These days, the idea of a high-performance SUV is commonplace, like political fights on Facebook, and air travel, and socks. But back in 2005, nobody was doing high-performance SUVs except for Porsche (who you’d expect to be making a high-performance SUV) and Jeep (who you’d expect to be making a high-performance SUV with chrome wheels).
Then Subaru stepped in.
You probably don’t know about the first-generation Forester XT unless you’re from Vermont or Colorado, but that’s why you have me: I’m from Colorado, and I remember when the Forester XT first came out in 2004. Everyone knew Subaru for making boring, drivable, all-wheel-drive cars, and then they came out with a crossover SUV that could beat most sports cars … except it didn’t look like anything except a crossover SUV.
Here are the details: The Forester came out in 1998, or somewhere in that era, and the original one was pretty boring, but people bought them anyway, and then their head gaskets failed. The next-generation Forester came out in 2003, and it looked suspiciously like the original model, except with rounder bumpers. It was a bit of a letdown … until the XT came out.
The XT debuted in 2004 as a turbocharged high-performance version of the Forester — and it offered both a 5-speed manual transmission or a dull 4-speed automatic. The incredible thing was the performance. Subaru claimed the XT made just 210 horses, which is absolutely nothing by modern standards and wasn’t even that special then, but there was a problem: Magazines kept testing it and getting ridiculous numbers. Car & Driver took the Forester XT from zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds, and other magazines posted similar times — not exactly what you’d expect from a 210-horsepower SUV.
I have no idea if the XT was underrated, and I’m not sure why it ever would’ve been — except maybe because Subaru didn’t want a Forester to eclipse its 227-horsepower WRX in terms of engine power. Either way, the Forester XT certainly punched well above its weight class — and with subtlety that only Subaru could pull off. Since they had no experience making crazy sports cars with tacky fake carbon-fiber additions, they skipped all that stuff.
Eventually, the Forester was redesigned, and today’s XT model — while still cool and turbocharged — somehow makes more power (250 hp) and offers worse acceleration (6.3 seconds for zero to 60) than the original. Sure, it may be newer, and better-equipped, and more spacious, and safer, but that original Forester XT was a subtle stick-shift rocket ship — and one you probably didn’t even know about. Find a used Subaru Forester for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.