By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 12/6/2011
Smaller crossovers have replaced gas-guzzling SUVs for thousands of drivers concerned with volatile fuel prices or just eager to reduce their carbon footprint without giving up SUV versatility. Among the most praiseworthy of these is the 2012 Subaru Forester, an agile vehicle that's surprisingly well-mannered on the road, and with off-road capability you wouldn't dare try in a Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue or Toyota RAV4. Based on Subaru's signature 4-cylinder boxer engine and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD), the Forester's low-profile drivetrain results in a lower center of gravity, promising more stable handling despite its commanding seating height and generous interior volume. Factor in Subaru's excellent reputation for reliability and longevity, along with impressive fuel economy, and the Forester grows even more appealing.You'll Like This Car If...
If you like equal parts sport and utility in your SUV, the Forester is maneuverable in the city, yet roomy and capable enough for weekend excursions off the beaten path. You'll also like its low starting price, standard AWD, respectable towing ability, top-rated safety and reliability, and turbo option.You May Not Like This Car If...
If you want six cylinders, seven seats or rear-seat entertainment, the Forester is not for you. And although a 5-speed manual transmission is standard on the base and 2.5X Premium models, a SportShift automatic with just four speeds is the only transmission choice on the upper-trim levels or any of the turbocharged models.What's New for 2012
The Forester's wide range of trim levels includes two turbo models. All include a new height-adjustable front passenger seat for 2012. A new option on the higher trims is a touch-screen navigation system that's bundled with a USB, iPod and Bluetooth features, satellite radio and traffic, and a text-message feature.Driving It Driving Impressions
Off-roading in the Subaru Forester showcased the vehicle's firmer suspension, direct steering and notable ground clearance, all of which came into play when traversing rocks and ditches. Also helpful was the Forester's standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system, capable of transferring up to 100 percent of the engine's power to the wheels with the best traction. Back on pavement, we liked the added get-up-and-go of the turbocharged models (who wouldn't?), but those with a more practical and budget-minded outlook will be just as happy dashing around town with the naturally aspirated engine. Getting in and out of both rows of seats was a breeze thanks to wide-opening doors, and we found the all-around views from the driver's seat to be excellent; a boon when changing lanes, reversing, and exploring dirt roads.Favorite Features
Being able to see what's behind a vehicle when backing up, changing lanes, or even venturing off-road can make a big difference in imparting driving confidence. The Forester's large rear window allows the driver to see an object only 39 inches tall within 39 inches of the vehicle.
Although not as large as others we've seen, this oversized glass roof provides pleasant light to both the front and rear passengers, bringing a bit of the outdoors inside.
The 2012 Subaru Forester's colorful gauges are set into a sweeping dashboard with a logical layout. A multifunction display with fuel-economy and outside-temperature readouts is standard, as is a versatile center console with numerous cubbies and two 12-volt sockets. The roomy front seats adjust at least six ways, and materials feel reasonably rich. Rear legroom is plentiful, and the 60/40-split seat folds easily and even reclines in all but the base 2.5X. The wide liftgate opens to 33.5 cubic feet of cargo space, plus such niceties as hooks for grocery bags and other items, tie-downs in the floor, and storage well underneath it.Exterior
While earlier Foresters looked like tall Subaru wagons, the third and latest generation is a svelte take on the SUV. An upswept beltline, prominent wheel arches and nearly nine inches of ground clearance lend it a clean yet businesslike profile. Up front, a large grille and wraparound "hawkeye" headlights add a hint of sporty aggression, especially in combination with the functional hood scoop on the turbo models. Sporty alloy wheels (optional on the base 2.5X, standard in a 17-inch size on all the higher trims) and a tasteful measure of chrome accents add just enough finesse to its clean, functional design.Notable Standard Equipment
The base Forester 2.5X comes with a 5-speed manual transmission, AWD, Hill Start Assist, air conditioning, keyless entry, 16-inch steel wheels, front side-impact and front/rear side-curtain airbags, Vehicle Dynamics Control, driver-seat lumbar adjuster and auto-off headlights. The Premium (in 2.5X or turbo 2.5XT form) adds a panoramic moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, 10-way power driver seat, and Bluetooth for audio and phone. The turbo also adds foglights, a rear spoiler and heated front seats. The 2.5X Limited adds leather, automatic transmission, climate control, heated mirrors and 6-speaker audio. The top 2.5X and 2.5XT Touring models include electroluminescent gauges, dual-zone climate control, 7-speaker audio, rearview camera and xenon headlights.Notable Optional Equipment
Among the Forester's most attractive options is a new touch-screen navigation system with premium audio and iTunes song tagging on Limited and Touring models, or a removable TomTom navigation system for the 2.5X Premium. An All-Weather package for the 2.5X Premium adds heated front seats, heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. (It's standard on the higher models, though oddly not available on the 2.5XT Premium.) Other than satellite radio (choice of XM or Sirius), most other options are bundled into the various trim levels. The 4-speed automatic transmission is optional on the 2.5X and 2.5X Premium, and standard elsewhere.Under the Hood
Powering all 2012 Forester 2.5X trims is a recently revised 170-horsepower 4-cylinder boxer engine (a "flat" engine in which the pistons lie horizontally, one advantage of which is a lower center of gravity). The new-for-2011 engine features a longer stroke and chain-driven dual overhead cams replacing the old engine's belt-driven single cam. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on 2.5X base and Premium trims, with a 4-speed automatic transmission optional (and standard on all higher trim levels). Forester 2.5XT models enjoy a 224-horsepower turbocharged boxer-4 (not sharing the updates to the 2.5X engine). Although the base engine is practical around town, those seeking more power without suffering typical SUV fuel-economy penalties will appreciate the turbo, as long as they don't mind paying for premium gasoline.
170 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
174 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm
EPA Estimated City/Highway Mileage: 21/27
2.5-liter turbocharged boxer-4
224 horsepower@ 5,200 rpm
226 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm
EPA Estimated City/Highway Mileage: 19/24
A base 2012 Subaru Forester 2.5X with manual transmission starts around $21,000, while the 2.5X Limited with navigation bumps the price to about $29,000. The turbocharged 2.5XT Premium brings the price closer to $28,000, with no options offered. The top-dog 2.5XT Touring with navigation edges closer to $32,000. At Forester's base price, its closest competitor is the Nissan Rogue, but the base Rogue does not include AWD. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe all start around $23,000, also without AWD. However, as inexpensive as the Forester seems at first, options quickly escalate the price and it ends up on the higher end of its segment. To compare the actual transaction prices for the Forester, be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price. For resale value, the Forester is expected to maintain value better than the Rogue and Santa Fe but below the industry stalwarts from Honda and Toyota.