Nemacolin, Pennsylvania - Where is eight bigger than twenty? Under the hood of the 2006 Subaru Forester, it seems. This year, in addition to smartly revising the front and rear ends and adding a little ground clearance, Subaru has juiced up the Forester's normally aspirated and turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four engines by 8 hp and 20 hp, respectively. And to our surprise, the bigger news turns out to be a good deal greater than the sum of its ponies.
The turbocharged engine's enhanced horsepower (230, up from 210; torque is unchanged at 235 lb-ft) arrives courtesy of a higher compression ratio and redesigned intake and exhaust systems. As before, turbo lag is noticeable but not noisome, and the four-wheel-driven thrust is a lot more WRX than SUV. Equipped with the revised five-speed manual gearbox (a four-speed automatic is optional), the force-fed Forester will leap to 60 mph in a tick under six seconds. If it was a hoot before, it's just 20-hp hootier now.
The normally aspirated Forester, by contrast, feels like a totally new machine. The engine now boasts what Subaru calls the i-Active Valve Lift System. On paper, the benefits will hardly cause heart palpitations: horsepower is up by a piddling 8 (173 from 165), and peak torque is unchanged (166 lb-ft). And yet the engine's demeanor is altogether new. A torque curve that crests quicker and stays flatter gives the Forester a new willingness to play, and the increased power up high means tasks such as highway passing need no longer be planned with a calendar.
In the end, the changes to both Foresters amount to icing on a very tasty cake. But while the turbocharged Forester has merely gone from fast to faster (which is very nice, don't get us wrong), the normally aspirated model has had a genuine change of heart. It's still as crunchy-granola as an afternoon of NPR, but very nonchalantly, it's eased up the FM dial and tuned in a whole new sound: soul.
Price: $22,390 (2.5X, base)
Engine: 2.5L H-4, 173 hp, 166 lb-ft