2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester. Click image to enlarge

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By Paul Williams

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2011 Subaru Forester

The Subaru Forester is a permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) compact SUV that competes with vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Subaru saw sales for the Forester immediately jump in 2009 when the vehicle was fully redesigned, and the momentum has continued since then. The Forester is now the top-selling Subaru model in Canada.

For 2011, the Forester receives several improvements and enhancements, starting with an all-new 2.5-litre engine. Although the displacement is within a few cubic centimetres of the outgoing engine, and the horizontally-opposed cylinder configuration (a Subaru mainstay) remains, the engine is designed to be smoother-running, delivering more useable power and torque and features a steel timing chain. Now a dual-overhead camshaft engine with variable valve timing, its 170 horsepower is available at 5,800 rpm, rather than the previous engine’s 6,000 rpm. Torque rises by four to 174 pound-feet, but is available at 4,100 rpm versus 4,400 rpm for the outgoing model.

2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester. Click image to enlarge

Fuel efficiency has also improved, dropping to 9.9/7.5 L/100 km, city/highway, compared with 10.4/7.7 L/100 km, city/highway for the 2010 Forester.

Starting at $25,995 for the Forester 2.5X with five-speed manual transmission, the price rises to $27,095 for the same vehicle with a four-speed automatic with manual mode. The $28,095 2.5X with Convenience Package includes the automatic transmission and adds a 10-way power driver’s seat, voice activated Bluetooth hands-free system, 16-inch aluminum wheels and for a further $700, optional PZEV emissions technology. Tilt/telescoping steering column, air conditioning, a power group and vehicle stability control are standard on all Foresters.

For 2011, the 2.5X Touring version receives 17-inch alloy wheels and an upgraded audio system, while the 2.5X Limited gets a new Pioneer navigation/audio system with detachable touch-screen and iPod interface. The 2.5 XT also receives the new Pioneer navigation/audio system and a redesigned rear spoiler. The 224-hp 2.5XT’s turbo engine, however, remains unchanged for the time being.

2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester. Click image to enlarge

The interior and exterior is largely unchanged from the 2010 models. The driving position and outward visibility is very good, and controls are easy to identify and use, if a little dated in appearance. Our Convenience Package 2.5X included Bluetooth and an auxiliary jack, but unfortunately no USB port for an iPod or similar device. The driver’s window featured an auto-down switch but no auto-up, and none of the other windows were auto-assisted. Subaru always seems slow to include these little features, the absence of which can annoy on a daily basis. A standard tilt/telescoping steering column was only fitted in 2009, for example, and is appreciated.

Unlike most competing models, the standard Subaru “symmetrical” all-wheel drive (AWD) system is not a “slip and grip” system that diverts power from the front wheels to the rear when slip is detected. Forester models equipped with a manual transmission use a system that features a viscous coupled locking centre differential that distributes power 50/50, front and rear. Manual transmission models are also equipped with “hill holder” technology that prevents the vehicle from rolling back on an incline. Automatic transmission models receive an electro-mechanical AWD system with a multi-plate transfer clutch. The standard front-to rear power ratio is 60/40, which changes to 50/50 when slip is detected by sensors at each wheel.

Both systems are transparent to the driver, who simply selects a forward gear, and goes.

2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester
2011 Subaru Forester. Click image to enlarge

We drove a 2011 Forester 2.5X with Convenience Package in partially snow-and-ice covered roads in and around Quebec City, and found that the engine is indeed marginally quieter and more responsive. Equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, the Forester exhibits tenacious grip on slippery surfaces, even when ascending snow-and-ice covered hills.

Similarly, deep snow doesn’t faze the Forester, as demonstrated on a short off-road excursion featuring trails that would have challenged most family vehicles. This is one of a succession of challenging Forester drives conducted by Subaru over the years that includes having journalists drive Foresters through bogs, over rocks, across streams and along cliffside trails. We think the point has been made, but certainly consumers need to know that while it may not look mondo-tough, it definitely punches above its weight when travelling off-road.

The corollary is that when doing normal duty on-road, the Forester has a distinctive feeling of connectedness to the road, communicating a sense of stability and confidence on all surfaces. There really is a difference in the way Subarus drive, and if you’re in the market for a compact SUV/CUV, the Forester should be on your list.

Pricing: 2011 Subaru Forester
  • 2.5X 5-Speed Manual (5MT): $25,995
  • 2.5X 4-Speed Automatic (4AT): $27,095
  • 2.5X with Convenience Package (4AT): $28,095
  • 2.5X PZEV (4AT): $28,795
  • 2.5X Touring Package (5MT): $28,695
  • 2.5X Touring Package (4AT): $29,795
  • 2.5X Limited Package (4AT): $32,995
  • XT Limited (turbo): $35,495
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