2006 Forester New Car Test Drive
Before so-called crossover vehicles were trendy, there was the Subaru Forester. The Forester was one of the first vehicles to combine some of the best attributes of a sport-utility vehicle with the ride and driving dynamics of a car. The number of vehicles with this mix of car and truck characteristics has increased, to be sure, but a thoroughly revised 2006 model keeps Forester near the head of the pack.
The market research firm Polk has concluded that Forester inspires higher owner loyalty than just about any vehicle in production. That's easy to understand. Forester delivers the SUV features its buyers want, including a high seating position, good cargo space and a superb all-wheel-drive system with a modicum of off-road capability. It's perfect for unpaved backcountry roads or logging trails, the conditions most of us encounter when we venture off the pavement. Yet Forester also offers fuel mileage and ride comfort that's more like a car, in a compact, maneuverable package. On the road it delivers good handling and brake performance. It's more practical than the typical SUV for prowling the urban jungle and better for handling treacherous weather on the highway.
The 2006 Subaru Forester benefits from what those in the car business call a mid-cycle refresh, which means changes are fairly extensive but it isn't a ground-up redesign. All Foresters get at least a modest increase in horsepower, thanks to internal changes in their unusual horizontally opposed engines. The turbocharged Forester 2.5XT Limited gets the biggest boost, making it one of the more exhilarating vehicles of its type to drive. Forester still offers either a manual or automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard on all models.
The 2006 Forester has been restyled front and rear, creating a slightly more serious, less cutesy look. Inside, subtle changes add comfort and convenience, particularly in the back seat. An alarm and security system are now standard. The suspension has been revised in an effort to improve ride comfort, adding a bit more ground clearance for off-road forays.
We're not crazy about all the changes in the 2006 Forester, but in total they improve a car (or is that an SUV?) that was very good to begin with. Forester has amassed a good reliability record since its introduction eight years ago. It has performed very well in laboratory crash tests and it comes with a high level of standard safety equipment. It can tow up to 2400 pounds. In short, the Forester still offers a combination of SUV capability, fuel-efficiency, on-road performance and versatility that's tough to beat.
The Subaru Forester model line has been simplified for 2006. Three of the four variants are powered by the base, normally aspirated engine. The turbocharged 2.5XT Limited is the most powerful Forester, and also the most expensive.
The 2.5X ($21,795) is the least expensive, and it gets more standard equipment for 2006, including a security system and more cargo-securing aids behind the rear seat. This base Forester comes well-equipped, with features such as a 100-watt AM/FM/Weatherband stereo with single-CD player and four speakers, 60/40 split rear folding seatbacks with a center armrest, air conditioning with an air filtration system, a cargo area cover, cruise control, digital outside temperature indicator, fog lights, foldable power side-view mirrors, power windows, a rear window wiper/washer, remote keyless entry, a roof rack and tilt steering.
Subaru remains one of only a few carmakers using horizontally-opposed engines, with the cylinders laid flat so the pistons punch outward like a boxer. Forester's 2.5-liter four-cylinder gets internal improvements for 2006, including variable valve lift, which increase peak horsepower by eight to 173. A four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is available on the three models that come standard with a 5-speed manual.
The Forester 2.5X Premium ($24,145) adds a 120-watt stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer and better speakers, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, an eight-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, automatic climate control, a leather- wrapped-steering wheel and shift knob and a power moonroof.
The Forester L.L. Bean Edition ($26,895) remains the top normally aspirated model and the only Forester with a standard automatic transmission (so keep that in mind when comparing prices). Additional functional items, compared to the 2.5X Premium, include an auto-dimming rearview mirror with built-in compass, a shock sensor in the security system and a self-leveling rear suspension. Yet the L.L. Bean's big draw may be the appearance package, with its unique wheels and colors and contrasting metallic lower-body cladding. Inside, it features beige seats trimmed with leather and Alcantara fabric, a Momo wood-and-leather steering wheel, hard, water-resistant material in the cargo hold and stitched L.L Bean logos on the front seats and floor mats.
The turbocharged 2.5XT Limited ($27,895) gets even more power for 2006. It's high-performance engine has dual overhead cams, with variable valve timing and lift for a smooth, even power band. Improvements to the intercooler, among other things, increase peak horsepower by 20 to 230. In addition to equipment offered in the 2.5X Premium, the 2.5XT Limited adds leather-trimmed seats, a seven-speaker audio system with sub-woofer and a sport gauge package.
All Foresters come with antilock brakes. All but the 2.5X also have electronic brake-force distribution, which evenly proportions brake force as grip under the tires changes. All are equipped with dual-stage front-impact airbags, front-passenger side-impact airbags and active front head restraints designed to minimize whiplash injuries.
Subaru promotes Forester as an active lifestyle vehicle through marketing arrangements with groups such as the American Canoe Association and the Professional Ski Instructors of America. In that vein, the company offers a host of factory- and dealer-installed accessories that increase Forester's versatility, including racks for carrying bikes, skis, kayaks and canoes on top of the standard roof rails.