I bought this car after extensive research in 2003. It was down to the Honda Element vs. the Forester XT and the power won out. This is the first car I've had that I can honestly say I've used most of it's capabilities regularly. I'm no street racer but I do enjoy the acceleration and handling of this little SUV. I usually travel by myself or with my young son and it's just the right size. I've had it off road on the beach and on dirt trails - no complaints and it's easy to maneuver. It towed my 17ft Boston Whaler nicely as well. However, for family road trips we take my wife's Pilot - more room.
Engine & chassis - power and handling, all wheel drive, versatility. Not everyone has one.
Transmission is a weak point and 5th gear could be taller for better mileage. Wind noise from front door gussets. Rear seat room - Britax car seat with child forces front passengers to move forward. Front seats should fold forward to use seatback as table.