Subaru is working hard to boost its image from "purveyor of competent-but-conservative all-wheel-drive products" to "happenin' dealer of pocket-rockets." Its new-age musclecar poster children are, of course, the rally-inspired WRX and WRX STi. But added horsepower is making its way into other members of the lineup, as well, and the newest manifestations of that trend are the '04 Forester 2.5 XT and Baja Turbo.
We've tested their normally aspirated siblings before, noting the 2.5-liter H-4 engines provide good performance, but lack konjo--guts--especially at high altitude. Transplant the semi-closed engine block from the WRX STi, however, and add a 56mm turbocharger and intercooler (enhancing low- and midrange torque), and you get a powerplant that feels more like a large-displacement V-6, but retains four-banger fuel economy.
Coming off its '03 freshening, the turbo'd Forester additionally receives a WRX-like hood scoop, body-color side cladding, and aluminum/body-color roof rails. Model-specific, six-spoke 16-inch wheels with 215/60 rubber, alloy door-sill covers, and a large, single-outlet tailpipe round out the new package.
The Baja Turbo also acquires minor appearance upgrades, including a functional low-profile hood scoop and 16-inch alloys. There's an extra inch of ground clearance (now 8.4 inches), which, surprisingly, doesn't translate into increased body roll, thanks in part to revised damping and spring rates.
Dynamically, these turbos are far peppier than their naturally aspirated versions, especially up in thin air. There's lots of off-line torque and mid-range passing oomph, and we're impressed with the linear power delivery. Both retain Subaru's well-balanced suspensions and grippy, viscous-coupled AWD systems--the Forester utilizing Continuous All-Wheel Drive when equipped with the manual five-speed transmission. Active All-Wheel Drive (which employs an electronically controlled variable transfer clutch) is standard fare with the four-speed manumatic--the only offering in the Baja Turbo.
While interior fit and finish have improved, there are still too many textures vying for attention in the cabin. The Baja Turbo is classified as a light-duty truck, but we wish its meager towing capacity were greater than 2400 pounds (just 2000 with the automatic).
There are those who'll feel the standard Forester and Baja provide enough grunt for their needs. But we'll take the extra konjo Subaru has infused into its new turbo models.
|Subaru Forester 2.5 XT||Subaru Baja Turbo|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, awd, 4-door, 5-pass||Front engine, awd, 4-door, 4-pass|
|Engine||2.5L/210-hp turbocharged, H-4, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||2.5L/210-hp turbocharged, H-4, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|0-60 mph, sec||8.5 (est)||8.6 (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||Summer 2003||Summer 2003|