The WRX can be considered a car that turned Subaru’s image in America around virtually overnight. Once a seller of slightly staid, yet nearly unbreakable AWD sedans and wagons, they are now a seller of reasonably priced AWD vehicles and rally sport specials such as the Impreza WRX, STi, and the Legacy 2.5GT. By 2005, every single model Subaru built had the turbocharger option available, as Subaru saw fit to make the WRX’s legacy work across the board. The Forester, a Subaru staple since 1995, received the turbo engine in 2004. The example I drove was a 2004 2.5XT Limited with about 80,000 miles, in average shape.
When I drove it, there wasn’t a lot of light left and I did not find that the car was in a convenient position, but I still got to take it for a spin. This generation of the Forester stayed in production until 2008, when it was redesigned and won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2009. The Forester is built on a platform used by the Impreza, giving it a relatively short wheelbase, but plenty of room inside. Ground clearance is decent for a small crossover, and the Forester of this generation looks a bit more grown-up next to its 1990s predecessor. For 2004, Subaru added a turbocharged version, the 2.5XT. Unlike the WRX, the Forester XT used a 2.5L turbo engine (identical to the one in the Baja Turbo) and the same size as the engine in the new Impreza STi. A five speed manual came standard, with an automatic optional (this was not repeated in the 2009 redesign, where the turbo lost its manual transmission option due to lack of demand). Subaru offered an STi version of the new Forester as well, but only in Japan.
This is the second Subaru I have driven with a turbocharged engine hooked up to Subaru’s 4EAT automatic, and the last time I drove one (a 2009 Impreza GT), I found it to be a bit underwhelming. This one, unfortunately, wasn’t different in a better way. While the Forester is comfortable, with decent buckets and an easy dashboard to understand, it’s not my cup of tea in terms of SUVs. While the engine certainly has plenty of grunt, and the view to all angles (front, rear, sides, over-shoulder) is excellent, there wasn’t enough to make me say “yes”. The transmission generally doesn’t hunt between gears or do such stupid things as shift up at the inopportune time, but it definitely puts a strain on acceleration. According to the buff books, the manual XT should hit 60 in about 6 seconds or so, and the automatic is definitely a downer of an addition. The turbo engine still has enough grunt for its displacement and power output (about 225hp) but the automatic dulls the response in this car just as much as it did in the Impreza GT I drove at one time. Meanwhile, the ride was surprisingly bouncy for a small SUV and the trucklet felt surprisingly unsettled over local railroad tracks and potholes–this may have been due to its age, but I’m not so sure. THe brakes were good for their age and miles, and the steering didn’t feel bad at all. I don’t doubt its bad-weather credentials either, as Subaru’s AWD system is one of the most tested in the business today. But, I just didn’t really feel much of a connection with this Forester. For some reason, Subaru is still making the XT with the 4EAT automatic, but I believe the auto in the Legacy GT is much better designed and gives a much sharper response.
If Subaru made this with the manual in the new model, I would definitely give it another look, but because they do not, I will keep away for now. While the Forester is a good truck by the numbers, with decent gas mileage, good storage space, and plenty of room up front, it’s not an enthusiast model with the turbocharger option. If this were a manual model I might be saying something different, but for now, I’m going to say that I came away unimpressed, because this is a vehicle which has a good amount of aftermarket support for its engine and for its suspension.
-Albert S. Davis