The 2012 Subaru Forester benefits from an all-new, 170-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-four engine that was introduced last year. The new engine delivers better fuel economy than in older Forester models, and should require less maintenance due to its chain-driven dual overhead camshafts. Acceleration is good with the five-speed manual transmission--available only in the 2.5X model--but the wide ratios of Subaru's aging four-speed automatic transmission slow things down a bit.
The more expensive 2.5XT model adds a turbocharger, boosting power to 224 horsepower and torque to 226 pound-feet. It drives only through the four-speed automatic, so while acceleration is good once the turbo spools up, the same problem of widely spaced ratios handicaps the Forester's overall progress, meaning it's not as enjoyable as it might be with a more modern automatic.
Like most Subarus, the handling is the secret strength of the 2012 Forester. The flat four gives it a low center of gravity, and it's simply the best-balanced and most rewarding crossover in its class. The handling is closer to that of a sport sedan than of a tall crossover, and the low seating position belies the practicality of the whole vehicle. Subaru's all-wheel drive system provides enormous grip out of corners, as well as the ability to negotiate both muddy trails and deep snow. And its 8.9 inches of ground clearance only reinforce its mountain-goat tendencies.