The compact exterior yet ample interior makes trips to the mall or grocery store uneventful, but that's a good thing. There's no problem navigating crowded parking lots, fitting into parking spots, or loading up with newly purchased goods: the Forester does it all. These physical dimensions are also of great use on family road trips, enhanced by the comfortable and supportive seats; the Forester has 68.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the driver and 33.5 behind the second row. Combine those attributes with the numerous cubbyholes offered by the Forester's cabin, and you'll have no problem whisking the family off for a weekend getaway in complete comfort with plenty of room for everyone's gear.

Being in So Cal, we don't get much weather here other than rain, which brings hidden hazards such as water-filled potholes and cracks that make our roads that much more treacherous. But in the Forester, we never felt uneasy; the AWD keeps a firm grip on the pavement and the 8.7 inches of ground clearance lets you shrug off flooded freeways on your commute.

Being in So Cal also means we're but a few hours from any kind of terrain we want to explore. The Forester's capabilities shine even more when you venture onto a dirt trail or snow-covered road; again, the AWD and ground clearance make your drive fun, rather than scary. Driving down rock-strewn roads, blasting through knee-high snowdrifts, or crossing the occasional stream or river, the Forester can handle it all.

Early in our Forester's tenure with us, we found some electrical gremlins in the navigation and the dealer-installed XM Satellite radio. The nav would indicate us in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, whatever our actual location.