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2012 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT Review By Steve Purdy

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By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

I felt that the 2012 Subaru Impreza I reviewed last week was a bit tepid in performance, design and execution. But this week’s Forester 2.5XT Touring, top-of-the-line, five-passenger, midsize CUV, was much better in many ways.

Although more pricey, the Forrester lacks some sophistication, most noticeably in the transmission and the navigation system. To compete in the thirty-grand class of CUVs the trusty Subaru symmetrical all-wheel drive and horizontally-opposed engine go a long way to keep loyalists coming back, but content is advancing so rapidly in competing brands they’ll have to step it up.

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We (my pretty blonde) and I found the Forrester easy to look at - certainly not glamorous, but reasonably up to date and fairly stylish. The nose is high, hinting at good ground clearance for off-roading. A bulging, functional air scoop dominates the hood and adds some visual performance cred. The scoop feeds air directly into the intercooler mounted atop the engine. Seventeen-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels with 225/55 all-weather tires are barely big enough to fill the wheel wells and do not call attention to themselves one way or the other. A small wing above the rear hatch is both functional and attractive adding a bit of style to the otherwise plain SUV profile.

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Inside, our leather trimmed cockpit turned out to be a pleasant place to spend time as I made a couple of lengthy highway jaunts. The driver’s seat adjusts 10 ways including a lumbar support. The driver’s window has express up and down but the passenger window does not. Fit, finish and quality of materials reflect a mid-range product - nice, but not exceptional.
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Least impressive are the navigation and audio controls managed through a small and unattractive screen surrounded by a few buttons. While superficially it may look simple, it is anything but that. Station tuning on the radio is with touch screen arrows that are slow to respond making it difficult to stop on the station I want. The nav functions are not particularly intuitive or simple. Certainly, it wouldn’t take long for an owner to learn and get used to the system, but for the weekly driver like me it became an annoyance.

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Ingress and egress front and rear were excellent without a big climb and without having to duck, indicating that it’s not too big or too small, but just right. The 60/40 rear seats are roomy and generous. Seat backs release easily and fold flat for a good 68.3 cubic-foot cargo capacity. With the seat backs in place we have a substantial 33.5 cubic-feet. The floor panel lifts to reveal a compartmentalized storage area made from rigid foam and that lifts to reveal a full-size spare tire.

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Under the hood is a very nicely finished engine compartment with the inter-cooler showing top center of the engine cover. Beneath the cover beats a smooth, 2.5-liter, horizontally-opposed, turbocharged, inter-cooled, four-cylinder engine making a modest 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque. Without the turbo, the other models of the Forester make just 170 and 174, barely enough to get it down the road. The EPA estimates this turbo Forester will get 19-mpg in the city and 24 on the highway (The non- turbo is rated at 21 and 27-mpg.) I couldn’t figure out how to reset the mpg-average setting and it read 22.5-mpg, reflecting mine and the mileage gotten by previous drivers. This represents about the midrange of midsize CUVs.

Acceleration feels good and strong but nothing to get excited about. The old-fashioned four-speed automatic transmission has a manual mode and is efficient enough, though it does not offer a performance feel. A 5-speed manual is standard with the lower two trim levels. As with all Subaru’s, except the new sports coupe called BRZ, the Forester comes with the respected full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive.

Forester sports plenty of airbags and all the chassis dynamic controls we find on most vehicles these days and it has earned four and five stars (with five as the max) in the NHTSA crash testing in all areas except rear seat passengers where it gets only two stars.

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The entry level Forester 2.5X starts at $20,595 and is quite well equipped. Our top-of-the-line 2.5XT Touring starts at $29,805 and includes: the turbo engine, the 10-way power driver seat, leather seating, 17-inch wheels, HID headlights, dual zone climate control, leather steering wheel and shift knob, panoramic power sunroof, rear vision camera, Bluetooth connectivity and more. Our tester has the optional $1,000 GPS touch-screen navigation and XM satellite radio. With the $775 destination charge our bottom line is $31,739.

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

The midsize crossover segment is a large and competitive one with wonderful vehicles from which to choose. To command a premium price one has to offer premium content and have a reputation for durability and competence. The Subaru Forester is long on the latter but a bit short on the former. In any event it has mechanical charm that would justify putting it on your shopping list.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker