It’s easy to get lost in the crowded field of compact crossovers. Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV4 battle it out for leadership, with Ford’s new Escape, Kia’s Sportage, Hyundai’s Tucson and Mazda’s new CX-5 competing for attention. Subaru has always taken a different path with the Forester, retaining some off-road chops and a substantial dose of quirkiness. The 2012 Subaru Forester 2.5X Touring carries a base price of $28,195 ($29,970 as tested), with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA estimates of 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway. Let's drive.
I’ve always been a Subaru fan. My very first car was a 1972 Subaru GL, a car that proved to be nearly indestructible, even when exposed to my teenaged abuse. In the years since my GL finally met the crusher, Subaru has retained its signature horizontally-opposed Boxer engines. Most car engine cylinders are arranged inline or in a V-formation. Each arrangement has its strengths and weaknesses, and gives an engine its character. Boxer engines, because they are horizontally-opposed, tend to have a lower center of gravity than traditional inline or V engines, and because every action within the engine has a corresponding, equal and opposite action on the other side, Boxer engines are relatively light weight, easily balanced and smooth running. Subaru has also discovered that Boxers respond well to turbocharging, so Subaru vehicles are all available in turbocharged variants.
The other thing that Subaru is known for is all-wheel drive. Every Subaru model since 1997 (except the new rear-wheel drive BRZ sportscar) has been equipped with all-wheel drive standard, including the Forester. This is a feature that sets the Forester apart from the competition. And it’s not some wimpy all-wheel drive system, either. Forester has 8.9” of ground clearance and beefy four-wheel independent suspension, making it a capable off-roader. My test vehicle spent its time on pavement, but I have driven previous Foresters in the dirt, and I’ve been very impressed. I’d expect nothing less from the 2012. It’s got the right mix of power, light weight and suspension characteristics to conquer dirt roads and light off-roading. It’s no wonder that Subaru is so popular in New England and in the Pacific Northwest, where road conditions can go from decent to horrible in a matter of moments, depending on the weather.
Forester isn’t going to win any beauty contests, with a tall greenhouse that recalls the proportions of a Toyota Tercel Wagon from the mid-1980s. The thing is, those ungainly proportions lead to a roomy, airy interior. My tall dogs love the cargo compartment, where they can stand without mussing their hairdos. My neighbor Wendy has a pair of rescue greyhounds, and she bought a Forester just so that she could transport her dogs in comfort. Now that the Honda Element is gone, the Forester might be the ultimate dog-friendly crossover vehicle.
The one new feature that Subaru is touting this year is a new optional navigation system, a $1,000 option on the Touring model. My test vehicle was equipped with the new nav, and I was not thrilled with the results. The 6.1” display is too small, and operation was not as simple and intuitive as I have come to expect from factory nav systems. Any time I have to break out the manual just to figure out how to pair my iPhone, we’ve got trouble. Your results may vary -- I was frustrated with the system’s operation.
My test Forester was naturally-aspirated, which is to say “non-turbo,” but I was pleased with the performance that the Boxer engine delivered. I’d be happier with the turbo, but that’s because I’m addicted to speed. Subaru’s going to have to do something about improving fuel economy, as the Forester is stuck in the 20s while the latest competition has moved into the 30s for highway mileage.
Forester really is unique among its competitors. If its special features, like off-road ability and tall greenhouse, are on your list of must-haves, your decision will be easy. A base Forester can be quite inexpensive, starting at just $20,595. Tick all the boxes (including the turbo), and you can get into the $30K range very quickly, which is true with most of the competitors as well.
My dogs are begging for a new Forester, but unfortunately for them, they don’t have jobs and they can’t drive. If your dogs make your buying decisions, you might already be driving a new Forester. If you make your own decisions, the Forester is definitely worthy of your consideration.
- Standard all-wheel drive.
- Capable on-road and off-road performance.
- Roomy greenhouse.
- Fuel economy lags behind the leaders.
- Quirky looks are not to everyone’s taste.
- Nav system is less than intuitive.
Details and specs:
- Base prices: $20,595 (2.5X); $23,295 (2.5X Premium); $26,595 (2.5X Limited); $27,895 (2.5X Touring); $27,095 (2.5XT Premium); $29,895 (2.5XT Touring)
- Engine: 2.5-liter Boxer 4 (2.5X models) or 2.5-liter turbocharged Boxer 4 (2.5XT models)
- Horsepower: 170 @ 5,800 (2.5X); 224 @ 5,200 rpm (2.5XT)
- Torque: 174 @ 4,100 rpm (2.5X); 226 @ 2,800 rpm (2.5XT)
- Transmission: 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic with all-wheel drive
- Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway (2.5X); 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway (2.5XT)
- Wheelbase: 103.0" Vehicle Length: 179.58" Width: 70.1" Height: 65.9 - 66.9”"
- Curb Weight: 3,250 - 3,460 lbs
- Cargo: 33.5 cubic feet behind second row; 68.3 cubic feet behind first row.
- Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain