The 2012 Subaru Forester drives more like a car than like an SUV and it features a superb all-wheel-drive system giving it excellent foul-weather capability. A compact SUV that seats five, the Forester offers good cargo capacity.
It competes with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but the Forester offers much better handling than those two, on dry pavement but especially on wet pavement, snow, ice or dirt.
The current-generation Forester was launched as a 2009 model. For 2011, Subaru gave the Forester a new standard engine with chain-driven dual overhead camshafts rated at 170 horsepower and 21/27 mpg City/Highway. The turbocharged Forester 2.5XT models retain their belt-driven twin-cam engine, which produces 224 horsepower on Premium fuel, with EPA estimates of 19/24 mpg.
For 2012, there are only minor changes. Among them: 2012 Forester Limited and 2012 Forester Touring models offer an integrated navigation system with a 6.1-inch touch-screen display. Included in the navigation package is a rearview camera and an AM/FM/HD/CD stereo with six speakers (seven on Touring), voice-activated controls, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming, iPod control capability, iTunes tagging, USB port, 3.5mm auxiliary input jack, SMS text messaging capability, and satellite radio capability. The old removable Tom-Tom nav system is still offered on 2.5X Premiums with automatic transmission. Also new, the front-passenger seat adjusts for height on all 2012 Subaru Forester models.
The Subaru Forester is a very practical vehicle. The rear seats are split 60/40 and easily fold flat to make a gigantic cargo area capable of carrying lots of gear. Rear-seat legroom is excellent, at 38.0 inches. That alone is a big plus, and it's one of the reasons the Forester is such a good family vehicle. The front doors are wide, and the rear doors swing open 75 degrees and feel light, making it easy to get in and out.
The Forester is supremely secure in its sure-footed handling. It will go around corners like few SUVs, with its all-wheel drive working to grip the road. Subaru excels at all-wheel drive. The Forester has a low center of gravity thanks to its horizontally opposed engine mounted low in the chassis. The suspension is solid but doesn't feel too firm, while its long travel offers a comfortable ride and better grip on rough roads. Rack-and-pinion steering helps give the Forester a tight steering radius, tighter than the RAV4 or CR-V, making parking and maneuvering easy. It all adds up to an enjoyable and capable vehicle to drive.
The 2012 Subaru Forester comes in four trim levels, each with all-wheel drive. The 2.5X models come with the 170-hp engine that was all-new last year; 2.5XT models get the familiar 224-hp turbocharged engine.
Forester 2.5X ($20,595) comes with rugged cloth upholstery, air conditioning with rear vents and an air filtration system, a 60/40 split rear seat, four-speaker AM/FM sound system with single-disc CD, height adjustment for both front seats, cruise control, rear window wiper, a trailer wiring connector, and 16-inch steel wheels with wheelcovers. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard. The only options are a 4-speed automatic transmission with manual mode ($1200), and 16-inch alloy wheels, which come with roof rails ($400).
Forester 2.5X Premium ($23,295) adds 17-inch alloy wheels with wider-profile all-season tires, privacy glass, 10-way power driver's seat, tilt-and-telescope steering, a reclining rear seat with retractable tray, roof rails, power moonroof, and an upgraded six-speaker audio system that adds steering wheel-mounted controls, an auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, iPod control capability, USB port and Sirius satellite radio capability. An all-weather package ($500) includes heated front seats and side mirrors, plus a windshield wiper de-icer. The 2.5X Premium with automatic transmission ($24,295) makes available a package ($1,095) combining the all-weather equipment with a removable TomTom navigation system.
Forester 2.5X Limited ($26,595) features perforated leather seats in black or platinum, seatback storage pockets, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an even more deluxe sound system with 4.3-inch display screen, automatic climate control, and foglights. It comes with the automatic transmission and cold-weather package as standard. All-new integrated navigation ($1200) includes a rear camera and additional sound system upgrades.
Forester 2.5X Touring ($27,895) adds HID headlights (low beam) with automatic height adjustment, backup camera, a subwoofer for the Limited-level stereo, dual zone automatic climate control, silver finish roof rails, electroluminescent gauges, and side mirrors with integrated turn signals. The integrated navigation option ($1000) costs less because the backup camera is standard.
PZEV versions of all of the models above are available in 13 states and cost about $300 more.
Forester XT Premium ($27,095) and Touring ($29,895) use the more powerful turbocharged engine with 4-speed automatic transmission. They're distinguished by a hood scoop that takes in air for the turbocharger intercooler, a rear roof spoiler, and aluminum pedal covers. Otherwise equipment and options correspond to the X Premium and X Touring models.
Safety equipment on all Foresters includes two-stage frontal airbags, side-impact airbags in front, and airbag curtains; active front head restraints; LATCH child safety seat system; and a tire pressure monitor. All Forester models also come with all-wheel drive, Vehicle Dynamics Control with four-wheel traction control and electronic limited slip differential, and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which adjusts front-to-rear brake balance as the car's weight pitches forward under hard braking), and Brake Assist (which applies additional braking, based on how quickly the driver applies the pedal).