2012 Subaru Forester SUV - FROM $20,595
Thanks to plenty of interior room and available turbocharged power, the 2012 Subaru Forester is a top pick in the highly competitive small-crossover-SUV segment.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Subaru Forester now comes with a standard height-adjustable passenger seat and a new optional navigation system with added functionality.
To many, Subaru occupies a unique position among other, more conventional automakers. There's a certain buyer that has historically been drawn to the brand: a kind of rugged individual who enjoys the great outdoors, yet needs the sensibility of a car that is well suited to urban settings. In many ways, the 2012 Subaru Forester best represents this niche.
Where most crossover SUVs would likely get stranded on a rutted trail, the Forester seems at home wallowing in the mud and climbing rocky wooded paths. With standard all-wheel drive and plenty of ground clearance, this SUV's gifts are certainly uncommon among crossovers that are relegated to carpool and commuting duties.
Fortunately, though, the Forester's off-road prowess doesn't come at the expense of civility. On the contrary, it provides a roomy cabin, plenty of cargo space and a comfortable ride. There's also a turbocharged version to tame the wilds of the freeway on-ramp. And while other vehicles in this class pursue the city-dwelling driver with sleek styling and numerous creature comforts, the Forester remains on the boxy side with just enough in the way of features to stay competitive.
Given the many strong picks in the small-crossover segment, picking the right model can be difficult. The redesigned Honda CR-V will deliver more refinement, and the Kia Sorento and Toyota RAV4 can be optioned with a powerful V6 engine and a third row of seats. Meanwhile, choices like the Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan will likely appeal to drivers who prefer a bit more engagement and excitement. But overall the 2012 Subaru Forester is competitive and well worth a look.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Subaru Forester is a compact crossover SUV available in six trim levels: 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, 2.5X Limited, 2.5XT Premium, 2.5X Touring and 2.5XT Touring.
The 2.5X is equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, full power accessories, air-conditioning, automatic headlights, keyless entry, a tilt steering column, a height-adjustable passenger seat, a trip computer and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The 2.5X Premium adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, roof rails, an eight-way power driver seat with power-adjustable lumbar support, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, Bluetooth (with streaming audio), USB/iPod integration and reclining rear seatbacks.
The 2.5X Limited adds foglights, automatic climate control, the All-Weather package (including heated mirrors, heated front seats and windshield wiper de-icer) and leather upholstery. The 2.5XT Premium is similar to the 2.5X Premium but has a more powerful engine, a hood scoop and a rear roof spoiler. The 2.5X Touring builds on the 2.5X Limited's list of amenities, adding bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a one-touch folding rear seatback, electroluminescent instrumentation, a rearview camera and a subwoofer. The 2.5XT Touring combines the 2.5XT Premium's features with those seen in the 2.5X Touring.
The All-Weather package is optional on the 2.5X Premium, as is a portable TomTom navigation system. Limited and Touring trims are available with a traditional dash-mounted navigation system that includes voice controls, text messaging capability, a rearview camera, a six-speaker sound system (seven with the Touring's subwoofer) and an auxiliary audio/video input jack. Satellite radio and a variety of exterior trim add-ons are offered as stand-alone options.
Powertrains and Performance
As is the case with all Subarus, the 2012 Forester comes with all-wheel drive as standard. The 2.5X models are powered by a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (flat) four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. The XT trims feature a turbocharged variant that produces 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the 2.5X and 2.5X Premium, with a four-speed automatic offered as an option. The automatic is the only transmission available on the 2.5X Limited, 2.5XT Premium, 2.5X Touring and 2.5XT Touring.
With both the manual and automatic transmissions, 2.5X models earn EPA ratings of 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, average figures for this segment. 2.5X models sold in states with more stringent emissions standards earn a squeaky-clean PZEV rating. With the XT's turbocharged engine, fuel economy dips to 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. In Edmunds performance testing, a 2.5XT went from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 6.8 seconds. A 2.5X model with the automatic turned in a rather sluggish 10.1-second acceleration run.
Standard safety features on the 2012 Subaru Forester include antilock brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. In Edmunds braking tests, the Forester 2.5X came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, which is a good distance for this segment.
In government crash testing, the Forester earned an overall score of four out of five stars, with four stars for overall front-impact protection and three stars for side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Forester its top rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2012 Subaru Forester features a pleasantly styled and highly functional cabin design, though fit and finish is a little hit-or-miss. Controls are mostly straightforward and easy to access. The Forester is one of the most spacious vehicles in the segment, comparing favorably with the RAV4, CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander, all of which straddle the line between compact and midsize SUVs.
This crossover's split-folding rear seat with optional reclining seatbacks deserves special mention here. The term "throne" appropriately describes this seat, as the cushion is so high that rear passengers will feel as though they're looking down on those in front. All but the longest of leg will actually be able to rest their hamstrings flush against the cushion -- a rarity in motorized conveyances without wings or bathrooms. The middle rear seat, however, is compromised by its dual purpose as an armrest and cupholder, making it more of a hard, segmented bench.
The cargo area is generous, boasting 33.5 cubic feet of space with the 60/40-split rear seatback raised and 68.3 cubes with it folded. The Forester's boxy shape also makes it well suited to hauling large bulky objects.
The 2012 Subaru Forester has one of the most comfortable rides in the segment. Its crisp steering and tight turning circle also make it surprisingly maneuverable in close quarters. Both engine choices are highly competitive in terms of power and fuel economy, although an automatic transmission with more gears than the Forester's four would make a big difference.
Not only would fuel economy and acceleration theoretically improve, but more narrowly spaced ratios would make gearshifts smoother and less noticeable as well. Brake feel also leaves much to be desired, as the pedal feels spongy and not at all confidence-inspiring. Still, the 2012 Subaru Forester is an able performer, especially in the 2.5XT trims.
The Forester's upright and boxy shape gives it much better outward visibility than you'll find in its sleeker rivals. Wind noise is detectable, but not any more intrusive than you'll find in the average SUV; the same holds true for road noise. Despite its prowess off-road, the Forester still manages to provide a suitably smooth and comfortable ride over bumpy surfaces.