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2006 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

The Yankee Clipper

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2006 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

Forester's proportions are unique, a tall greenhouse mated to a stumpy body.

Photo © Jason Fogelson
My very first car was a 1972 Subaru GL. It was virtually indestructible -- it had to be, the way I mistreated it. So I was really eager to get behind the wheel of the 2006 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT and try it on for size. The 2006 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT carries a $27,895 base price ($29,365 as tested), a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and an EPA estimate of 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway. I don't know if it's indestructible, but it sure is competent.

First Glance

Forester is an odd duck. Is it an SUV or is it a station wagon? Is it an attractively-designed crossover, or is it just ugly? Forester's proportions are unique, a tall greenhouse mated to a stumpy body. Forester is a great example of what happens when form follows function -- sometimes form suffers. I happen to like Forester's design for that very reason -- every detail is simple and practical. Even the hood scoop is actually functional, funneling air directly into the intake.

Forester is like a post and beam barn -- there's nothing beautiful about it until you start to use it. I think that may be part of the key to Forester's popularity in New England. Not only does its full-time all-wheel drive system help conquer the seasons, but its practical design appeals to the Yankee mentality. It's not too big for the job, not too small for the family. Your Golden Retriever can stand up comfortably in the cargo hold, and your cross-country skis will strap to the roof rack. With 7.9 inches of ground clearance, Forester will travel from bog to bog across Nantucket while carrying up to 45 bushels (that's 56 cubic feet) of cranberries.

Continued below...

In the Driver's Seat

Forester's dash keeps the practical theme intact.

Photo © Jason Fogelson
Forester's driving position is upright, very SUV-like, and comfortable, taking full advantage of the expansive headroom afforded by the tall passenger cabin. If you feel at all confined, open up the big power moonroof that is standard equipment on all Foresters, and you'll be at one with the great outdoors.

Forester's dash keeps the practical theme intact. Big rotary dials select climate controls, and big analog gauges cluster above the steering wheel. There's a nice mix of materials on the dash -- a metal-look plastic serves as an accent, and a grippy rubberized stripe mimics the look of the perforated leather steering wheel cover. Useful cubbies abound in the Forester -- there's always someplace within reach to store your stuff. I'm not nuts about the covered storage at the center of the dash, but it does make good use of space that would otherwise be wasted. Forester's seating surfaces wear a good, thick leather coat that feels like it will break in and soften with age. The cargo compartment is very flexible, with a 60/40 split folding rear seat and useful space under the rear deck for hidden storage. My test vehicle came with an optional ($75) cargo tray that sectioned off the storage space for even more utility.

On the Road

Even though Forester is the most utilitarian vehicle in the Subaru lineup, it benefits from features that are found up and down the lineup. All-wheel drive, fully independent suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and great road manners make the Forester a willing accomplice to all kinds of hijinks, on road and off.

That 2.5 liter turbo four-cylinder engine adds to the fun, with 230 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque on tap. Subaru has tamed turbo lag, that annoying tendency that turbocharged engines can display where power delivery is delayed by a beat or two as the turbo spools up to speed.

My test vehicle was equipped with the optional ($800) four speed automatic transmission, which worked well to deliver power smoothly and predictably. Subaru's manual transmissions are great -- if you really want to get the most out of your turbo Forester, forsake the automatic, save eight hundred bucks and have even more fun. Tell people that you're driving a manual in the interest of efficiency -- though the manual is rated at 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway, slightly lower than the automatic. Save the $800 for speeding tickets and increased insurance premiums.

Journey's End

All-wheel drive, fully independent suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and great road manners make the Forester a willing accomplice to all kinds of hijinks, on road and off.

Photo © Jason Fogelson
Despite Forester's strengths, I still get a case of sticker shock when I see that $27,895 base price. I have to stop thinking about Subaru as an economy car maker, and realign my point of view. Forester is actually a near-luxury special purpose vehicle, with all-road capability and extensive standard safety and convenience features. It's hard to find a close comparison among competitive vehicles.

If you're considering a Forester for its all-weather competence and utility, there are several other vehicles you ought to check out. Toyota's RAV4 is worth a look, as is Honda's CR-V. Mitsubishi's Outlander, Toyota's Highlander and Ford's Escape/Mercury's Mariner/Mazda's Tribute all manage the utility equation in interesting fashion, though none offer the pure driving fun that you'll get behind the wheel of a Forester.

I think the more valid comparison for Forester is within the Subaru lineup. If you want more luxury and a more conventional design, go for the Legacy GT Wagon. If you want a little more space, go for the Outback. If you are a nut, choose the Baja -- I don't get it. If you live to drive, choose the WRX STi. Subarus are niche vehicles in the best sense of the term. Only you can decide if a Forester fits in your niche.

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