Since we first met Subaru's Forester, it's seemed like the ultimate spunky independent. Maybe it was the all-wheel-drive (like every Subaru, before any competitor had it). Or its smaller, flexible size and no-nonsense boxier shape meant to handle the most demands in the least amount of space.
For 2007, Forester has gained a lot but hasn't lost its independent streak. With a redesign last year and full make-over due in a year or two, two new sport models are the latest adds. Unlike some other crossover sport utilities, it hasn't melded into a hunk of sleek-rooflined, slant-cornered wagon with lines that inevitably would rob interior room. Rather, it retains a more square-off stance with higher roofline for functional interior practicality and good visibility.
That doesn't mean Forester has a single stodgy bone in its body. It doesn't. Instead it captures rally-worthy racing inspiration from its competitive WRX kin. It's powered by Subaru's 2.5L, 173-hp (224-hp for XTs) inline four horizontally-mounted "Boxer" engine for punch in small under-hood space. There's raised, independent suspension. (L.L. Bean versions get rear load leveling).
You'd expect a smallish crossover/sport utility for five to be nimble. No worry here. All systems send power to all four wheels for a maximum in grip and control. And Forester retains its "hill hold" feature for five-speed manual trans versions so it won't inch backwards down an incline -- appreciated with an 18-wheeler behind on a rush hour exit ramp.
Forester comes in six flavors, including new 2.5 X and XT Sports models, plus L.L. Bean and upmarket Limited versions. Available amenities include automatic transmissions, intercooled turbo, larger 17 x 7 alloy wheels, upgraded audio and SIRIUS satellite radio. Among interior trims: Leather seating, MOMO leather and wood steering wheel, and dimming rear-view mirror with compass.
New for the base 2.5 X is Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). Standard safety equipment, including anti-lock brakes and advanced airbags, helped it win top safety ratings. Expect best mileages of 22/29 (manual) or 23/28, and base pricing at $21,195.