2011 Forester New Car Test Drive
The Subaru Forester is a compact SUV that seats five, offers good cargo capacity, and excellent foul-weather capability with its outstanding all-wheel-drive system. Forester competes with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but the Forester offers much better handling than those two, on dry pavement but especially on wet pavement, snow, ice or dirt.
The Forester features a fairly wide track and long wheelbase, double wishbone rear suspension, good ground clearance, a tight steering radius with quick steering, and rear doors that swing open nearly 75 degrees. Named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Forester achieved a five-star rating in all government crash tests, and a four-star rating for resistance to rolling over.
Introduced as an all-new model for 2009, this is the third generation of the Forester, the best-selling model in the Subaru line. Sales have been outstanding, with Subaru setting an all-time annual sales record in 2010 by a healthy margin, the Legacy Outback closely leading the Forester.
The 2011 Forester X comes standard with a new, chain-driven double overhead-cam engine, this after many years with its 2.5-liter belt-driven single-overhead-cam engine. It's the same 2.5 liters and 170 horsepower, but torque is raised 4 foot-pounds and dropped 300 rpm; and it gets one more mpg, to an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg City/Highway. During a week of all-around driving in a Forester 2.5X, we averaged 20.7 mpg. For the PZEV models sold in 13 states, the government's Global Warming Score rises from 6 to 7, while the government's Smog Score remains the same at 9.
The Subaru XT models were already twin-cams, and they retain a 224-horsepower engine that runs on Premium fuel and rates 19/24 mpg.
The 2011 Forester Touring is now the flagship of the line. Forester Premium and Forester Limited models upgrade equipment such as sound systems and get all the right electronic stuff. Every model but the base 2.5X now comes with Bluetooth. An optional navigation system is a modest but effective TomTom (removable), which is much less than the option price of an integrated navigation system. On the other hand, you may be able to buy your own TomTom on the open market for less.
The rear seats are split 60/40 and easily fold flat to make a gigantic cargo area capable of carrying lots of gear. Rear seat legroom is excellent, at 38.0 inches. That alone is a big plus, and it's one of the reasons the Forester is such a good family vehicle. The front door is wide, and the rear doors swing open 75 degrees and feel light, making it easy to get in and out.
We drove a turbocharged Forester XT and a Forester Premium with the optional TomTom navigation system. We found the TomTom was just as effective for getting around as navigation systems whose option prices are twice as much, although the buttons, combined with the audio system buttons and screen, were tiny and few.
The Forester is supremely secure in its sure-footed handling. It will go around corners like few SUVs, with its all-wheel drive working to grip the road. Subaru excels at all-wheel drive. The Forester has a low center of gravity thanks to its horizontally opposed engine mounted low in the chassis. The suspension is solid but doesn't feel too firm, while its long travel offers a comfortable ride and better grip on rough roads. Rack-and-pinion steering helps give the Forester a tight steering radius, similar to the RAV4 and tighter than the CR-V, making parking and maneuvering easy. It all adds up to an enjoyable and capable vehicle to drive.
The 2011 Subaru Forester comes in four trim levels, each with all-wheel drive. The 2.5X models come with the new 170-hp engine; 2.5XT models get the familiar 224-hp turbocharged engine.
Forester 2.5X ($20,495) comes with rugged cloth upholstery, air conditioning with rear vents and an air filtration system, a 60/40 split rear seat, sound system with single-disc CD, height and lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, cruise control, rear window wiper, and a trailer wiring connector, and 16-inch steel wheels with wheelcovers. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard. The only options are a 4-speed automatic transmission with manual mode ($1000), and 16-inch alloy wheels and roofrails ($400).
Forester 2.5X Premium ($23,195) adds 17-inch alloy wheels with wider-profile all-season tires, privacy glass, 10-way power driver's seat, a reclining rear seat with retractable tray, roof rails, power moonroof, and steering wheel audio switches. For 2011, a new audio system includes AM/FM stereo with single-disc CD player and six speakers, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, iPod control capability, USB port and Sirius satellite radio capability. An all-weather package ($500) includes heated front seats and side mirrors. The 2.5X Premium with automatic transmission ($24,195) makes available the removable TomTom navigation system ($1095) including the all-weather package.
Forester 2.5X Limited ($26,495) features perforated leather seats in black or platinum, seatback storage pockets, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, new sound system with single-disc CD/DVD player with six speakers, automatic climate control, and foglights. It comes with the automatic transmission and cold-weather package as standard. The navigation system ($1800) includes a rear camera and other upgrades.
Forester 2.5X Touring ($27,995) adds HID headlights (low beam) with automatic height adjustment, the new audio system with backup camera and full electronic capabilities, dual zone automatic climate control, silver finish roof rails, electroluminescent gauges, and side mirrors with integrated turn signals. The navigation system ($1600) is less because the backup camera is standard.
Forester XT Premium ($26,995) and Touring ($29,995) use the more powerful turbocharged engine with 4-speed automatic transmission. They're distinguished by a hood scoop that takes air for the turbocharger intercoolers. The 2.5XT Premium gets a new 10-way power driver's seat, the new audio system, and body-colored roof spoiler. Standard equipment includes upgraded cloth upholstery, aluminum pedal covers, telescoping steering column, and foglamps. The XT Touring has all the options except navigation ($1600).
PZEV models cost about $300 more. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety equipment on all Foresters includes two-stage frontal airbags, side-impact airbags in front, and airbag curtains; active front head restraints; LATCH child safety seat system; and a tire pressure monitor. All Forester models come with all-wheel drive, Vehicle Dynamics Control with four-wheel traction control and electronic limited slip differential, and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which adjusts front-to-rear brake balance as the car's weight pitches forward under hard braking) and Brake Assist (which applies additional braking, based on how quickly the driver applies the pedal).