Red Bull Global Rallycross Mid-Season Update

As the Red Bull Global Rallycross is heading to Washington D.C. – presented by Volkswagen – this weekend, there have been some exciting mid-season developments from the series.

It was announced earlier in the week that both Dave Higgins and Travis Pastrana will be competing in the September Los Angeles double-header alongside their Subaru teammates Bucky Lasek and Sverre Isachsen. Higgins is currently unstoppable on a rally winning streak, most recently taking the podium at the New England Forest Rally in Maine this past July. Pastrana is right on his tail, too, having taken P3 at the same really – this despite missing a stage with mechanical issues. It will be very competitive on the course in California with four Subies on the course – watch out, Ford.

Dave Higgins | Craig Drew rallying to a win in the 2015 New England Forest Rally

Travis Pastrana | Chrissie Beavis competing in the 2015 New England Forest Rally

While Dave Higgins has been tearing through forests in a Subaru, Rhys Millen won Pikes Peak this past June 2015 in an electric car. After Hyundai pulled sponsorship from Rhys Millen Racing after the 2014 GRC season, Millen decided not to compete in the series for 2015. But now he’s hinting strongly, in figurative all caps really, on social media that he just might bring the Hyundai out of retirement and rejoin the competition in LA. In fact, he’s begging people on Instagram to start a rumor that he will be racing in LA, so here you go, Rhys. Here’s a reminder of what his GRC Veloster sounds like:

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Rhys Millen on the GRC podium in Los Angeles 2014

Back to this weekend in D.C. – all eyes will be on Tanner Foust and Scott Speed in their manufacturer’s home territory. Foust just finished third at FIA World Rallycross in Trois Rivieres August 7. Speed took P2 in both finals of the GRC double-header in Detroit, so the Beetles will be primed to give some fierce competition to the dominating Ken Block – but don’t overlook Patrik Sandell who won the second day in Detroit, and also won last year in D.C.

Tanner Foust, GRC-Detroit, 2015

Supercars Podium Sunday

If you’re in the US, keep your eyeballs on NBC Sports for the Supercar live broadcast Saturday August 15 at 3:00PM EST, and he Supercar Lites will be shown Wednesday August 19 at 4:30PM.

Red Bull Global Rallycross Detroit Double-Header

It may seem like a no-brainer for a series such as Red Bull Global Rallycross to bring their bombastic brand of motorsport to the traditional center of the American automobile, Detroit – but after a few failed attempts, they finally made it happen. What’s more, the .757 mile course – one of GRC’s longer, faster courses – was set up on Belle Isle, incorporating part of the Grand Prix track which IndyCars more commonly zoom around. The counterclockwise course wrapped around the fountain in four turns, with the Joker Lap a quick turn around the fountain’s north side on the inside of the course loop. After traversing the jump, drivers headed into the dirt hazard at turn 8 – then a fast straightaway to gradual turns 9 and 10 to finish. Across the Detroit River loomed the Ford-funded, General Motors-owned Renaissance Center.

GRC does the D.

This season, instead of using truck loads of packed dirt, the trademark jump was constructed with scaffolding and wooden planks. Arriving for practice on Friday, things were a bit tense as workers rushed to complete the already behind schedule jump. Things got a bit more worrisome when practice began and whole planks had to be replaced after being torn up and broken by the cars on each run. Dirt was packed onto the jump entrance and exit for smoother, more solid transitions, but GRC Lites qualifying was eventually cancelled to get the jump truly race-ready.

Deegan Debris Trail

Lasek Inspects Jump

The jump was in much better shape for the first of two days of finals on Saturday. A muggy day threatened rain, but thunderstorms were thankfully avoided. 18-year-old Alex Keyes was a favorite in GRC Lites, and Brian Wong was stepping in to represent Rhys Millen Racing in Detroit. 16-year old Austin Cindric – slated to race a Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX in the upcoming Pirelli World Challenge in Mid-Ohio – held on in the final to place third, while Californian Miles Maroney came in second. GRC Lites rookie Tanner Whitten, supported by DirtFish rally, took first place.

