I recently was in the left front seat of an older Subaru Forester at highways speeds, but with no steering wheel in front of me. Not to worry. I was in Australia, where the steering wheel is on the right side and vehicles are driven in the left lane. My daughter was at the wheel.
I recently tested a 2011 Forester four-door small SUV (or “crossover,” if you will) after returning to America. This third-generation Forester, which was new for 2009, is appreciably larger in every dimension than the last generation model, with a roomier back seat. It’s styling is clean, but won’t turn heads. There are only minor trim changes for 2011.
The new Forester is no more powerful than the 2010 model, despite a refined base engine, but provides good acceleration in town and on highways. Its 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder is put in most models, but it’s also sold with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which kicks out 224 horsepower.
Torque is up a bit and comes in a slightly lower rpm for better responsiveness, and fuel economy is slightly improved. It’s 21 mpg in the city and 27 on highways with either a manual or automatic transmission.
The turbo engine comes only with a four-speed automatic transmission, which shifts smoothly but is outdated. It should have at least five speeds. A five-speed manual is standard in the base 2.5X and 2.5X Premium versions, which have the four-speed automatic as an option.
I found the 170-horsepower engine of a Forester 2.5X Touring model I tested revved at a rather high 2,600 rpm at 65 mph. A fifth automatic transmission gear would allow the engine to rev lower and be more relaxed, although it’s a rugged, quiet motor.
Both versions of the engine are compact, with horizontally opposed pistons. They sit low in the chassis for improved handling. Steering is accurate, with good road feel and tightens a bit for better control at highways speeds.
This is an easy car to drive. The new Forester is agile and Subaru’s standard, advanced all-wheel drive gives the Forester a leg up on some rivals.
The Forester is among the smoothest riding small SUVs, largely because it is based on Subaru’s Impreza auto platform. There is more suspension travel and added ground clearance.
The Forester comes as the 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, 2.5X Limited. 2.5XT Premium. 2.5X Touring and new top-line 2.5XT Touring. List prices range from $20,495 to $29,995.
Even the base 2.5X has such items as air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD sound system and power locks, windows and mirrors. Move up to the 2.5X Premium and you get a power driver’s seat and a large power sunroof.
The 2.5X Limited adds the four-speed automatic, with more speakers and a power heated driver’s seat. The 2.5X Touring adds a parking sensor and auxiliary controls.
The turbo engine is the major item in the 2.5XT Premium and 2.5XT Touring. They both come with a roof spoiler.
Forester options include a navigation system, alloy wheels and a roof rack.
All Foresters have such safety features as stability and traction control and side air bags.
Occupants sit rather high, with good all-around visibility. The comfortable front seats provide good thigh support and are supportive in curves. The rear seat comfortably handles three tall adults.
The backlit gauges can be quickly read, even in bright sunlight, and my test car’s adjustable wheel came in handy. But there’s a mixture of small and large audio system controls, and the vanity mirrors have no lights.
“Utility” could be the Forester’s middle name. There’s a deep, covered console bin and easily reached cupholders. All doors have storage pockets.
The large trunk has a covered floor compartment for smaller objects and a low, wide liftover. Rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to significantly enlarge the cargo area.
The hood has an inside cover for noise control and raises smoothly on twin struts. Fluid-filler areas can be easily reached.
Subaru continues to come up in the world with more-desirable models, and the Forester is one of this automaker’s most popular vehicles.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.