.4X Turbo Touring starts at $29,995. We have the optional automatic transmission, floor mats and an All Weather Package on our test car bringing the total with destination charge to $26,384.

This might be the one for you if you’re shopping for a mid-size CUV with competent, efficient all-wheel drive, and aren’t too concerned about speed or luxury. If you want the speed and luxury take a look at the Turbo and top-of-the-line trim level.

I’m guessing that not one in a million of you out there give a hoot about hearing and feeling the boxer rhythm.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved


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