2006 Subaru Forester XT Review
WITH CAREY RUSS
2006 Subaru Forester XT
There have been two dominant traits in Subaru's lineup over the years. The company first came to notice long ago as the maker of small all-wheel drive wagons with excellent all-weather capability. And then, starting in 2001 in the U.S. (and much earlier in Europe), there was the rally-replica WRX. The AWD wagon concept gave rise to the Outback wagon/SUV crossover, and later the even more SUV-like Forester from Subaru, not to mention a host of small crossover vehicles from all competitors. The WRX brought a completely new customer base to Subaru, and inspired a few competitors as well. What would happen if the two streams combined?
I've just finished a week with an XT. The original was on my short list of favorite cars, for its combination of useful space, all-road, all-(reasonable) weather traction available from its all-wheel drive, near-sports car grip and handling response, and powerful but friendly turbo motor. And the new model is just a little bit better, slightly more refined in its ride comfort and interior and exterior design. It still handles better than any of the small crossovers, if not quite at WRX levels because of the high SUV-type tires. It's as close to a do-everything vehicle for an outdoors-oriented person as I've ever seen, and it'll do everything in comfort. And quickly.
APPEARANCE: The basic two-box micro-SUV shape in unchanged, but, like all 2006 Foresters, the XT gets a new grille and four-lamp headlights in front that give it a slightly cleaner, less cluttered look. All models except the base X have new body-color outside mirrors that are a little larger, for improved visibility, and have integrated turn signals. At the rear, the taillights get a sporty look with clear lens sections. The XT can be told from other Forester models by its functional hood scoop, which feeds air to the intercooler.
SAFETY: The Subaru Forester meets all Federal passenger car safety standards, and has gotten the highest possible rating for a 40-mph frontal offset collision in IIHS tests. Its ``Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame'' unibody structure provides both rigidity for good handling and side protection and front and rear crumple zones for occupant safety. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard in all models but the X.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Compare the Forester to other small SUVs, and there's no comparison. Subaru's chassis design and the shape and position of the engine allow good ground clearance - at 7.9 inches equal to many a ``real'' SUV - and a low center of gravity. Add the rigid chassis and fully-independent long-travel, rally-derived strut-type suspension, tuned a little more stiffly this year for improved grip with no real loss of comfort, and the result is pleasantly un-SUVlike behavior on entertaining roads. The relatively high-profile P215/60 tires help ride comfort, too. But they are more SUV tires than sports car tires, and don't have the sharp turn-in and ultimate grip that would be obtained with low-profile performance tires. Not really a problem - utility and performance? Forester XT. A little less space and utility and more performance? WRX wagon. The Forester XT puts the ``sport'' in sport-utility.
PERFORMANCE: The Forester XT is only about 60 lbs heavier than a WRX wagon, and it has a lower final-drive ratio, so it's a quick little beastie. 60 mph will come up from at standstill in a very un-SUV-like six seconds or so. While it has plenty of utility, sport is emphasized, and there is lots of that with 230 horsepower (at 5600 rpm) and 235 lb-ft of torque (at 3600 rpm) from the turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed engine. It illustrates all that is good about turbocharging done right, with good and instant power just about everwhere in its rev range. There is no need to run it up to redline, but it doesn't fade at the top, either. The standard five-speed gearbox can be improved with the optional short-throw shifter. Unfortunately, my test car wasn't so-equipped, but I've used it in a WRX STi and it's a worthwhile investment. All manual Foresters have Subaru's Hill-Holder clutch, which makes stopping on an uphill grade easier on both the drivetrain and the driver. As with all Subarus, every Forester XT comes with a version of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Manual models have a locking viscous-coupling center differential with a static 50:50 torque distribution, which automatically transfers torque to the set of wheels that can best use it. Viscous limited-slip axle differentials route torque to the wheel on that axle that can best use it. The result is the traction in slippery conditions that has made AWD Subarus favorites in the Snow Belt ... and excellent traction on dry pavement as well.
CONCLUSIONS: Utility meets sport in the 2006 Subaru Forester XT.
SPECIFICATIONS 2006 Subaru Forester XT Base Price $27,895 Price As Tested $28,590 Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled aluminum alloy dual overhead cam horizontally- opposed 16-valve four-cylinder with variable valve timing Engine Size 2.5 liters / 150 cu. in. Horsepower 230 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 235 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 99.4 in. / 176.6 in. Curb Weight 3310 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.4 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires Yokohama Geolander G900 P215/60 HR16 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink strut Drivetrain front engine, full-time all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 26 / 20 0 to 60 mph 6.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rear cargo tray $ 70 Destination charge $ 625