• Oct 8th 2007 at 12:02PM
  • 22
click above image for high-res gallery of the 2007 Subaru Forester Sports 2.5X

Subaru's Forester is well into its second generation, but the styling and driving experience isn't far removed from the unflappable friendly wagon that bowed in 1998. Why mess with a good thing?

The Forester Sports 2.5X is a handsome set of duds that sets you apart from the CUV crowd, even if you don't get the turbo motor. The black mesh grille and more monochromatic color scheme dresses up even the lightly optioned Forester we recently drove for a week. Lightly optioned doesn't mean stripped, there's plenty of equipment here and you'd only want for more if you wanted higher monthly payments. Even a basic Forester is comprehensively equipped. We're happy to report that while Subaru is all grown up from the days of the GL, the spirit of those funky rattlers remains infused in the Forester.

All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

click on any image to enlarge

The Forester Sports is equipped with Subaru's vaunted all-wheel-drive system, and it's more apt to consider it a small utility wagon than call it a CUV. It drives like a car, which is one of the plusses of car-based unibody vehicles, while the ground clearance allows you to shrug off unimproved thoroughfares. Being Impreza-based, the footprint is reasonable, and maneuverability is good. The two-box profile and squarish shape allows you to load a lot more into the Forester than you'd initially think. A first-generation Forester sees regular abuse at my day job; we load it to the gills with video production gear. You appreciate the functional two-box profile while marveling at the pile of C-stands, lighting gear, and production detritus you can cram into the Subie. Even without folding the seats, the cargo area is generous for a vehicle with a footprint the size of the Forester. When there's a need for more, dropping the seatbacks double the 30.7 cubic feet to 68.6. A handy load organizer occupied the floor of our tester's cargo area. It was rugged enough to have items loaded on top of it when folded, and it was a snap to open up. It kept the various small bits of things we normally travel with from smashing around the cargo area.

For $21K, you forego leather seats and an automatic, but you do get climate control, a multi-CD stereo, cruise control, and power windows. What more could you want, really? If you don't want to change your own gears, there's a 4-speed automatic available for $800. There's also a lot of accessories available so you could tailor your little Subie exactly to your liking, should you have the money. There are no individual accessories that cost more than $500, though those prices don't include installation, you could have a lot of fun carefully outfitting your vehicle for just a few dollars more.

Swing one of the frameless-window doors open and the interior materials don't scream luxury, nor do they advertise cost cutting. Other makes manage to put nicer materials in their interiors, but the Forester's fitment isn't the bottom of the class, and Subaru interiors usually wear well. Ergonomically, the Forester's relative simplicity makes it an easy car to operate. In a time where novel control schemes are hatched somewhere in the bowels of Hell, the simple 3-knob HVAC controls were refreshing. Silver trim on the center stack looks better than faux wood or ho-hum black trim, but may pick up scuffs and scratches more easily.

There's still a shallow compartment atop the dash, just like the original Forester, which is good for holding all manner of junk. The instruments are housed under a small half-moon hood and capped by a ring of brightwork. The classic white on black color palette of the gauges is eminently readable, and none are blocked by the tilt wheel. There are plenty of blank plates to remind you of options you could have gotten, too. Fabric covers the seats, and the restrained pattern looks like it will wear well. The seats themselves are manually adjusted, and offer the normal complement of tweaks, along with lumbar. Again, it's no luxury car, but the seats were comfortable, if not squishy. The cabin of the Forester is very livable. Visibility out is great, there's accommodating cupholders all over the place for your bladder-filling pleasure, and there's enough nooks, crannies, and nice touches to help the Forester live up to its reputation as a nice little utility wagon.

Twist the key - no frou frou pushbutton silliness here - and that familiar Subaru chirrchirr whirs the 2.5-liter flat-four to life. The engine is quiet at idle, and well isolated. The horizontally opposed layout quells second-order vibrations, which reduces some of the normal 4-cylinder roughness. While it's no speedster, there's enough power here for most driving tasks. Short onramps can be a little hairy in heavy traffic, and more kick from the powerplant is usually a good thing, but the naturally aspirated powerplant shares a symbiotic relationship with its host; the engine doesn't overwhelm the car, and vice versa. Clutch takeup was quick and vague, however, making us look like amateurs sometimes. An errant all-weather floormat was also interfering with the clutch pedal. With the friction point so low, and the grabby floormat edge, we had a strange first day. Culprit located and repositioned, we still found the clutch action too quick off the floor, but the drivetrain is forgiving of all but the most ham-fisted drivers, so we learned quickly how to achieve smooth results on takeoff.

Driving the manual transmission Forester is not one of those automotive joys for which we're always wistfully pining. The shift linkage is vague and rubbery, we landed in 3rd often while on a quest for 5th. The main problem, though, is the engine acting like it's got a 60-pound flywheel. Revs hang between shifts, and sometimes increase when you depress the clutch pedal, which makes it a challenge to get smooth results out of the Forester. Slow, languid shifts are rewarded. Treat it like a non-synchronized crash box and wait until the revs start to fall before engaging the next gear, and you'll go smoothly on your way without lurching.