Tanner Whitten

Lites Podium Saturday

Fresh off a second-place overall finish the previous weekend at the New England Forest Rally in Newry, Maine, Ken Block maintained his momentum to win his first round heat. Patrik Sandell, racing in a Ford Fiesta, led the final until he ran into some mechanical issues. Block took over the lead for the top spot on the podium in his sixth career win, and Scott Speed prevented a Ford trifecta with his Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle wedged firmly in second between Block and Sebastian Eriksson (driving a Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta) in third.

Ken Block

Supercar podium Saturday

Sunday was hot, hot, hot, and primed for some shaking up. The Lites heats saw some carnage, ultimately knocking four cars out of competition. There was some tight competition between Miles Maroney and Alejandro Fernandez, with Maroney besting his previous days podium to come in first. Fernandez placed second, and Austin Cindric once again took third.

GRC-Lites-MIles-Maroney

Lites Sunday Podium

Sandell was back with a vengeance, winning the Supercar semi-final. The entire field, in fact was even more competitive than on Saturday, and a first-round pile-up in the final rendered Tanner Foust’s Beetle too damaged to continue. The final was started over with Sandell shooting to the front, as points leader Block incurred a controversial (to him) penalty for rough driving. Sandell jubilantly won the race, with the rest of the podium not changing at all from Saturday; scrappy Scott Speed with his Beetle still sandwiched in second between the Ford Fiestas of Sandell and Sebastian Eriksson.

Foust's Dead Beetle

GRC-Sandell

Supercars Podium Sunday

Detroit marked Red Bull Global Rallycross’s mid-season, and heads next to Washington, DC August 15, 2015. Patrik Sandell won in DC last year – so it will be interesting to see if he can do it again this year. Or, will the dominant Ken Block come back to win his seventh GRC victory? Will the VARX Beetles edge the Fords off the top of the podium? Can the scrappy Subaru Rally Team, well, rally and regain the competitive edge they honed last year, and we saw glimpses of in MCAS New River? The competition is itchy – tune in this August. 

 

Higgins and Drew Dominate at New England Forest Rally

For the 25th anniversary of the New England Forest Rally based in Newry, Maine –  and encompassing rally stages in both Maine and near Errol, New Hampshire – speculation was high. Subaru’s rally team –  Dave Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew – were so far undefeated this season, but some formidable competition was posing a serious challenge. Would the streak continue to win the championship with Adam Yeoman (2011 Rally America Rookie of the Year) and Jordan Schulze, the inimitable Ken Block with Alex Gelsomino, Dave Sterckx with Renaud Jamoul, Nick Roberts / Rhianon Gelsomino, and team mate Travis Pastrana and Chrissie Beavis in the mix?


Higgins and Drew

In short – yes. And there was some bad rally juju for the others along the way. After hanging tight in second place, FY Racing’s Yeoman and Schulze were out after Stage 10 with a ball joint failure. Sterckx and Jamoul had a flat on day one and lost three minutes, then on the second day – in stage 11 of 13 – lost another two minutes to an electrical issue, knocking them out of podium contention.

As early as Stage 2, Pastrana / Beavis were facing some disappointment; the car had some frantic repairs on the side of Route 5 heading to the start of the stage, arriving around four minutes late. They couldn’t continue, however, and after a couple of donuts for the fans and marshalls hanging out at the start, it was back to service for the team – Pastrana saying that they would definitely be back on Saturday to start Stage 4.

Pastrana Donut

Block and Gelsomino weren’t without their own challenges. Block struggled with some engine issues, and had to finish the sixth stage with a throttle pedal zip-tied together after losing a disagreement with a bank. Roberts / Gelsomino had a flat in Stage 1, rolled in Stage 2, then the engine lost power in Stage 5 and they couldn’t continue after stalling on the way to service.

NEFR-Block

NEFR_Roberts-Gelsomino

Ultimately, Higgins and Drew handily maintained their winning streak coming in first overall to win the championship, with Block / Gelsomino in second, and Pastrana / Beavis making up some incredible time for the third place.

Beyond the battle for the top three podium spots and the chance to spray some champagne, there was a whole lot of other things going on at NEFR. Lucy Block, married to some guy named Ken, drove an Ford Fiesta R2 with the best livery this side of the Martini-inspired Porsche.

