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Not Too Big, Not Too Small

2015 Subaru Forester

When the SUV craze hit years ago, most of them were behemoths which were difficult to park, expensive to buy, and unable to pass a gas station without veering in.

Luckily, that phase has passed. And it happened with help from manufacturers such as Subaru, who have for years offered the practicality of all wheel-drive in an affordable, and very driveable, package.

The newly refreshed 2015 Forester is a case in point. It seats five, has plenty of storage space behind the back seat, gets relatively good gas mileage (EPA-estimated 24/32 city/highway with the 2.5-liter engine and the automatic transmission), and has a starting list price of only $22,195 (with a six-speed manual transmission).

Getting into the Forester last week at Northtown Subaru I also noticed a few other things which have probably made these smaller, AWD vehicles so popular: they’re easy to get into with a higher ride height than a standard car; outward visibility is excellent, with glass all around, a low beltline, and no trunklid lurking somewhere below the rear windowline like many cars today (which makes them awfully tough to back up—even with rear camera wizardry); and even though they’re somewhat compact in size, there’s plenty of passenger space, even for six-footers like me.

The test car, presented again by Mike Stepien of Northtown, was the Premium 2.5i model, one step up from the base 2.5i, and below the 2.5i Limited and Touring models. If you’ve read this far I’m sure you can figure out that the 2.5 models come equipped with the aforementioned 2.5-liter, 170-hp four-cylinder Boxer engine, attached to either the six-speed manual (2.5i and Premium only) or CVT. There are two other Forester models available: the 2.0XT Premium, and Touring. These have Subaru’s 2.0-liter turbocharged Boxer engine, which puts out 250 hp, and is connected to a high-torque CVT with paddle shifters and six- and eight-speed manual modes. As you can imagine, this is a much more sporty model, and includes three different driving modes and 18-inch wheels.

All Foresters (and most Subarus) come with Subaru’s Symmetrical All Wheel-Drive System. What this does is send power to all wheels simultaneously for what Subaru describes as maximum traction and acceleration. While there are different systems used by Subaru depending on the car’s transmission, they basically perform the same task. Usually there’ll be somewhere around a 50/50 or maybe 60/40 torque split between front and rear axles during normal conditions; this can transform up to 80/20 or 20/80, or 90/10 or 10/90 depending on traction conditions. There are myriad of web pages with photos, diagrams, and paragraph-upon-paragraph explaining the engineering of it all, but I don’t pretend to understand any of it. I just know that it works. Somehow.

Driving the 2.5-equipped Forester can best be described as “non-offensive.” I don’t imagine that too many people shopping in this category are looking for blazing speed. And they won’t be disappointed. It’s by no means sluggish, but it just does what it needs to do. The steering and braking systems are both responsive with no surprises, and I had no problem with the controls, although one web review complained about the complicated stereo controls. Huh? Left knob for on/off, right knob for tuning—doesn’t get much easier. Theirs must have had the optional nav system, which can often complicate the audio controls when they’re all integrated into one unit.

All 2015 Foresters now have a standard backup camera, which shares a screen used for readouts on your mpg, the stereo, or a nifty electronic analog clock for your time-telling pleasure.

The new Forester should have no problem staying at or near the top of the list of small SUV buyers. Snow, or no snow.

More info at: subaru.com.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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