Corners don't make the Forester turn tail and run, though there is a bunch of body roll. Chassis moves are predictable, and recovering either end is a trifle. The Forester is forgiving to the point where we wonder if our gripes come down to the wheel/tire combo and perhaps the anti-rollbar thickness that the 2.5X finds itself equipped with versus the higher-zoot 2.5XT. The XT might be the ideal Forester, still hitting all those high points at which that this model excels, while delivering more performance and sportier moves. The price jump isn't drastic, and that athletic bent suits us better, but that doesn't reduce the excellence of the Forester Sports in the least.

The overall driving experience is what we've come to expect from Foresters. It's not reluctant to rock back on its heels and go. It's also not reluctant to heel over on its beam and scare the bejeezus out of your passengers if you try taking corners at speed. A WRX it is not, at least in 2.5X guise. It's no speed demon, but there's oomph aplenty for most, and the enthusiastic demeanor gives the Forester the personality of a Black Lab - always ready to go frolic in the mud. Subaru's Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system lends a sure-footedness to the chassis, as well. You never really sense it working, but you also never really sense a lack of traction, so something must be going on down there. Pointing the Forester this way and that is overboosted steering that doesn't offer too many hints about what's going on down at road level. The uncommunicative wheel rim and extra ride sqeeziness make the Forester less relaxed on the highway than, say, the Jeep Patriot.

The price of entry is reasonable, starting at $21,695 for the ultra-utilitarian yet nicely dressed Forester Sports, and it's a pleasant environment to pass time, especially when the weather turns sloppy. The Sports trim spiffs up the Forester without breaking the bank, and while it's not loaded to the gills, there's not much that normal folk would want for. With the influx of smallish SUVs and CUVs, competition has increased around the Forester, but it's still a solid value.

All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Still can't get around its quirky styling after these many years. Aside from that, it's an excellent alternative to CUV's.
      • 7 Years Ago

      Living in Washington State, I can *officially* say that I've grown VERY tired of seeing Subarus all over the place. Sheesh! I'll never buy one personally, but the Forester has become a much more attractive vehicle than the first iteration.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Not a fan at all of the powertrain choices.

      The base 4 is gutless. The turbo is reasonably quick but needs a bigger gas tank, needs premium, is that much more complicated and expensive to repair, and is part of a $6,000 trim package. The 4 speed slushbox they pair with both of them is so short the engine is turning 3K on the highway.

      If they had a power train comparable to the V6 / 5 speed out of a Rav4, this would be the best mini utility going.
        • 7 Years Ago
        A Forester XT will simply eat a RAV4 for breakfast. And the upgrade possibilities with the 2.5 liter turbocharged boxer engine are limitless. No comparison...
        • 7 Years Ago
        That 2.5 is hardly "gutless". It puts out over 170 bhp and 170 foot-pounds of torque. I drive an Impreza and I can get low 7's in the 0-60 range. (Maybe even better if I roast the clutch but I'm not that stupid to do hard drops on the drive train).
        • 7 Years Ago
        RV, what do you mean eat for breakfast?

        With the stick to keep the engine boiling, sure it's quick. Still not as fast as the Rav, remember it's not the STI tune and it's a full 50hp short, but it's quick enough.

        But nearly all of those boiling turbo lovers will buy the WRX or STI instead because a 4" lift is about the stupidest thing you can do for handling. The mini CUV as actually sold in volume is an inclement weather station wagon. A turbo and a stick are the last things you want there.
        • 7 Years Ago
        When he says eat it for breakfast what he means is eat it for breakfast! The XT Forester can go 0-60 in under 6 seconds - quite a bit quicker than the RAV, and all that without being dangerously undersprung.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Road&Track has a new Forester that they added extra power to and anti-sway bars.

      It looks like tons of fun to drive.

      However the Forester seems so dated and the current update does not do it for me at all.
      I'd still take one as a winter car though.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Car and Driver, you mean.
      • 7 Years Ago
      As ugly as ever.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Dan, I saw the Forester at a car show recently. Wondering if you noticed a considerable amount of shake and rattle from the doors with their frameless windows. I especially noticed this when one closes the door with the window down.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Beware the rear seats in the forester. Having had the misfortune of riding in them for some 6 hours during a ride through Alaska, I'm still smarting. When I drove the vehicle though, I was impressed by all around pleasant characteristics, firm footing, and general feeling of ease.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was driven around in a 2.5 Turbo Forrester by a Subaru test driver a few weeks ago, both off and on-road. What this car can do, in the right hands, is AMAZING.

      Being in this hunkering car, as it drifts on public roads is hilarious!
      • 7 Years Ago
      If you have the base 2.5 you need the 5 speed manual. The 4 speed auto does not let you get the power you need from the engine. Same idea with the Legacy, get a turbo or get a manual. I'm interested to see the new '09 forester since Autoblog had an article and spy shots from someone else that it was a shortened outback now?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Second that from another Iowa Subaru driver, Me!

        Manual or turbo.

        Or, for a LOT of fun, BOTH!

        I badly wish the Legacy GT came with World Rally Blue paint, like the sport Foresters /, and the WRX and STI. Garnet red is fantastic, but WR Blue is even better, and other markets do get it.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Is that platform ever going to die? beginning to look like the Saab 95....
      • 7 Years Ago

      I am just not sure that it is appropriate for a man (one with X and Y chromosomes) to interpret the Forester.
      • 7 Years Ago
      If I needed the space, I would get the Forester XT.

      And Subaru really do need to get their Forester STI over to the states soon. I'd buy one over any SUV/CUV/unnecessarily big car. And I hate... no no, DESPISE SUV's. Maybe the next generation Subaru, please?

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