Between the two powertrains, the Forester's on-the-road personality can be quite different. 2.5X models are adequate but not quick, whether you go with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox or 5-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5XT's turbocharged engine comes mated only to the 4-speed automatic, and they work well as a team, with an uninterrupted wave of torque for acceleration or passing.
The Forester rides and handles like a car, with a 4-wheel independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and a stiff body that extensively uses high-strength steel. But with 8.9 inches of ground clearance and symmetrical all-wheel drive on either model, the Forester has a surprisingly level of trail ability--as well as winter-driveway ability.
Seating is upright and supportive, the back seat is just roomy enough for a couple of adults (or three kids); and the boxy body affords a pretty good view out. Seats fold forward to an expanded cargo floor, and all models but the base 2.5X come with a reclining rear seatback and retractable rear cargo tray. In addition to the all-wheel drive system, which might be considered a safety system in itself, side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control with a rollover sensor and Brake Assist are among the many safety features that come standard in the 2012 Forester.
Base Forester 2.5X models include a strong list of convenience items, such as remote keyless entry, cruise control, a multi-function trip computer and a center console lid that can adjust to be an armrest. The base audio system also includes Bluetooth, hands-free calling and audio streaming, iPod controls, a USB port and Sirius satellite radio capability. Premium models get 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat, tilt/telescopic steering adjustment, a panoramic moonroof and other upgrades. Limited models include perforated-leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps and an all-weather package bringing heated front seats, heated side mirrors and a wiper de-icer. Touring models get HID headlamps, mirror-integrated turn signals, silver-finish roof rails and a rear spoiler on the outside, plus dual-zone climate control, electroluminescent displays, a one-touch rear seat-folding arrangement and a rear-vision camera.
Newly available this year in the Limited model is a touch-screen navigation system with voice controls, iTunes tagging, text-messaging capability and HD radio. But for those who don't want to spend quite as much, there's also an optional TomTom navigation system, with a smaller, 4.3-inch screen; that system is removable and can display the input from a dealer-accessory rearview camera system.