2011 Subaru Forester Introduction

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.

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