The Subaru Forester is a compact SUV similar in size to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Forester and RAV4 look similar when parked side by side. All of these are considered crossover vehicles with car-based chassis designed to offer good driving characteristics and good fuel economy.
The Forester is slightly longer than the CR-V, slightly shorter than the RAV4. Forester is an inch narrower than the other two. It's slightly taller than the CR-V, the RAV4 is the tallest.
Forester XT is distinguished by a functional hood scoop. We like the five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels. From the rear, the XT has a twin chrome-tipped exhaust and a spoiler over the rear window.
Inside is a comfortable cabin with comfortable seats. The cloth seats come in gray or black, and are on the conservative rather than sporty side. The available perforated leather is a whole new ball game, erasing the almost-frumpy feeling sent by the cloth.
Driver visibility is excellent in all directions. The A-pillars were designed to minimize blind spots. The Forester XT gets sporty aluminum pedals, which we liked. We found the air conditioning cools well, fast and quiet.
Instrument colors have been revised for 2010, for easier readability. There's a digital display over the center stack for time and temperature. The dash has a nice gullwing sweep from the center stack off to the passenger side, in brushed-aluminum-looking plastic material, interrupted only by a single climate vent. Underneath is a big glovebox.
The center stack has aluminum-look trim. Just forward of the shift lever is a good-sized cubby. Climate and audio controls on the center stack are simple to operate. The front doors have a nice elbow rest and large pockets each with a recess for 24-ounce bottles. The center console is deep, and slides forward four inches to make an armrest.
The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat to make a gigantic cargo area capable of carrying lots of gear. Cargo space measures 33.5 cubic feet with the rear seat up, 68.3 with the seats flat.
The rear seat reclines and includes a retractable center tray with fixed drink holders. Legroom is excellent. The front door is wide, and the rear doors swing open 75 degrees, making it easy to get in and out.
There's a lot of headroom. There's headroom even when you jack the height-adjustable driver's seat to the top. The optional panoramic moonroof cuts into headroom, but it feels like more because it's the sky that's over your head.
The navigation system is not the best available. In the daytime it's hard to read with sunglasses, because there's a lack of contrast.