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2006 Subaru Forester Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle/Wagon

New Car Review of the 2006 Subaru Forester Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle/Wagon

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Base MSRP Range: $21,795 - $27,895

Base Invoice Range: $20,452 - 26,005

MSRP As Tested: $29,365.

Versions: X, XT.

Vehicle Category: Sport Utility Vehicle/Wagon

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: All-Wheel Drive.

Standard Engine: 2.5-liter, Single Overhead Cam, 16-valves, H-4, 173 - horsepower at 6000 rpm and 166 lb-ft torque at 4400 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed manual, Four-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 5-speed manual 22/29, 4-speed automatic 23/28.

Optional Engine as Tested: 2.5-liter, Turbocharged, Single Overhead Cam, 16-valves, H-4, 230 - horsepower at 5600 rpm and 235 lb-ft torque at 3600 rpm.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 5-speed manual 19/25, 4-speed automatic 21/26.

Standard Safety Features: Driver and passenger airbags, Front side airbags, Front-seat active head restraints,"> Anti-lock brakes, Daytime running lights.

Competition: Acura MDX, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage, Lexus RX, Mazda Tribute, Mercury Mariner.

Crossover vehicles -- those that combine a car-like body with SUV-like capability -- have been the rage for about two years now.

Lots of people who bought full-size SUVs a few years ago are switching to crossovers today as they look for better gas mileage and improved handling without sacrificing their SUV's family-friendly layout. These buyers may think crossovers are a new development, but they're not.

In fact, Subaru has been building crossover vehicles for a long, long time and has developed a rabidly loyal customer base through the years. This is especially true in mountainous areas where four-wheel drive is often essential for getting home, places where -- until recently -- one of the only vehicles that offered the comfort of a sedan and the traction of a 4x4 was the Subaru Forester.

So how has the Forester changed to tackle the new competition in 2006? Not much at all.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, as Subaru has had a long time to perfect and improve the Forester while other manufacturers only recently jumped on the crossover bandwagon. Instead of changing the Forester's identity to make it something that appeals to different buyers, Subraru wisely kept with the same basic formula that it's used for years: a strong, long-lasting wagon that has a great ride and versatile interior.

Let's start with the good stuff.

At the top of the list is the Forester's handling, which feels perfectly tuned for both off-road performance and on-road cornering. It feels like an expensive sports sedan on the street and is an absolute blast to drive, something you can't say about any SUVs other than the super-expensive ones from Porsche and BMW -- and even those aren't as practical as the Forester. It has a truly impressive suspension.

It also offers a great choice of engines. One is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 173 horsepower in a horizontally opposed layout, meaning the cylinders bang side to side against each other rather than up and down like in most engines. The result is a smooth, robust feel that's most commonly found, once again, in very expensive German cars.

Another good choice is the turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine, this one making 230 horsepower. Available only in the top-of-the-line 2.5 XT Limited ($27,895), it feels like it belongs in a sports car rather than an SUV, but that's fine because it's a perfect match for the Forester's fun suspension.

You've also got to love the practical interior that has comfortable space for five passengers and their gear. Unlike some mini-SUVs that have a decent cabin but don't have the room for so much as a paper clip in back when the seats are up, the Forester actually has a big ol' cargo area where you can fit your luggage and have space left for a couple of golden retrievers.

Pricing is also a plus, starting with the base 2.5 X at $21,795, the 2.5 X Premium at $24,145, and the upscale L.L. Bean model at $26,895. Compared to the prices of entry-luxury crossovers -- many of which don't feel as well-sorted mechanically as this Subaru -- the cost of a Forester looks like a steal.

Subaru's decision to keep the Forester basically unchanged also results in a few downsides.

For one thing, the cabin isn't exactly silent. It falls somewhere between a Suzuki Aerio and a Toyota Camry, offering better sound insulation than an economy car but nowhere near the luxury level of, say, a Lexus or Mercedes. It just doesn't sound quite as good as its new crossover rivals.

It also lacks in the quality of materials in the cabin. While many of the upstart crossovers come with soft, supple textures that invite you to run your fingers along the dash, the Forester is still covered in clunky plastic that feels like it belongs in an early '90s Chevy Corsica.

Other than those minor quibbles, the Forester is pretty much perfect. It's been doing for years what many new crossovers are trying to copy, and even with the new competition there are few vehicles that get an SUV and car combined as splendidly as this Subaru.

Pros: This is what all crossovers aspire to be, a perfect blend of SUV capability and sedan practicality. It's a wonderful car mechanically with good engines and outstanding handling.

Cons: It’s not the prettiest thing on the road. Its cabin isn't as quiet as some of the competition, and it still suffers from cheap-feeling plastics all over the interior.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 5
  • Performance: 9
  • Price: 7
  • Handling: 9
  • Ride: 8
  • Comfort: 8
  • Quality: 7
  • Overall: 7

More Data

Where Built: Japan

Major Options: Popular Equipment Groups 1-5, Performance Group, Protection Group. Alloy wheels.

Seating: 5.

Number of Rows: 2.

Length in Inches: 176.6

Warranties: 3 years/36,000 miles Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles Extended powertrain, 5 years/unlimited miles Corrosion protection, 6 years/36,000 miles Free roadside assistance.

Weight in Pounds: 3165 lbs.

Cargo Capacity in Pounds: Not Available.

Gross Maximum Vehicle Weight in Pounds: Not Available.

Towing Capacity in Pounds: Not Available.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 15.9

Destination Charge: $595