The strongest sales category of Sport Utility Vehicles is in compact SUV segment. This is where the 2011 Subaru Forester competes against tough competition, such as the Honda CR-V.
Forester marks the 2011 model year with some cosmetic tweaks on the outside, added content on the inside and a fresh motor under the hood. Prices start at $21,220. My tester, the 2.5X Premium, had a delivered price of $26,384.
Subaru’s new motor is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes the same horsepower as the one it replaces (170), but is up slightly in torque at 174 (plus 4 lb.-ft.). The new engine brings improved fuel economy for the 2011 model.
The EPA estimates for an automatic equipped model like my test drive Forester are 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg highway. I averaged 22 mpg overall in a week’s worth of driving.
Subaru also offers a turbocharged four-cylinder in its XT models. The 2.5-liter turbo four can’t match the normally aspirated motor when it comes to fuel mileage, as its ratings are 19/24 mpg. However, the Forester turbo boasts a considerable advantage in performance, thanks to its 224 horsepower and 226 lb.-ft. of torque output. Car spotters can identify a Forester turbo at a quick glance by its functional hood scoop.
We found the standard four-cylinder to be a nice match for the platform. It’s neither the smoothest nor the least refined of the engines in its class, but Forester has adequate acceleration for all normal driving tasks. Towing capacity for both motors is 2,400 pounds.
One big reason why drivers shop compact SUVs is the attraction of added traction. Whether for winter weather or off-road driving, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system adds peace-of-mind for the driver.
The 2011 Forester is not geared towards hard-core off-roading, however, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance (8.9 inches on the XT Premium), light trail busting is well within its reach. And, when winter weather makes road conditions treacherous, Forester is reassuringly sure-footed with its Vehicle Dynamic Control and Traction Control systems.
Flexibility is one of the main draws of the compact SUVs. The best of the breed can accommodate passengers and/or cargo according to your needs. Forester is big enough to handle both. Cargo capacity ranges from a generous 30.8 cubic feet to 63 cubic feet, with additional storage available underneath the floor.
The lift-over height in back is manageably low and the liftgate door swings high enough so the average height person won’t bump their head. Forester’s split-fold rear seats lower into a flat-load floor. The seatbacks also recline slightly and there’s room enough for a pair of 6 footers in back with like-size passengers in front.
Up front, the 2011 Forester is long on function, short on flash, with a straightforward approach to controls, along with a steering column that tilts and telescopes, in all trims but the base model. Newly optional for 2.5 Premium models for 2011 is a TomTom navigation system. Packaged together with heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer the optional $1,000 navigation system is located together with the sound system on top of the center stack. We didn’t like this setup, as the screen size of the removable unit is smaller than many other in-dash units on the market and the navigation controls are too small to use easily while driving. Driver visibility is generally good, but reverse sensors and a backup camera are available as optional equipment.
Several sound system upgrades are available, and an auxiliary input jack for portable media players is standard on all models, as is Bluetooth connectivity on all but the base Forester. The panoramic moon roof is aptly named; it offers a wide screen view of the great outdoors, and is available on Premium, Touring and Limited trim levels.   Forester looks and feels a half-size larger than Subaru’s Outback models, and many buyers may find the Forester to be a good fit for them. It’s not so large that its problematic to park or maneuver, it’s big enough to afford rear passengers comfortable legroom and to hold enough gear for a weekend warrior’s sporting activities. — Dan Lyons, Motor Matters

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