First Drive: 2011 Subaru Forester

Since the new version launched in 2008, the Forester has been a tremendous sales success for Subaru, easily outselling its slightly awkward-looking predecessor. Aside from its more regular proportions -- the previous version had an over-tall greenhouse atop a wagon-like body -- the biggest change with the redesigned Forester was its significantly more spacious rear seat. Unlike older Foresters, the new version can easily accommodate full-size adults, front and rear.

Sensibly sized, and priced
The Forester packs a lot of utility into a reasonably sized footprint, which has enabled it to hold its own in the burgeoning small-crossover field. Not only is there very good space for four people (it's a little narrow for five), but the cargo area is large, practically shaped, and easy to load thanks to the low liftover height. Four-wheel drive is standard on the Forester (as it is on all Subarus), so there's no price-leader, front-wheel-drive version. Even so, prices are very competitive with the class, starting at just over $20,000 and topping out at $30,000.

The Forester's two engines are denoted by the model suffixes: 2.5X and 2.5XT. The former signifies the base engine, which is new for 2011. A DOHC 2.5-liter boxer four, it makes 170 hp. 2.5XT designates the turbocharged version (the functional hood scoop is the visual giveaway); it makes 224 hp from the same 2.5 liters.

Is the turbo the way to go?
The turbo provides peppy performance, but it might not be the way to go here. Yes, it makes a significant 44 hp more than the normally aspirated version of this engine, and acceleration, accompanied by the characteristic Subaru boxer-engine burble, is sprightly. But the extra power comes at a considerably cost in fuel economy. Where the standard engine manages 21/27 mpg ratings (with either an automatic or a manual transmission), the turbo is rated at 19/24 mpg, which is pretty grim for a small SUV, and it requires premium fuel to boot. The turbo's ratings are worse than the Toyota RAV4 V-6 and about on par with the six-cylinder Outback. It must be mentioned, however, that a more powerful optional engine is something that most small SUVs don't even offer.

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Most of it's competitors do have two powerplants to choose from. 6 versus the 3 SUVs that do not
The power is fine, I would drop the turbo, but that transmission needs to be a 6 speed. Easiest vehicle to get in & out of. The nav system is a pile of garbage.

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