Gasoline and granola doesn’t sound like the breakfast of champions to me.
But green-leaning, slightly square Subaru has long managed to whip it into a sweet mix with its gentle all-wheel-drive, fuel-sipping, earth-saving image.
As you know, style-challenged Subaru puts practicality and function far above performance and pretty lines — and it works exceedingly well.
For the last five years, the Japanese manufacturer has grown faster than any brand in the auto industry, selling upright crossovers and odd sedans that boast of being “partial zero emissions” vehicles.
Occasionally, though, solid-citizen Subie adds some bubbling high-octane fuel to the blend to feed more interesting crossovers like the turbocharged 2016 Forester XT Touring.
Not that Subaru is a complete stranger to the many pleasures of horsepower. Its low-selling WRX STI sedan can heat up any street.
The Forester XT packs plenty of personality — something Subaru somehow manages to squeeze into most of its vehicles.
The white Forester XT Touring model I had recently certainly looked innocent enough.
Tall for a compact crossover, the Forester sported unusually large windows and too much overhang in front, which made it look a bit clumsy. A long, fairly flat hood settled over a protruding front end dominated by large twin-projector headlamps and a blacked-out grille.
Big doors, a hatchback and fairly flat sides kept the emphasis on practical.
But look closer. Smallish dual exhausts protrude discreetly from beneath the rear bumper, and the XT rolls on slightly larger 225/55 tires wrapped around nice-looking 18-inch alloy wheels.
Like the regular Forester my parents own, the XT gets its motivation from an unusual “flat” four-cylinder engine that spins all four wheels — unfortunately through a continuously variable transmission.
Under the hood
Although Subaru limits the version in the XT to 250 horsepower, that is still a substantial 80 more than in regular models of the Forester.
Even tethered to a spirit-sapping CVT, the salty four-banger can push the Forester to 60 in a quick 6.3 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Though the engine would occasionally display some brief turbo lag, it generally shoved the Forester away from stops with enough gusto to push driver and passenger into their seats.
As with most vehicles that have CVTs, the Forester felt jumpy and strong through about 70 mph.
But from that point on, acceleration in the 3,700-pound XT felt kind of flat. That was mostly a characteristic of the CVT, which tries to keep rpm within the engine’s most efficient power range, even when speeds are rising.
Despite the extra power, the XT managed respectable fuel economy, getting 23 miles per gallon in town and 28 on the highway.
The grip and steering seemed more limited. Though the steering was light and fairly well-weighted, it didn’t provide much feedback from the road.
The new XT rides better than previous models, striding over highways and neighborhood streets with a relatively firm, athletic gait.
At $36,250, the XT kind of straddles that region between average transaction prices ($32,000 to $33,000) and what I view as near-luxury ($40,000 or so).
On the inside
The black interior in my XT reflected that. Basic with a fair amount of hard plastic, the interior nonetheless displayed some flair and efficiency.
Thanks to those tall windows, driver and passengers sit high with good visibility over the hood.
Meanwhile, a textured dashboard curved over the instrument panel, providing a second hood at mid-dash over a handy display that showed time, temperature and fuel economy.
A 7-inch screen lower in the dash was large enough to display things for a quick glance without becoming a major distraction.
If safety is a concern — and I think it is with many Subaru customers — the XT also offers adaptive cruise control that will supposedly stop the vehicle, lane-departure warning, pre-collision braking (a spooky concept) and Subie’s eyesight driver-assist system.
Moreover, legroom and headroom in the back are quite good for people under 6 feet tall, while the front seats felt comfortable despite being kind of flat.
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