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2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

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San Francisco:  Just when I think Subaru cannot do anything better, they introduce another model that blows me away. I cannot think of a Subie that I did not like. Oh all right, the original Forester was not my favorite. It looked like, well, it looked down right frumpy.

Subaru redesigned it and it looks a whole lot better to me now. They did something else as well. They installed a version of the WRX’s intercooled, turbocharged, flat 4-cylinder engine in the Forester and called it the 2.5 XT.

It is not identical to the WRX. It makes less horsepower, 210 versus 227, but more torque with 235 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm versus 217 @ 4,000 rpm. Make no mistake, the WRX is faster, but the Forester XT is by far easier to drive in 99% or the real world. I am not sure how Subaru accomplished this, maybe the turbo is smaller and spools up quicker, maybe the compression ratio is a little higher, maybe it is the variable valve timing, or maybe it is a difference in transmission and final drive gearing. Bottom line – it does not matter because it works. The XT has great off-the-line oomph, excellent top gear passing ability, and relaxed cruising.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Forester, it is Subaru’s SUV. Okay, it is no Suburban. If you think of it as a taller wagon, you have it. I happen to like these smaller SUVs; they make sense to me. It only seats five but everyone has a decent seat, and you do not need to bring a ladder to climb in – it has a normal chair height. There is plenty of cargo room behind the rear seat (32 cubic feet) and even more with the rear seats (60/40 split) folded (64.1 cubic feet).

Like all Subarus, the Forester is all-wheel-drive (AWD). It does not have a transfer case with a high and low range. The power is automatically directed to the wheel(s) that need it. It is a system that works and has proven itself reliable. The XT is equipped with a limited-slip rear differential. You know what? If you are stuck in the snow with the Forester XT, you should not have been there in the first place.

Two transmissions are available for the XT, a 5-speed manual, and a 4-speed automatic. I drove a manual transmission XT but I have driven Subarus with the 4-speed automatic and they are very good transmissions. Subaru has something called the "Subaru Hill Holder" hydraulic clutch. I am not sure how it works, and it really spooked me when I first encountered it, but it is great. (Subaru had a similar system back in the 1980’s that disappeared after a few years.) What happens is, when you pull up to a stop on a hill, you press the brake pedal and release it, and the car does not roll! Imagine it, no more looking like a rank amateur in San Francisco. The Hill Holder releases as the clutch is engaged, making for a smooth take-off. Cool.

Another cool thing about the XT is that it comes very well equipped. It has ABS, front airbags, head and side-impact airbags, a 120-Watt AM/FM weather band stereo with in-dash 6-disc CD changer and 7 speakers, an automatic climate control system, cruise control, heated power side mirrors, heated front seats, fog lights, power locks, roof racks, sport gauge pack, and more.

You are not going to be towing any horse trailers but it will pull that tent trailer. You can pull up to 2,000 lbs with an automatic, and 2,400 with the manual transmission.

I was not impressed with the tires on the Forester XT. Oh sure, the size is impressive – 215/60R16 M+S all season radials mounted on handsome alloy rims – but they sure did give up on grip early. They may work great in the snow but they need some better dry weather grip. Most drivers probably would not notice; the XT was not built to be a pseudo racecar. I admit I tend to push what I drive more than the average driver.

Funny thing, the automatic (19/23) gets just slightly better mileage than the manual (18/23), although it is not enough to worry about. I prefer the manual but hey, if you do not like to shift you can justify it by telling everyone you are saving fuel.

Okay, how much does the Forester XT cost? The base lists for $24,970, the XT Premium $27,520. What is the difference? Leather interior, oversize moon roof, and it only is available with an automatic transmission. As much as I like leather, I think I will stick with the base model. You will have to make up your own mind.  By Bruce Hotchkiss AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  The Forester is Subaru's SUV
Topic:  2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT
Word Count:   858
Photo Caption:  2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT
Photo Credits:  Subaru Internet Media
Series #:   2004 - 03

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