The 2013 Subaru Forester is powered by a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-four engine that is only Subaru's third new engine in several decades. It's designed to be more fuel-efficient and require less maintenance than its predecessor, while providing the same power. It delivers good acceleration with the five-speed manual gearbox, but the aging four-speed automatic lets it down, with gear ratios so wide that acceleration is notably compromised.
If you want more power, the pricier 2.5XT model delivers 224 horsepower and 226 lb-ft of torque from the same size engine, courtesy of a turbocharger. This model of Forester is considerably quicker, but can only be ordered with the mediocre four-speed automatic transmission. Again, the widely spaced ratios--plus some degree of turbo lag--handicaps its overall progress. We rather suspect that next year's Forester will switch over to Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which delivers fuel efficiency in other models that's considerably higher than the supplanted automatic.
The plain exterior lines belie the Subaru's secret strength, which is its roadholding and handling. All Subarus, despite their high ground clearance, have a low center of gravity due to the flat-four engine configuration. That makes it one of the best-balanced crossovers in the compact segment, and one of the most rewarding to drive--though the new Mazda CX-5 will give the Forester a run for its money this year. The Forester handles more like a sport sedan than a tall crossover, and its low seating position reinforces the sedan feel.
The symmetric all-wheel-drive system delivers substantial grip coming out of corners, not to mention surefootedness in deep snow and along muddy and rocky trails. And the car's mountain-goat genes are assisted by its 8.9 inches of ground clearance.