2015 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT Premium:
Subaru shows its sporty side. Ish.
Price: $28,495, as tested. No options on test vehicle.
Marketer's pitch: "Confidence in motion."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "roomy interior, admirable fuel economy, availability of a stout turbocharged engine, standard all-wheel drive, great safety scores, and available advanced safety features" but not the "finicky touch-screen interface; base engine is raucous at higher r.p.m."
Reality: The Forester may not do sporty all that well, but it still does Subaru well.
'Tis the season: Not for Santa - even though the stores have been rushing us for a month now - but for Subaru. Fall is when a young driver's fancy turns to all-wheel drive.
Up to speed: The 250 horses swirling around the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine get the Forester on the highway in a hurry. In previous incarnations, I've found the 170-horsepower 2.5-liter boxer engine - still standard on other trim levels of the Forester - a little on the pokey side.
On the road: The Forester does not handle all that well, even with the low-profile tires and gigantic rims of the test model. It's the first vehicle in a long time that I've made squeal, and I don't tend to push vehicles to their limits.
Rides through the winding back roads of Chester County and environs showed the Forester's tendency to exude a bit of body roll. Not terribly much for the small crossover it is, but more than, say, a Mazda CX-5.
One with the road: Something about the Forester - just like in the previous version I tested - reassures with a sense of competence. It just gives a vibe of easy to handle, easy to maneuver, and good visibility. The Forester is a likable machine.
Putting this to a stop: Braking, though, did not seem up to the usual standards of new vehicles. I kept overshooting my goal in stopping, which is kind of astounding, especially considering the giant brakes that come with the giant wheels and the low-profile tires.
Turn on, tune in: The basic radio without Sirius XM was actually a challenge to adjust.
But the sound was awesome. Even without a midrange control, it picked up parts of songs that even the premium Audi system missed.
Not a music fan? For many, the sound that Subaru's horizontally opposed engines make is the best music of all. I find it's the closest thing to an old air-cooled Volkswagen - my first automolove - albeit a much quieter version.
I even drove without music for the first couple of days, which is usually difficult for me, but between that little clackety engine and the quiet turbo whine, the vehicle itself plays an enjoyable tune.
Driver comfort: The driving position is great. The seat arrangement offers Mr. Driver's Seat a commanding view. Even the basic seats on the tester were comfortable and supportive.
Friends and stuff: Cargo space is maximal - 31.5 cubic feet behind the second row. Rear-seat passengers enjoy plenty of room for legs, even people seated in the middle. The hump barely intruded into this all-wheel-drive vehicle, and the rear seat accommodates three sets of shoulders.
Shiftless: Continuously variable transmissions offer a wide selection of ratios to transmit power to the wheels - many more than the standard six, seven, or eight gears of a regular automatic - but they also vary from vehicle to vehicle in driving pleasure. The CVT in the Forester I drove was smooth and never bothered me, and had none of the golf-cart character of the poorer CVTs I've experienced (yes, I'm looking at you, Mitsubishi).
Customers who prefer to shift can't do so with the turbocharged engine. The six-speed manual is available only with the standard 2.5-liter boxer four cylinder, and then you're back to putt-putting.
Fuel economy: 25 m.p.g. in the usual Mr. Driver's Seat habitat of the Chester County suburbs, and Philadelphia highways and city streets. This is pretty good for a peppy Subaru; historically, even the dog versions have gulped more than their share of fuel.
Where it's built: City of Ota, Gunma Prefect, Japan.
How it's built: The 2015 Forester gets a recommended rating from Consumer Reports and a top predicted reliability rating.
In the end: It's peppy, it's spacious, but the handling may be less than ideal for the serious enthusiast. Still, for the rest of us, with its all-wheel drive, competent operation, and superb reliability, the Forester is kind of a no-brainer.