(Above): Exterior view of the 2011 Subaru Forester.

If you’re always driving up and through the mountains and on messy roads, making the trip in a car with an all-wheel drive is a necessity. The zippy Subaru Forester might be just the ticket, writes Sally Miller Wyatt.

Subaru’s Forester is an all-wheel drive vehicle that will certainly get you there, but why not enjoy the kind of ride this zippy sport utility offers? It also doesn’t hurt that you can opt for an “All Weather” package on the Forester that includes heated seats and side-view mirrors and a de-icing feature for the windshield wipers. With the Tahoe-like weather we’ve been experiencing in Solano County lately, that has come in quite handy.

The Forester has been in production for a number of years, and the 2011 version offers a few new features. These standard enhancements include an all-new engine that has the same horsepower but a slightly increased torque, and slightly improved fuel economy. It also has high intensity headlights, a display audio system with backup camera, dual zone climate control, side mirrors with integrated turn signals and silver finish roof rails. Bluetooth is also standard on all Forester models, as is an improved audio system with iPod control, USB port and even Sirius satellite radio capability.

Upgrade to the premium models and you get such things as a 10-way power driver’s seat and an optional TomTom Navigation system that has a removable touch screen, a driver’s auto up/down window with pinch protection, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

(Above): Exterior view of the 2011 Subaru Forester.

Our test car was the premium model, and in addition to the above mentioned items, it also came with optional four-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, for another $1,000.
As for standard safety features on board the Subaru Forester, the list begins with top flight braking features such as Electronic Brake Force Distribution, anti-lock brakes, four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control, and a safety pedal system. The car is equipped with side curtain air bags with a rollover sensor, as well as the advanced frontal air bag system. Active front seat head restraints help minimize whiplash injury in a rear-impact collision.

Behind the wheel, you’ll find the driver’s cockpit is on the tight side, but the seat is firm and comfortable. The dashboard controls are angled toward the driver and on the tiny side, especially radio dials. A tall-ish windshield and high roof line really gives the interior a feeling of airy spaciousness, and the windows allow a lot of light and brightness into the car.

Rear outboard seat passengers get to spread out a bit, as there is a good amount of leg room here. The middle position would probably be most comfortable for a child, as the foot room is a little compromised, the seat cushion has a fold-out cupholder in it and the back cushion has a fold-down arm rest.

(Above): Cargo area and interior view of the 2011 Subaru Forester.

The cargo area is accessed through a wide lift-gate and it is generous. Lift up the cargo floor’s hard felt cover and there are a few nooks and crannies that can serve as storage.

On the road, the Subaru Forester is a good-sized SUV that handles on the spry side. With its easy turning radius and good visibility, you shouldn’t have any problems spotting and avoiding hazards in parking lots or on mountainous roads.

Overall, I found the 2011 Subaru Forester to be a fun car to drive, packed with great-to-have safety features and lots of room for cargo, but should probably be best treated as a four-passenger vehicle.