First Drive: 2006 Subaru Forester
Subaru owners won't really notice--will they?
Sure, the 2006 Forester has been revised, but how about we go straight to the good stuff, such as the extensively revamped spec sheet that makes this more than just the usual midterm makeover?
Simplified into two trim lines, all Foresters powered by normally aspirated boxer fours are now deemed 2.5Xs. The L.L. Bean Edition adds a wood-and-leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, leather-encased shifter, and water-resistant sides to its already drip-defying cargo floor. It's the only variant with self-leveling rear suspension. A turbocharged Forester is served in just one flavor, the top-drawer 2.5XT Limited, which adds turn signals integrated into the side mirrors (also available on 2.5Xs with the Premium package) to its complement of niceties.
Accelerating these are revisions to both versions of the 2457cc engine. The atmospherically aspirated base mill gains two-stage intake valve lift. Below 3500 rpm, one intake valve opens slightly, the other completely, resulting in more swirl-promoting torque at lower revs; above 3500, both open big-time for obvious reasons. Power increases eight horses to 173, though the experience is more broadband than one number indicates. The turbo gains 20 horsepower, climbing to a robust 230, owing to a higher compression, re-snaked intake and exhaust manifolds, and a secondary air-pump system replacing the backpressure-causing pre-cat converters.
Aft of either engine, the five-speed manual is "ruggedized" with double-cone synchronizers on first and third gears. The four-speed auto trans exploits adaptive software to modify its shift choices based on driving behavior, and both receive rejiggered ratios. A meatier rear crossmember stiffens the Forester's hindquarters focusing handling feel, while modifications to the front suspension's lower L-arm better swallow road impacts. The low-lying exhaust tract has been replumbed to raise ground clearance from 7.5 to 8.1 inches, and even the brake booster has been tweaked for crisper pedal feel.
On the road, where the 2.5X is hyper-competent, the turbo version is a gas (according to Subaru, it gets to 60 mph in under six seconds with the solid-shifting five-speed manual). Whoid ever have imagined an off-road credible machine that could scramble around corners like this? Personally, though, we'd opt for the turbo engine bolted to the automatic, as the 2.5XT manualis clutch effort is a bit of a one-legged stair-stepper.
The 2006 Forester offers more than just mechanical revisions-the nose, hood, front fenders, taillights, and hatch trim have been reworked, the snout better integrated. But function-minded Subaru owners won't really notice-will they?