PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- Waves of thick fog shroud the twin-rut trace, hacked through a forest of towering firs, which climbs slopes on Mt. Angeles in the Olympic National Park. The dense mist, clinging to timber boughs along the precipitous route, obscures all views of this spectacular setting overlooking a narrow Pacific strait separating the Olympic Peninsula of Washington from Canada's Vancouver Island.
Yet so many vaporous clouds and a steep and slippery trail cannot retard the forward progress of a 2012 rendition for Forester, the go-anywhere crossover utility vehicle by Subaru of Japan.
With one driver's hands griping a sporty steering wheel and the automatic transmission's manual shift mode set in the lowest gear, a Forester 2.5XT Touring edition applies big torque from a gutsy turbo-charged four-cylinder engine to all four wheels through a four-wheel-drive (4WD) mechanism which operates automatically.
Then the engine's muscle rotates four nubby Yokohama Geolander G95 M+S all-season tires, which claw through dirt and chat and propel our Forester up that Olympic slope.
Forester actually makes a driver's job easy because all mechanical aspects are direct and simple and efficient.
The easy-to-operate simplicity of Forester has been a primary factor driving sales since the wagon first appeared in Subaru's line as a 1998 model.
Subaru developed Forester as a different kind of sport utility which eliminates the harsh ride and ungainly handling of a truck-based SUV by borrowing the chassis of a passenger car, namely Subaru's compact-class Impreza.
And many of Forester's mechanical systems -- such as the four-wheel independent suspension system, the four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine and Subaru's direct all-wheel-drive (AWD) system -- show up on other vehicles in the line.
Subaru's engines, with four cylinders opposed horizontally and set perpendicular to the drive line, employ equal-length drive shafts and function like boxers jabbing directly at one another so there's little vibration or residual torque steer.
Power from the engine moves directly through an intelligent transfer case for distribution to all of the wheels, with scant loss of energy in the process.
Because Subaru's AWD system is so efficient, there's only a modest sacrifice in fuel economy figures to use it.
Thus, Subaru's AWD design bursts the bubble of typical 4WD systems, which can cost a bundle initially, guzzle fuel and make as much noise as a truck.
With the Subaru system, you end up with sure-footed, confidence-building traction hardware designed to keep the vehicle safely rooted on any type of road surface and for a price that's highly competitive with vehicles rigged for only 2WD systems.
Forester was rebuilt in 2003 and earned optional turbo-charged power in 2004, with the 2006 models showing revised exterior designs, more equipment aboard and power boosts to the turbo-charged and naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engines.
Then in 2009 Subaru recast Forester for a third generation in a bigger and stronger package. And in 2011 Subaru made some mid-cycle revisions which included a new engine and numerous upgrades.
For 2012, all trim versions of Forester provide a standard height-adjustable passenger seat and offer an optional navigation system with enhanced music and connectivity features.
Forester 2012 has six trim grades: 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, 2.5X Limited, 2.5X Touring, 2.5XT Premium and 2.5XT Touring.
All 2.5X models carry a 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer-style engine with aluminum block and cylinder heads, double overhead camshafts (DOHC) and the Subaru Active Valve Control System (AVCS). This plant produces 170 hp at 5800 rpm with torque reaching to 174 lb-ft at 4100 rpm.
The engine ties to a five-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist (ISA) or an optional electronic direct-control four-speed automatic with lockup torque converter and Manual Shift Mode (MSM).
Subaru also forges two souped-up Foresters -- the 2.5XT Premium and 2.5XT Touring -- packing a turbo-charged and inter-cooled DOHC 2.5-liter boxer four-pack with AVCS. Output climbs to 224 hp at 5200 rpm and torque zips to 226 lb-ft at 2800 rpm.
Sole transmission for turbo 2.5XT models is the electronic direct-control four-speed automatic with MSM.
Forester's full-time AWD system has different versions for manual and automatic transmissions. For the manual, a viscous-coupling device locks the center differential, while an electronically managed continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch works with the automatic transmission -- Subaru labels this system Active All-Wheel Drive.
Extensive safety gear shows up in 2012 Foresters, including frontal and seat-mounted side air bags for the front row and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above outboard seats on first and second rows. Four-wheel disc brakes tie to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA) plus a stability system labeled Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC).
MSRP figures for the 2012 Forester begin with entry issue Forester 2.5X listing for $20,595. Top trim Forester 2.5XT Touring tallies to $29,895.