When I test-drove the Subaru Forester last year, I felt like I had found the golden retriever of compact SUVs -- one that's ready to go wherever you are, enjoys taking you there, and is a true pleasure to be around. No wonder it became my favorite compact sport utility vehicle to date.
How could it get any better?
Adding power would be a great way to start. And Subaru does exactly that with the XT version, which trades the regular vehicle's 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine for one of the same size but with a turbocharger attached. The result is a 54-horsepower increase to 224.
That added power makes the Forester a feisty friend with a lot more bite. The first time I sank my foot into the right pedal to get up to freeway speeds, I found myself exclaiming out loud how much faster the XT version of the Forester feels. Expect a 0-60 mph time in the mid-6 second range.
Looks and dimension-wise, the XT nearly mimics the regular version, which I loved for its size. At 179.5 inches long, it fits just about anywhere and is a snap to park, yet makes the most of its space for cargo and passengers alike.
The XT, while not cheap, provides quite a bit of value. Including destination, an XT starts at $27,870. That's $6,500 more than a base Forester, but $800 less than a top-line version of a non-turbo one.
And the XT comes standard with a host of goodies such as 10-way power driver's seat, premium audio system and 17-inch wheels. Further options like heated leather seats, navigation system, panoramic moonroof and rear seats that flip forward with the touch of a button can also be had, making it feel like a quasi-luxury vehicle.
Like all other Foresters with an automatic transmission, the XT still uses one with only four forward gears. In an age where automatic transmissions are regularly sporting six speeds and some up to eight, four seems downright antiquated. Yet, just like in the other Forester, I found the XT somehow makes it work with aplomb.
The only place where I can knock the XT is in fuel economy. Whereas I somehow managed over 25 mpg in the non-turbo Forester, in this one I only got 22.2 mpg -- no big surprise due to that added power.
Yet the Forester XT excels literally and figuratively in just about every other way. In addition to giving Forester buyers an option for a more potent ride, when optioned up it makes a great case for potentially luring those looking for an entry-level luxury compact SUV.
Subaru Forester XT
Base price (2012 model, including destination): $27,870
Price as tested: $32,000
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder
Power: 224 horsepower
EPA fuel economy rating: 19 mpg city/24 highway
Length: 179.5 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Height: 66.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,460 pounds
Bottom line: Good power, size, roominess, visibility and handling, but fuel economy suffers.