After 10,000 miles my '05 Forester XT Premium 5M is still wonderful. I average 24.7 mpg city/highway with a 5 day-a-week 100% city commute. So far best mpg 33.4, worst 15.2. The car is an excellent value, lots of standard features, great handling and excelleration. All better than its primary competition, like the CRV, Rav4, and Liberty. I looked at them all, including more expensive vehicles like X3, Touareg, and 4Runner (any anything else you can think of). It's a little difficult to pack all my gear into, including my dog's crate, but it can be done if you were any good at Tetris. I use a roof box, a Thule Cascade 1500.
Acceleration, heated seats, AWD with manual, seating position, visibility, stereo (takes some tweaking the EQ, try turning MID down to get rid of the tinny sound), safety features, crash test scores, huge moon roof, extra storage spaces, tie-downs, and roof-rack, great exterior lighting
Gears 1 to 5 are well spaced, but it needs a taller 6th gear for freeway cruising. Also needs "low-range" (my '86 4WD tercel wagon had a 6 speed tranny with one extra low gear when the 4wd was engaged). Stiffer suspension package, but keep the ground clearance. Improve interior lighting (like VW).