NEFR-HeyLucy

porsche-guh

M-Sport partnered with partnered with Team O’Neil to introduce some new Fiestas to the American market with Ramana Lagemann driving a Ford Fiesta R5 2000cc, and  Brendan Reeves piloting the R2 1000cc. Ken Block is also in an M-Sport, the Fiesta HFHV.

NEFR-Ramana

Another surprise entry to NEFR was Colombian Gustavo Yacaman, better known for driving a Ligier LMP2 in the FIA World Endurance Championship. While he competed in GRC Lites in 2013, NEFR was his first stage rally, racing in a 2WD 2009 B-Spec Honda Fit.

The New England Forest Rally is held in otherwise serene forests on either side of the Maine and New Hampshire border chock full of beautiful views, thick pine trees, lots and lots of mosquitos, deer flies, and the looming spectre of a wayward moose. Fortunately, there are way more spectators than mooses, and it gets quite crowded from the Parc Expose to the final stage. Congratulations to all winners, both national and regional – and congratulations to the New England Forest Rally for 25 years of success.

2015 Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally

The first weekend in June saw a return to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania in much warmer weather for the 39th running of the Waste Management Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally. Held over two days, the entire rally covers almost 422.6 kilometers (262.6 miels), 192.2 kilometers (119.4 miles) of  competitive stages split between dirt roads on Waste Management property Friday and public roads in state parks on Saturday. Drawing 70 regional and international teams, STPR is the fifth of eight Rally America Championships held in 2015. Past winners have included Subaru Rally Team’s David Higgins/Craig Drew, as well as Ken Block/Alessandro Gelsomino.

Parc Exposé

Parc Exposé

After a sunny Parc Exposé Friday morning, the teams left The Green in Wellsboro and headed to the Waste Management stages 1 – 3. Last year, a jump near the spectator area was added, and it did not disappoint… the spectators, anyway. It’s a sad thing to hear a driver tell his kid, “Tell mommy we’re coming home a day early. We broke the car.” Car 157 (Super Production 2008 Subaru STI Tomasorally) driven by Tomas Solnicky with co-driver Ray Vambuts bounced on landing off the jump and spun in a huge cloud of impenetrable dirt. When the dust settled, the car was off the course and unable to continue, though driver and co-driver were fine. All in all, 62 teams finished the 14.3k (8.9 mile stage.) By the time Stage 3 came around on the same course, 61 teams started and 54 finished.

Just before landing and spinning off course in Stage 1.

Just before landing and spinning off course in Stage 1.

All teams and volunteers then returned to the Tioga Fairgrounds for Stages 4 & 5. These “Super Special” stages see two cars on an almost half mile dirt course at the the same time, taking two spins around a twisting route and ending on a straight-away in front of the filled grands stands. The weather had other plans, however, and a violent thunderstorm blew in and stayed. After a constant downpour with too-close-for-comfort lightning, the evening Super Stages were cancelled.

Team umbrella, heading over to shield another car being repaired from the rain.

Team umbrella, heading over to shield another car being repaired from the rain.

Thunderstorm that ultimately caused the cancellation of Friday's Super Special stage

Thunderstorm that ultimately caused the cancellation of Friday’s Super Special stage

After an early morning Parc Exposé in town, 61 teams headed to Stage 6 – and 56 finished. Stage 7 saw William Petrow and Raphael Orlove – already out of contention and driving for exhibition only – roll over after taking a turn wide and clipping the embankment on the edge of the course. The Broken Motorsports 1992 Nissan 240SX came to rest off the embankment heading down into some brush, but media and rally volunteers pushed the car back on course and they sped off.

Pushing car back onto course after rolling onto roof.

Pushing car back onto course after rolling onto roof.

Service in Germania saw many teams frantically fixing limping cars. Robert Pepper, driving a 1991 Porsche 944S2 with co-driver Mical Davis, said his team had been up all night with about 20 minutes of sleep fixing the transmission, which was left with a hole the size of his fist after Friday’s stages. “That’s rally.”

