The Forester XT is living, breathing proof that Subaru has lost its way. The Toyota-fication of the brand has now reached its pinnacle in the redesigned Forester, and it stands tall (really, really tall) as the perfect example of how to alienate the hippies and hoons that bought Subaru after Subaru. To put it succinctly, driving the new Forester XT is like answering the door expecting Ed McMahon with a check for a million dollars and finding your mother-in-law standing there instead. At least the MIL eventually goes home. The Forester XT just hangs around and keeps disappointing.
The illusion starts at the exterior. See that hood scoop? You may think that like the WRX and Legacy GT, the hood scoop means performance and fun. Instead, all it means is "Turbo inside" and nothing more. But even with the lump on the hood, the new Forester is definitely more attractive than the old one (kudos to Subaru for bucking the trend, there), but it represents a sharp shift from "boxy tall wagon" to "SUV." Why is Subaru making SUVs? Beats me, ask Toyota.
Step on inside. See that hood scoop? Yes, that bulbous nostril encroaching upon your field of vision that mocks you mercilessly day after day that you should have purchased the WRX. The ridiculously low front seats give occupants a nice view of the dash, hood scoop, and little else. The driver seat is thankfully height adjustable. Not so for the passenger, who peers out the window like a five year old struggling to see the road ahead. The seat bottoms are too short as well, providing about as much thigh support as a barstool and leaving both driver and passenger looking for somewhere to prop their knees.
But boy, are the rear seats gloriously spacious. I found myself thinking could I could overlook the front seats' shortcomings for the rear leg room alone. Then the cold hard reality hit me that (A) I'm going to be riding in the front 99.995% of the time and (B) it is wicked hard to reach into the baby's car seat to retrieve a pacifier when it's a half mile back. Families with long-legged teens will love the stretch-out space and the trick reclining rear seats. The rear seemed much more comfortable than the front– but the driver doesn't sit in the rear. The interior looks nicer than the WRX; quite nearly as nice as the Legacy, actually.
Let's make no bones about it, the only reason anyone would look at the XT over the base model lies beneath that functional hood scoop: the turbocharged 2.5L YEEEHAWWWW factor. The new Forester, like the WRX, packs more low-end torque at the expense of the high end but unlike the WRX it feels oddly sluggish overall. Want to add insult to injury? Here are your four automatic gears. The base Forester comes with a manual option; not so the XT. In fact, it doesn't even warrant the five-speed automatic. By this point, I'm starting to wonder if Subaru doesn't just want to discourage their hoon-oriented customers– they actively want to crush their spirits.
The overall experience feels like the last two Matrix movies. You know how much fun it could be, yet it's a stunningly horrible disappointment through and through. The handling, absolutely atrocious even by SUV standards, betrays Subaru's integral brand image. The loosey-goosey steering wheel feels like the ‘91 Explorer my parents drove. Understeer makes cornering an exercise in unexpected surprises. This fact might make you a safer driver, but not by choice. The whole thing handles like a sack of cornmeal being hauled by sled dogs – it's all mush.
Except instead of sled dogs, it's being hauled by nearly the best powerplant Subaru has to offer. Straight line motivation is an excellent adventure but God help ye otherwise. I can only imagine that such a ridiculously soft suspension and mammoth ride height gives it a passable ride in the rough, but if you have off-roading in your plans, why buy one of these when you can get a bargain bin Jeep instead? There's precious little to set the XT apart from the rest of the crop. Sure, it's fast(er), but who cares when driving it sucks the very soul out of you? Piloting it is an exercise in irritation and you feel like you're actively fighting against the Forester just to keep it on the road.
If you're looking for a sporty, fast CUV with room for the family, go buy an Acura RDX. It may be more expensive, but you'll never regret it. I can't fathom why anyone would spend their hard-earned cash on a new Forester, unless you're in that small group of Subaru lovers that won't have anything but a Subaru, and you live in the snow belt and/or need the extra room over an Outback for camping with the family. However, like Subaru, you can do better than this.