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When I think of manufacturers that produce dependable vehicles but with very little panache, Subaru and Volvo quickly come to mind. They both make automobiles with plenty of enviable qualities, yet will leave some car shoppers looking elsewhere simply because of their appearance.

The latest edition of the Subaru Forester certainly fits that characterization. Although the Forester provides a solid ride as a commuter vehicle and can go rugged when faced with snow and wet road conditions, it’s not the most eye-appealing crossover sport utility vehicle on the road.

Want something fancy? Look elsewhere because the Forester is pretty stodgy in design, both interior and exterior, where its square-back end could definitely use a style change.

But don’t expect Subaru owners to be making any apologies. There’s no doubt that this model and actually all Subarus are vehicles with some great upside. Every Subaru comes with all-wheel drive, so it performs admirably under any adverse road condition.

The Forester debuted back in the late 1990s when it was introduced as a wagon. It was oversized and just looked odd. Now in its third generation, the 2011 Forester is a compact SUV that is facing some stiff competition in the Mazda CX-7, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and even the Chevrolet Equinox.

What does make the Forester competitive are qualities like its class-best 8.7 inches of ground clearance, roomy cabin, comfortable ride, standard all-wheel drive, and the choice of a turbocharged engine. The turbo is new this year, along with two new trim levels – the 2.5X Touring and the 2.5XT Touring.

The Forester Premium was tested here. Like all models with the exception of the turbo, the Premium’s engine is a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower. The Forester doesn’t have great acceleration, yet it’s good around town and can perform fairly well in the hills.

The ride is better than the performance. The Forester offers a smooth ride and the steering is responsive, making tight turns and exhibiting maneuverability that seems like no big chore.

The cabin isn’t eye-appealing, yet it does have some nice qualities. Front passengers will experience plenty of head and leg room, while folks in the back seat will find it fairly spacious as well. The cargo area is one of the best in its class. What does need some improvement is the cabin design. However, it is straightforward and easy to master.

The Forester is fairly priced – ranging from $20,495 to just under $30,000 – and gets 21-27 mpg.

2011 Subaru Forester

Power: 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 170 horsepower
Mileage estimate: 21-27 mpg
Price: $26,995

Standard features include: automatic headlights; tilt steering column; four-speaker stereo, CD player, auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth with audio streaming; panoramic sunroof; roof rails; eight-way power driver seat; foglights, automatic climate control; all-wheel drive; antilock brakes with brake assist; traction and stability control

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