Summer 2005 Forward to a Friend

When first introduced in 1997, the Forester deceived me.

Like so many of its competitors, it seemed ... “nice.” I assumed it had the same all-wheel-drive capabilities as other Subaru vehicles, but I didn’t have a reason to drive one at that time.

Then, about a year ago, I worked on a story involving a Forester set up for the racetrack, with significant suspension and engine modifications. That sent me to my nearest dealership to test-drive a stock Forester 2.5 XT to see the differences between it and the race-prepared vehicle.

That test-drive opened my eyes to the possibilities that Forester has to offer – utility, certainly, but with WRX-like performance as well. Here was a vehicle intended to complement an active lifestyle, but with acceleration strong enough to make an enthusiast smile!

And now I have experienced the 2006 model.

In the 2006 Forester, the essence of the 2005 model remains, but with features sharpened and emphasized to make it look more like the performer it is. The 2006 Forester has a clean-cut, chiseled appearance that complements its quiet athleticism.

The new face is cleaner and more unified. The eyes and eyebrows formed by the headlights are straightforward and without guile. The grille is well-defined, with chrome lateral bars filling the space without requiring a border. The grille, bumper and lower air intake leave a stronger impression of unity. The revised fog lights punctuate the strength of the front end without distracting from the other elements. The fog lights are smaller, but more effective.

These changes in design are complemented by updates on the sides and at the rear. The sides feature body-color paint for the mirror housings and pillars. At the

rear, added trim emphasizes on- and off-road capabilities, and lighting assemblies have been revised to be more contemporary.

In short, the new 2006 Forester has a more serious appearance. Its exterior states that it’s not a toy. It’s not cute. Rather, it has grown up to face today squarely, on contemporary terms and without excuses.

The Forester has always been handy at hauling people and their cargo, but these capabilities are improved for 2006. Between the front seats, a multifunctional center console is standard. It features a multiposition armrest that flips over to make cupholders accessible along with a small tray.

Bars have been added along the sides in the rear cargo area. These make it easier to attach and secure items to keep them from sliding around if the area isn’t full.

The L.L.Bean® model has its own revisions. Its cargo area receives water-resistant walls, seatbacks and flooring, for reduced damage when carrying wet boots and other cargo.

The L.L.Bean Edition also ups the ante in premium appointments with a MOMO wood-and-leather steering wheel, a wood shift knob and Alcantara® accents.

Enhancements to the Forester’s chassis and power train have made an already strong performer even stronger.

Those who equate performance with horsepower won’t be disappointed. Horsepower specifications have increased for both Forester engines. And there are other engine revisions as well.

The normally aspirated Forester 2.5 X engine has an increase in horsepower from 165 to 173. The engine’s i-Active Valve Lift system contributes to that increase, varying the amount of valve lift relative to engine speed. At low rpm, intake valves are set for low and mid-lift, which swirls and accelerates the air as it goes into the engine. That improves combustion and results in higher torque (i.e., greater power). At high rpm, the system opens the valves even further, which decreases resistance to intake airflow. Again, the result is greater power. The i-Active Valve Lift system not only increases power output but improves driveability as well.

The turbocharged and intercooled Forester 2.5 XT Limited engine climbs from 210 to 230 horsepower. This was accomplished by removing the precatalyst (replaced in function by a secondary air pump), increasing the engine’s compression ratio, redesigning the combustion chambers and redesigning the intake manifold. The increase in compression ratio and the combustion-chamber redesign also contributes to improved emissions, with the turbo engine meeting Low Emissions Vehicle II (LEV II) regulations.

Gear ratios in both the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions were also revised, contributing to the improved fuel economy and performance of all models. Electronic controls on the automatic transmission were given an advanced adaptive shift control system, which adds to responsiveness and comfort.

For Forester models with automatic transmissions, the electronic-control logic for the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive has been improved. The revised logic enhances handling and traction performance on slippery roads and in tight corners.

Changes to the braking system include a revised brake booster that improves overall brake feel.

Other revisions to the 2006 Forester that affect performance include:

•   Increased ground clearance from 7.5 inches to 8.07 inches on the 2.5 X and 7.87 inches on the 2.5 XT – for better all-weather driving capability

•   Strengthened rear crossmember that improves lateral rigidity, providing a stronger foundation for the suspension system – for enhanced handling performance

•   Revised lower L-arm mounting point in the front suspension – for improved ride quality

•   Revised coil-spring rates and shock-absorber valving front and rear – for better handling and ride comfort

Sunshine and warm air help to make driving a pleasure, as does an appropriate choice of road. All these came together one day in late April, when I met the 2006 Forester at Subaru of America headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

I started the day as a participant in a group of drivers cycling through two Foresters and four competitive vehicles for comparison. Later on, I had a turbo Forester on my own.

The group drive led us along city streets, suburban drives, rural roads and a sand-and-dirt trail. These offered different kinds of driving, but they all led to the same conclusion – the Forester is responsive, solid, competent and capable.

My favorite was the turbocharged Forester XT. Without violence, it accelerated unmercifully – yet always in control. There was never the tug to the left or the right that you’ll find in some other small SUVs. Lithe and nimble seem the best words to describe the Forester on all surfaces.

The turbo Forester never bogged down, even on the road made of sand. We traveled that road several times, softening one of the corners particularly well. It provided a test ground for the vehicles’ AWD and 4WD capabilities. Both Foresters sprinted out of the sand, where some of the competitors were more reluctant – even ones with larger-displacement engines and more aggressive-looking equipment.

The sand road also provided a sense of the rigidity built into the Forester body. It had no creaks or groans – evidence of a rugged, strong platform.

The ride on rough paved roads displayed another Forester strength – good insulation from noise. A couple of the competitors demonstrated obtrusive engine, tire and road noise.

Another pleasing aspect of driving the Forester was the predictable placement of its controls. Large and easy to decipher and use, they were readily within reach and where I expected them to be. I especially liked the feel of the shifter, even though it was an automatic transmission (I’m partial to manual transmissions).

In our preparatory meeting, we were told that the turbocharged Forester had proved best-in-class in performance. Although we didn’t have stopwatches and a drag strip at our disposal, seat-of-the-pants reckoning gave Forester the acceleration crown hands down. It’s a joy to drive and quite accommodating. Where the previous model had brought a smile to my face, this one brought out laughter!

Later, while driving on I-95 through Philadelphia and along the Delaware River, the Forester showed another side of its personality – that of a comfortable, long-distance cruiser. Yardley, Washington Crossing and New Hope provided the backdrop as we plied their scenic roads.

Cruiser, performance vehicle and flexible cargo-hauler with a young, clean-cut personality, this Forester is even more pleasing than the last.

First Impressions was written by Drive editor Ric Hawthorne, whose automotive experience includes more than 20 years of writing and editing automotive books, magazines, videos and online presentations for consumers and
manufacturers’ training departments.