2004 Subaru Forester
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The compact Subaru Forester arrived as a very car-like sport-utility vehicle in 1997—long before "crossover" became a popular term for car-like sport utes. A turbocharged version for 2004 gives it a lot more performance and boosts Subaru's youth image.
The turbocharged Forester 2.5 XT accompanies Subaru's WRX competition-style turbocharged sedans and upcoming 2004 turbocharged Baja compact crossover pickup truck.
The Forester was nicely redone for 2003, with sharper styling and more room, refinement, comfort and safety. Thus, non-turbo 2004 versions get only minor equipment revisions. They have 165 horsepower and sell for $20,895 to $25,695.
Hot New Turbo Version
The 2.5 XT turbo engine not only has more horsepower—it also provides 42 percent more torque than the standard Forester engine. Sales of the turbocharged WRX sedans have exceeded Subaru's expectations, which leads one to predict that the more potent engine will help increase Forester sales.
Turbo Owner Camaraderie
Subaru should be delighted by such camaraderie because it's tough to establish a popular niche for vehicles in today's crowded market.
The regular refined, nicely constructed Forester has generally decent performance with its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, but provides only average passing abilities on highways. It's also adversely affected by high altitudes, which is embarrassing for the automaker.
The hood scoop of the 2.5 XT sends air to its compact 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which has horizontally opposed pistons (like Porsche) that let it sit low in the chassis to enhance handling. The beefed-up turbo engine also variable valve timing and an electronic throttle control system for better responsiveness.
Part of the fun of owning a higher-performance model is a distinctive look. The 2.5 XT thus has body color side cladding and door handles, brushed aluminum roof rails, unique 16-inch alloy wheels with six spokes, chromed tailpipe exhaust tip and special badging.
A sporty, upscale look is given the interior by special black flat-woven upholstery with vinyl trim and chromed gauge surrounds. There's also a leather-covered steering wheel, shifter and parking brake handle.
There's a 7-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, illuminated power window switches on all doors, chrome interior door handles, assist grips for outboard seating positions and aluminum front door sill plate covers.
All Foresters have a good amount of standard equipment, but the 2.5 XT especially shines in the equipment area. It has standard air conditioning with automatic climate control, heated front seats, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, rear wiper-washer with defogger, reclining rear seatbacks and power windows, door locks with remote keyless entry and foldable mirrors.
There's virtually no turbocharger lag with the 2.5 XT. The engine acts like a small, potent V6 nonturbo motor. It delivers the best acceleration with the manual transmission, which comes with Subaru's Hill Holder clutch that makes starting off on an incline easier and safer when the clutch pedal is depressed.
However, it's good news for the "shiftless" that the electronically controlled automatic transmission is alert and helps the 2.5 XT deliver slightly better estimated fuel economy.
Not that fuel economy is a strong point with the 2.5 XT. The non-turbo engine provides an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 27 on highways, whereas the turbo motor provides 18 and 23 with the manual and 19 and 23 with the automatic. Still, the popular Ford Escape V6 only provides 18 and 23 with an automatic transmission.
Too bad the Forester doesn't have a larger fuel tank, although its 15.9-gallon tank is about the same size as that of most compact sport-utes.
Good Ride and Handling
The nicely designed all-wheel-drive system sends power to all wheels at all times and thus increases stability—but causes slightly lower fuel economy and has no low-range gearing for serious off-road driving.
The brake pedal has a progressive action, but should have a firmer feel. Stopping distances are short, with an electronic brake force distribution system to enhance braking stability.
The Forester interior has acceptable room for four 6-footers, although there's no surplus of leg room for such folks in the rear, where narrow doorways hinder entry and exit. While the Forester is solid, its doors have a surprisingly tinny sound when shut even moderately hard with the windows open.
Bothersome Road Noise
Bright sunlight causes the gauges to be difficult to read, but the easily reached sound system and climate controls are fairly large. Handy storage pockets are found in the front doors.
The large cargo area has a low, wide opening, although wheelwells eat some space. Rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to significantly increase cargo capacity. The hatch has a large interior pull-down handle to help slam it shut.
All Forester versions are practical and user-friendly, and the new 2.5 XT offers considerably more driving pizzazz.