It's not too often that we're invited to drive a vehicle that we'll never see on an American road. But that was the case with the just-introduced-in-Europe 2011 Forester 2.0X, which Subaru invited a handful of U.S. journalists to sample in Budapest, Hungary. Why? Well, we can tell you it wasn't for the scenery, as the Hungarian countryside in the middle of January is about as photogenic as dust. No, it was for the 2.0X's all-new engine, which, unlike the Forester we drove, will indeed make its way to America. Codenamed FB20, this 2.0-liter flat-four heads stateside later this year in the 2012 Impreza, of which we got a preview (Impreza Design Concept) at the 2010 Los Angeles auto show.

Subaru aficionados will quickly recognize that the brand's flat-four engine designation has switched from "EJ" to "FB." Some know-it-alls may even notice that the recently launched 2011 North American Forester is already sporting an FB motor. Let's first address the latter. Introduced about a month ago, the U.S.-spec '11 Forester 2.5X highlighted a host of updates -- refreshed front fascia, restyled interior, new wheels, recalibrated suspension -- with the FB25, the U.S. debut of Subaru's third-generation flat-4 "boxer" engine. Displacing 2.5 liters, the FB25, like its 2.0-liter FB20 sibling, represents a clean-sheet design in light of its EJ predecessor. Which brings us to the designation switch. The EJ, which is powering myriad current Subarus including the Outback, was first introduced back in 1989 in the Legacy. In its 20-plus years of existence, the EJ saw 7.6 millions units produced. And before '89, the first-generation boxer, initially available in the 1966 Subaru 1000, was around for 23 years, with 4.1 million examples built. The moral of the story: The FB could easily enjoy a lifespan of around two decades and 8 millions units.

The EJ formula -- 2.0- and 2.5-liter displacements as well as naturally aspirated and turbo variants -- will carry over to the FB. As competent and versatile as the EJ was (and still is), Subaru points out that with stricter fuel-economy and emissions standards on the horizon, the second-gen's aged design meant too many Band-Aids (and costly) fixes to keep it compliant, not to mention competitive; thus, Subaru's impetus for designing the third-gen.

The FB incorporates a 15mm-longer stroke and a 8mm-smaller bore compared to the EJ. The increased stroke, says Subaru, improves fuel efficiency, low- to mid-range torque, and emissions. Thanks to a new valve drive system, not to mention a redesigned cylinder block and cylinder head, the FB maintains the overall size of the EJ, allowing Subaru to drop it in existing products, such as the Forester. (Expect the FB25 to appear in the Outback for the 2012 model year.) The FB also ditches a timing belt in favor of a chain-type cam drive, which delivers a maintenance-free setup and helps keep the width of the engine to a minimum. Other notable improvements include lighter pistons and connecting rods, a higher compression ratio (10.5:1 versus 10.2:1), a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system, and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust sides.

Rather than boring you with drive impressions of how the never-coming-to-the-U.S. Forester 2.0X handles, steers, brakes, etc. -- trust us, it feels just like the 2.5X Touring we recently tested, just a bit slower -- let's instead focus on the FB20 and how it will impact the 2012 Impreza. First and foremost, the FB comes across as more refined than the EJ, displaying a smoother personality when climbing the rev ladder. It sounds a bit more racy, too, though the boxer flatulence still remains. Given that the Impreza will boast a significant weight advantage over the Forester (probably about 300-400 pounds), it should be good for EPA fuel economy in the 25 city/35 highway neighborhood, and perhaps better - not bad for an all-wheel-drive small car. Zero-to-60 times should fall in the 9.0- to 10.0-second range. To accomplish such fuel miserliness, the '12 Impreza will likely replace its current crop of transmissions - a 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic - with more modern units, i.e., a 6-speed manual and a "Lineartronic" CVT. A dual-clutch transmission? Never say never, but Subaru is more likely to save a DCT for the next-gen WRX and STI.

With an all-new Elantra, Focus, and Civic out this year, the FB-powered 2012 Impreza is poised to be a legitimate player in the small-car segment. In terms of output and fuel economy, the 148-horsepower and estimated 35-mpg highway FB is a class-competitive engine. And if the chiseled styling of the Impreza Design Concept is any suggestion of the '12's overall competence, then we have a lot more to look forward to than just the engine.


2011 Subaru Forester 2.0X
Base price $19,720 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.0L/148-hp/146-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4
Transmissions 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Curb weight 3250-3300 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 103.0 in
Length x width x height 179.5 x 70.1 x 66.9 in
0-60 mph 10.5-12.0 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 24/30 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.74 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. N/A
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