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Practical, well built and enjoyable to drive, the 2006 Subaru Forester offers an excellent balance of upscale features and all-weather drivability.
Standard all-wheel drive, two engine choices, availability of upscale features, class-leading crash test scores, rides and handles like a car.
Costs more than many competitors, tight on legroom in the backseat.
Available Forester Models
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Subaru has made many small but significant changes to the Forester for 2006. Foresters with normally aspirated engines have a new variable valve-lift system that bumps horsepower from last year's 165 to 173, while turbo Foresters have a higher compression ratio and redesigned intake and exhaust components for a 20-hp boost to 230 and cleaner tailpipe emissions. The manual and automatic transmissions have also been updated for better performance, as has the suspension. Interested shoppers should also note that Subaru has simplified the Forester's trim levels, freshened up the exterior styling and added more thigh support to the rear seat.
With so-called "crossover" sport-utility vehicles all the rage, nearly every manufacturer in America is scrambling to create its version of the ultimate sedan/sport-ute/station wagon combo. Too bad Subaru already beat them to the punch -- seven years ago. That's when the original Forester debuted. With a tall roomy cabin, elevated driving position and full-time all-wheel drive, the Subaru Forester was a crossover utility vehicle before there was such a thing.
Fully redesigned for 2003, the second-generation Subaru Forester brought back all the things that made it popular the first time around, while adding new features and a fresh look in hopes of keeping all those newcomers on the scene at bay. The previous generation's 165-horsepower boxer four-cylinder engine carried over as well -- although power was adequate, the Forester could feel sluggish at times, particularly when equipped with an automatic transmission.
For 2004, Subaru added a little more excitement to the lineup with the introduction of a 210-hp, turbocharged XT model. Additional improvements come 2006 to keep the Forester competitive, the main highlights being more power, better transmission performance and freshened styling. As in the past, the 2006 Subaru Forester blends positive SUV attributes such as a high seating point and interior versatility with passenger car comfort, handling and fuel-efficiency. Subaru designed and equipped it to compete with a wide array of SUVs. Our only real complaint about the cabin is the limited legroom in the backseat, which isn't ideal for adults or toddlers riding in bulky car seats.
Even if it doesn't have the roomiest rear quarters, the Subaru Forester is one of the safest small SUVs you can buy. It is one of the only two vehicles in its class to have earned "Good" ratings in both the frontal offset and side-impact crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also earned a perfect five stars across the board in front- and side-impact testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Indeed, there's much to like about the Forester. It may not offer a V6, but most buyers will find it plenty powerful, especially in XT Limited trim. It also handles better than many small SUVs and its slightly lower stance makes parking lot maneuvers a breeze. For those who brave snowy winters, it has full-time all-wheel drive and 8 inches of ground clearance. If these are the things that are important to you, make sure you try the latest version of the versatile Subaru Forester.
The Subaru Forester is available in three trim levels: 2.5 X, 2.5 X L.L. Bean Edition and 2.5 XT Limited. The X comes with power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning with air filtration; cruise control; tilt steering; 16-inch wheels and tires; AM/FM/weather band CD audio; and remote keyless entry. Opting for the Premium Package gets you rear disc brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, alloy wheels, upgraded trim, a power driver seat, an upgraded audio system, automatic climate control, heated seats and a power moonroof. The L.L. Bean Edition is your ticket to two-tone paint, a leather-and-wood Momo steering wheel, unique wheels and exterior trim, leather seats with perforated Alcantara bolsters, and a self-leveling rear suspension. In addition to a more powerful engine, XT Limited models have a unique leather interior, luminescent sport instruments, a seven-speaker audio system and aluminum roof rails.
Standard on X and L.L. Bean models is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 173 horsepower. If you need extra power, opt for the XT model, which has a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine good for 230 hp. Both engines give you the choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Like all Subaru vehicles, the Forester comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive. Manual transmission-equipped vehicles have a Hill Holder clutch feature that keeps the vehicle from rolling back on steep inclines.
ABS is standard on all Forester models; additionally, all models except the base X have four-wheel disc brakes. Other safety features include active head restraints and side-impact airbags. The IIHS gave the Forester a "Good" rating (its best) for frontal offset and side-impact crashes, and named it a "Best Pick" in the compact SUV class. The Subaru Forester also earned a perfect five stars in all front- and side-impact testing conducted by the NHTSA. If safety is of utmost importance in your selection of a small SUV, the Forester should be seriously considered.
The Subaru Forester earns praise for the high-quality look and feel of its interior. Even the base X model is well equipped and user-friendly, and leather-equipped models feel downright luxurious. The front seats are supportive with adequate room for most adults, but the rear quarters are a little tight for adults and toddlers in bulky car seats. Rear cargo room with the seats folded measures 57.7 cubic feet, a bit shy of the major players in this class.
The base 2.5-liter engine provides adequate performance, but for those seeking maximum acceleration, we recommend the thrilling turbocharged XT Limited paired with the standard five-speed manual transmission. In terms of handling, the Forester is stable and predictable even when pushed to its limits. The steering is a bit vague at speed, and the soft suspension tuning results in some body roll, but for day-to-day driving, the 2006 Subaru Forester is comfortable and controllable enough to suit most drivers.
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