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Forester gains power for its SUV role

OPEN ROAD -

October 28, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

The Forester continues to solidify Subaru's burgeoning popularity as a producer of buttery-slick all-wheel-drive vehicles.

For 2006 there's more to admire given the series of significant updates in performance and features to this wagon.

Since its 1997 arrival, the Forester has regularly earned accolades for its verve and versatility. Back then, it was positioned as a tall and friendly-faced version of the Impreza, the vehicle upon which the Forester was loosely based.

Lately, however, the increasing popularity of small and economical sport-utility vehicles has meant an evolving role for the Forester. Over the years there has been a shift in focus to strength and ruggedness from simple all-weather grocery-getting.

Introduced in the spring, the updated Forester is now second banana to the B9 Tribeca, Subaru's real-world off-roader designed to run with some of the more established players such as the Volvo XC90, Acura MDX and Nissan Pathfinder to name just a few.

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Despite this, Subaru has actually endowed the Forester with even more of the right stuff designed to increase its overall appeal as an entry-ute worthy of note.

If outward appearances count, and they certainly do in this league, the Forester's sturdy-looking front fascia displays just the right elements of classy design and muscular imagery, particularly with its newly enlarged grille, more prominent bumper and, on turbocharged models, a noticeable scoop that sits, mouth wide open, atop an aluminum hood. The new high-intensity headlight pods add a note of practicality as well a taste of outright glamour.

Poke your head inside and the Forester is still the comfortable and inviting place it has always been, but there are several adjustments to the rear seat that give riders greater thigh support without any loss in leg room. As well, the 60/40 rear seat back now incorporates a fold-down armrest for greater comfort.

Added performance, in the form of improved output from the Foresters two engine choices, is also on the upgrade menu. The 2.5-liter horizontally opposed - or "boxer" - four-cylinder engine installed in the starting-point 2.5X now delivers 173 horsepower, a gain of eight over last year's engine. Variable valve timing, which allows more air-fuel mixture into the engine as its speed increases is the reason.

A turbocharged version of the 2.5 also returns as sole powerplant for the up-level 2.5 XT Limited, however output has been raised to 230 horsepower, a gain of 20 over the outgoing version. Subaru claims that the XT will return a zero-to-60 mph time of less than six seconds, a very respectable number that compares with many premium sport sedans.

Either model can be fitted with a five-speed manual transmission, or optional four-speed automatic.

Select the manual gearbox and the accompanying all-wheel-drive system splits the power equally when conditions are ideal and then sends added torque to the front or back wheels when slip is detected. The version included with automatic is more variable and will, for example, shift more power to the rear wheels in certain conditions, such as when accelerating on dry pavement.

For '06, manual-transmission Foresters receive a hill-holder system that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward on a steep incline when the clutch is depressed.

In terms of standard equipment, base Foresters are far from bare and include air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, an overhead console and side-impact air bags and anti-lock brakes.

Dial in the turbocharged XT and the features list grows to include a leather interior with heated front seats, climate control, eight-way power driver's seat and fancier alloy wheels.

With its steady improvement over the years, the Forester has managed to shed its what-am-I image (wagon, sport-utility vehicle, or both), evolving into a full-fledged off-roader with all the looks and power needed to earn it the respect it deserves.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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