Germania Service

Germania Service

The carnage continued from stage to stage, and by the start of the 14th and last trail stage, 46 cars started and 43 survived. The weather was spectacular on Saturday, so competitors headed back to the fairgrounds to meet the fans then complete the Super Special stage. The still-muddy course saw a few spins and lots of flying dirt, especially when Pink Curl Racing in the 2006 Mustang (Paul Cacioppo and Niall Burns) faced off against the crowd-pleasing Gary DeMasi and Stephen Kurey in a 1985 Ford Ranger. The Mustang just about made it to the end, but the 2WD swerved and got stuck on a berm. Ultimately, Subaru Rally Team’s Dave Higgins and Craig Drew faced off against FY Racing Team’s Adam Yeoman and Jordan Schulze for the podium. Overall rally winners were Higgins and Drew continuing their winning streak for their 11th win in a row, the FY Racing Team in second, and Nick Roberts with co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino taking third for Nick Roberts Global Rally Team.

Podium

Podium

Full gallery:

Tommi Mäkinen beats the snot out of 2015 Subaru WRX STI

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For the recent launch of the new 2015 WRX STI, Subaru Canada took a bunch of Canuck auto journos to Buttonwillow Raceway, where they were introduced to a driver worthy of showing them what the STI is capable of. Tommi Mäkinen. We all get to go on some pretty cool events, but still I can’t help but feel jealous that I was not part of this trip. I mean come on, this is Tommi freakin Mäkinen, a real rally superstar. Watching him catch air in this bone stock, Canadian spec STI is most excellent, but it would have been better in person.

Just a note for some of you young bucks who might think that Mäkinen was solely a Mitsu pilot. Sure, his fame came from his performance in Subaru’s main rival’s machines, but the final two seasons of his career were spent in a Subaru. It is actually kind of frightening to think that the Finn retired fully 11 years ago! It seems like yesterday.

Review: 2014 Subaru Forester

091_2014Forester25iAh, Subaru. While the company has made great strides in going mainstream over the past few years, they still are not quite on the radar for the casual car buyer, who cannot be bothered to think about cars. You buy a Subaru because you seek one out. Sure, the easy thing is to just walk into a Honda or Toyota showroom, but even as Subaru is losing its quirkiness and expanding their appeal, their legion of fans remain loyal. I should know, I have relatives who have owned Subaru’s for nearly thirty years. And I get the appeal. My cousin taught me how to drive a stick shift in his 1976 Subaru wagon, which was an absolute riot to drive. Tall and narrow, we would navigate completely unmarked trails at the local park with nary a problem. Light blue with a blue plaid and vinyl interior, I was smitten with that car, and I wanted it badly, but by the time I was of driving age rust had taken its toll on the old girl.

So I had to smile when a 2014 Marine Blue Pearl Forester was dropped off to me, which has been redesigned for this year. Sadly, without a matching plaid interior. Yes, it is far more refined than the old ’76 Subie, but is the modern iteration of the tall, narrow wagon, or should I say crossover. What I miss about Subaru’s are their endearing but dorky looks. To the casual observer, this could be any car. Subaru has never been a company that looks to seek attention to itself, or be flashy, but the stylists took conservative styling to an extreme. Yes, it is a fine looking car, but what it lacks identity and character, qualities that were once the hallmark of Subaru.

137_2014ForesterLtdSubaru is known for their utility, and the interior of the Forester continues that tradition. Yes, it’s a little short on style, but that isn’t the point here. What we do have is a roomy interior with an impressive amount of cargo space. Finding a comfortable driving position is simple enough, and most of the main controls are intuitive to use. Unfortunately, our test car’s navigation and infotainment system was frustrating to use, and lags behind the competition. Selecting the SiriusXM satellite radio station you want should not have to be that hard. So, if you are in the market for a Forester, skip the high-end options, you will be much happier for it.

The new Forester is available with a choice of two engines, the first a 2.5L boxer four rated at 170hp, and a 2.0L turbo boxer four rated at 250hp. Of course, all Foresters are all-wheel drive. Base 2.5 Foresters can be had with a six-speed manual, but once you move up to higher trim levels, a Continuously Variable Transmission is your only choice. A manual tranny is not available with the turbocharged engine. Acceleration around town is adequate, the ride is comfortable enough, steering a bit numb-but the same can be said for most four cylinder small crossovers. The Subaru does the job it is supposed to do, but you never forget you are driving an appliance. Even the Subie’s signature boxer four’s engine note is muted. To quote, isn’t that what makes a Subaru a Subaru? The Garage are no fans of the mooing CVT transmissions which extracts all the joy out of driving, but buyers will no doubt appreciate the 24/32 MPG city/highway EPA fuel economy figures.

