Friday, October 21, 2011

2011 Subaru Forester AWD: An Alternative to Compact SUVs And Crossovers

Highlight: This all-wheel drive, off-road vehicle has a higher ground clearance than a typical wagon.

Test vehicle’s MSRP: $26,315 (Base price of starts at $21,220)

Standard Equipment: 16-inch wheels; an all-wheel drive system; a 4-speed automatic transmission; air condition with air filtration system; cargo tie-down hooks; cruise control; daytime running lights; height adjustable manual driver’s seat; automatic off headlight switch with ignition switch; rear seat center armrest; rear seat bottom retractable cargo tray; a remote keyless entry system; a manual tilt steering wheel; and incline start assist which keeps the vehicle from rolling back when being driven away from a hilly stop (when equipped with manual transmission).

Standard Audio System: a 4-speaker AM/FM/Stereo with Single Disc CD Player/MP3/WMA

Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles

Bluetooth Compatibility: standard on all but the base model

iPod Compatibility: available on all but the base model

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder turbo/170-hp

Standard Fuel Mileage: 21-city/27-hwy

What’s New: The compact all-wheel drive wagon receives a new front grille along with a host of new features, depending upon the model. Some of the new features include an all-new 170-hp engine for the base model with more torque and slightly improved fuel economy. Also a TomTom navigation system, audio system enhancements and a new 17-inch wheel package are some of the equipment changes for the 2011 model year. Furthermore, new trim levels have been added: the 2.5X Touring and the 2.5XT Touring, which are both positioned above the Limited trim.

Pros: The quirky five passenger wagon is available in a variety trim packages: a 2.5X, a 2.5X Premium, a 2.5 Limited, a 2.5X Touring, a 2.5XT Premium and the 2.5XT Touring.

We had an opportunity to review the 2.5X Premium, which is one step up from the base model. This meant that our wagon was equipped with a 10-way power driver’s seat, 17-inch wheels, body chrome mirrors, an express up-and-down power driver’s window, a rear tinted privacy glass to hide cargo, a reclining rear seat back, roof rails for carrying objects, steering wheel control switches and an oversize power sunroof that almost made us feel like we were in a convertible.

Also our Forester was equipped with an optional All-Weather Package, which consisted of heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer.

Besides the aforementioned features and depending on the model, the Forester can be outfitted with a 7-inch rear view camera, leather seats, a functional hood scoop, a rear spoiler, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlights, one-touch folding rear seats and a subwoofer.

And for those seeking a little more power under the hood, a 224-horsepower 2.5 –liter is available once one step-up to the 2.5XT Premium Package.

Cons: The Forester we reviewed wasn’t equipped with speed-activated power door locks like most of today’s vehicles, so we actually had to remember to lock the doors. And, unfortunately, the doors didn’t automatically unlock when placed in park. We had to physically activate the power door lock switch to unlock the door. Also the vehicle lacked illuminated vanity mirrors. In this day and age, shouldn’t this feature be standard?

By the way, we found the audio and nav system to be extremely quirky. The nav system was actually difficult to read and use due to its extremely tiny screen. And the knobs on the audio system were pint size too. Subaru’s engineers should reconsider revising the audio and navigation screen for the vehicle’s next major update.

Also the cockpit and the instrument panel of the Subaru Forester were surrounded by too much plastic, causing the interior of our $26,000 vehicle to be quite unimpressive when stacked-up against many of the world-class interior designs being offered in many of its competitors.

And we were extremely surprised that the vehicle wasn’t equipped with satellite radio, although the Forester is hard wired for the system.

The Verdict:
Although the vehicle lacks some of the interior refinement and features we expect in most vehicles, those looking for a versatile vehicle that is capable of being a true off-road vehicle probably could care less about our gripes.

The quirky, but roomy five passenger wagon is great for all-driving conditions – both on and off the road - due to its standard all-wheel drive configuration. Unlike many of today’s automakers who realize that it’s not politically-correct to call their wagon-like crossovers a wagon. Subaru doesn’t mind. They realize there no need to disguise their vehicle with a different name to make it appealing to a mass market. The folks at Subaru are quite comfortable with going after a niche market. And, although the Forester isn’t as a refined as we would like and isn’t equipped with many of the modern features found in a number of its competitors, those looking for a versatile vehicle that is capable of being a true off-roader probably could care less about our gripes.

Forester’s Competition: Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Toyota Highlander and VW Tiguan


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