First Drive: 2011 Subaru Forester

Part of the Forester's issue with fuel economy is that -- with either engine -- Subaru's automatic transmission is only a four-speed, which drags down highway ratings in particular, and makes for abrupt-feeling downshifts, due to the wide spacing between gears. Other small SUVs have five-speeds or even six-speeds. Subaru offers a five-speed manual with the standard engine, but not with the turbo.

What's included
With either engine, there are various trim levels. I had the 2.5XT Touring, which is the new top-spec version of the turbocharged car, positioned above the Premium. Compared to the lesser turbo model, it adds HID headlamps, body-colored mirrors, windshield de-icer and heated side mirrors, heated front seats, push-button folding rear seats, leather upholstery and leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic A/C, and a 7-speaker stereo.

An enormous glass sunroof (standard on all but the very base model) brightens up the interior considerably. The 2.5XT Touring interior is quite nice-looking, with its leather seats and brushed-metal-look accents on the dash, doors, and console, but there's lots of hard plastic here and the headliner and carpet are both really cheap. The controls are simplicity itself, except for the radio controls, which have been folded into the optional navigation system; Subaru's factory nav system is one of the worst -- skip it, and save $1600. The seats are fairly soft, and their lateral support melts away in corners, exaggerating the sensation of body roll. The split-folding rear seat has reclining seatbacks, a fold-down armrest, and a flip out section that houses two cupholders. The excellent driving position gets full marks, and is abetted by a prominent dead pedal, padded door armrests, and a great sightlines. A backup camera is standard on the 2.5XT Touring, but the Forester may be the only crossover on the market that really doesn't need one, because you can actually see out the back of it.

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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