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2012 Subaru Forester ReviewThe Good
The 2012 Subaru Forester is one of the best options on the road for a modern station wagon, with capable engines, almost 9 inches of ground clearance and more space than you can use.The Bad
The 4-speed automatic should be a 5- or even a 6-speed, and the seats are closer to cramping than comfortable in the 2012 Forester.
The CarGurus View
Other entrants in the compact crossover class may have a bit more finish – and certainly more comfortable seats – but the Subaru is actually fun to drive. The 4-speed automatic really holds the Forester back, especially since it’s the only transmission available for the turbocharged trims, but the 5-speed attached to the base non-turbo engine is a great setup that is more efficient and doesn’t require premium fuel. For that reason alone, the 2.5X and 2.5X Premium trims are the ones to concentrate on, and those will save you even more money.
At a Glance
There’s a reason the Volvo 240 was so popular, and it certainly wasn’t aesthetics. That sounds like an insult, but that is not the intent. The 240 offered solid, dependable performance and utilitarian functionality with regard to storage for passengers and cargo alike. With the same boxy proportions and utilitarian focus, the Subaru Forester has decidedly filled the gap left by the departure of the iconic Swedish wagon, with much of the same aplomb.
No, aesthetics aren’t the strong suit of this compact crossover, whether you’re looking from the inside or out. It’s hard to make a station wagon sexy, after all, and that’s what this really is despite marketing and branding efforts to convince us otherwise. Inside you’ll find much of the same, with a level of quality that betrays the upscale ambiance that Subaru usually shoots for. However, one look at the Forester's intended demographics, and easy-wipe surfaces suddenly make sense. Kids are dirty, and simplified cleanup is appealing.
For 2012 not much changes for the Forester, just one year off a mid-cycle refresh, but front passengers will now enjoy height adjustability for their seats to match the driver's. Mom and Dad can both be happy now.
All trims utilize a 2.5-liter “boxer” 4-cylinder engine, in naturally aspirated and turbocharged varieties. NA flavors get 170 hp at 6,000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque to match, this time showing up at 4,100 rpm. This is not an overwhelming amount of power, especially with a full load of passengers and cargo, but it’s more than adequate. The 5-speed manual that comes standard in 2.5X and 2.5X Premium trims is a joy and makes the most out of this engine’s output. There’s an optional 4-speed automatic, but the extremely wide gear ratios of this antiquated setup are very limiting.
A shame then that it’s the only transmission available for the remaining trims, especially considering the benefits of forced induction. XT trims utilize a turbocharged version of the 2.5, which develops 224 hp at 5,200 rpm and 226 lb-ft of torque at a very usable 2,800 rpm. With the 5-speed transmission this would be a very fun little wagon, but unfortunately the 4-speed auto is the only option. It’s not a bad transmission, with no reluctance in either up- or downshifts. It could just use another cog or two.
The turbocharged engine does sacrifice a bit of efficiency, with 19 city mpg/24 highway as opposed to 21/27 in the NA, and on top of that you’ll have to park at the premium pump when it comes time for a fill-up.
Ride & Handling
Car structure, AWD and nearly 9 inches of clearance? Sounds good. Add in a low deck for easy loading and a low seating profile, and the hits just keep coming. Despite the stigma, the station wagon is a great compromise when a truck would be excessive and sometimes ridiculous. You’re not rock-crawling, after all. You’re more likely picking up the kids after practice on a snowy afternoon, and for that the Forester is perfect. A slightly short wheelbase means things can get occasionally skittery, but the stability of AWD and that tremendous ground clearance mean you won’t have to be waiting for the plow to pass before leaving your driveway.
On top of all that, the Forester is actually fun to drive. The steering is direct and even a bit sporty, and the suspension keeps things rather civil, mitigating lean and roll well despite the top-heavy nature of the boxy Forester.
Cabin & Comfort
While some complain about the austere functionality of the Forester’s interior, certain factors should be considered. First, while the Forester’s interior may look downscale relative to many of Subaru’s other offerings, when compared with class competitors, it stacks up well. Second, hard plastic may not impress, but it cleans quite easily and doesn’t stain or scratch without some serious effort.
The Forester's controls are some of the best in the class with regard to operation and location and certainly a high point of this interior. If only the same could be said for the low seats, which provide plenty of leg- and headroom but very little actual comfort. They’re flat and hard and tiring after anything more than a short trip.
Standard comfort and convenience features include air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, the aforementioned uncomfortable bucket seats and a CD player with digital-media connection. A full power package includes mirrors, windows and doors as well as remote keyless entry. The 2.5X Premium trim adds a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with radio controls, 10-way power for the driver, a power sunroof and an auxiliary USB port and Bluetooth. You’ll also get privacy glass and some roof rails, just to dress things up a bit.
Things really start getting fancy as you move up the trim levels. 2.5X Limiteds get automatic climate controls, heated leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power mirrors and hi-def radio, while Touring trims add a rear-view camera, xenon headlights, mirror-mounted turn signals and dual-zone automatic climate controls.
Six standard airbags and front-seat active head restraints are standard along with antilock, 4-wheel assisted disc brakes and traction and stability control. You’ll also get daytime running lights and a tire-pressure monitor. Touring trims additionally add fog lights and xenon headlights.
The 2012 Subaru Forester received a 4-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is a Top Safety Pick for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
What Owners Think
Owners are very pleased with the space inside the Forester, for both passengers and cargo, and the ease of use as well. The Forester is easy to load, easy to drive in cramped spaces and easy to park. Some complain about the interior materials, but the seats get far more flak. AWD is always welcome, and there are few better systems than Subaru’s. For some, the unique noise the boxer engine produces is irritating, but for others it’s a sound they’d trade for no other. Personal preference applies.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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Subaru Forester Questions
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