102_2014Forester25iThe Forester is available in six different trim levels. Our test car was the 2.5i Touring, the top-spec for for the base non-turbo engine. Standard equipment includes 17″ alloys, panoramic sunroof, dual zone auto climate control, 6.1″ LCD touch screen control panel with Navigation, Bluetooth, Harmon Kardon audio with HD radio and XMSirius satellite radio, power driver’s seat, power rear lift gate, leather interior, and heated front seats. Our test car added an option package which included keyless access and start, EyeSight Driver Assist, Pre-Collision braking system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision throttle management system and HID headlights, which are some pretty high-end tech items for such a modest CUV. All in, our Forester has an MSRP of $33,220USD. This is on the high end of the compact CUV price scale, but not a bad value for having the latest in high-tech safety features.

For sure, it was impossible to not recall my fond memories of my cousin’s beloved ’76 Subie, and as I watched the Forester drive off, again, I smiled having lived with a light blue, tall Subaru wagon. Yes, it still has the basic elements that make a Subaru a Subaru, chiefly a boxer engine, all-wheel drive, a no-nonsense interior and plenty of utility. What it lacks from Subaru’s of yore is that quirky character, but Subaru will quickly point out to me how much their sales have improved since they went mainstream. And they would also likely counter if it turned off their previous customers? To answer that, Subaru would also point out my cousin just bought a Subaru XV CrossTrek. His wife has a new Outback. And their son has a new Legacy. Question answered Subaru, carry on.

Global Rallycross carnage compilation by GoPro

rockstar

If rallysport is the purest form of motorsport, then rallycross has to be the purest form of racing. It certainly is the most exciting, for fans and drivers alike. The sport isn’t new, having been active across the Atlantic for decades, where competitors battle it out of race tracks that are a combination of dirt and pavement. With the launch of the Global RallyCross Championship a couple of years ago though, the excitement was pushed to a whole new level.
[Read more…]

Subaru Debuts 2015 WRX STI

HIGH RES GOLD WHEEL OPTIONThe 2014 North American International Auto Show opened its doors to the media for day two of press days, and Subaru took the wraps off its range topping Impreza WRX STI. Built to be the baddest STI of all time, on paper the car seems to deliver. Yes, the requisite outrageous bodywork is present and accounted for, with a unique nose, ultra-wide fenders, LED lighting front and back, capped off with an absolute over the top rear wing. The look is convincing, yet not at all cheesy. Still, no one will confuse you for the stereotypical granola eating Impreza owner. For the full effect, make a run for your local Subie dealer to snatch up the limited edition Launch Edition, which gives you WR Blue paint and gold BBS wheels. Only 1,000 will be built for the US.

Of course, looks are nothing without performance to back it up. The WRX STI sports a new 2.5L turbocharged boxer four good for 305hp. With no apologies to posers, a six speed manual is the only transmission choice. As God intended. Other enhancements include firmer springs, a stiffer chassis, quicker steering, Active Torque Vectoring, Multi Mode Driver Controlled Center Differential and Brembo brakes. If some of that sounds like I am speaking a foreign language, my interpretation is the WRX STI will likely have incredible handling on tarmac, dirt, and gravel.

Inside, the STI features Alcantara seating with red and black leather bolsters, flat bottomed steering wheel and the obligatory STI badges. For the first time audiophiles can rejoice, as Subaru has put a premium Harmon Kardon audio system on the option sheet. Need more posh? Go for the WRX STI Limited, which adds full leather interior and a power moonroof. No pricing, performance, or when we expect to see the WRX STI in showrooms have been disclosed, but I think I speak for all of us when I say I cannot wait.

h_STI rear_2

How To Buy A New Car Part II

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Welcome back to my story of leasing a new car for my wife. Part I detailed how, even though General Motors had cleared me for $2,500 off sticker price, two Chevy dealers did not honor the discount, with no explanation whatsoever. Our other consideration was a four door Subaru Impreza. Again, Subaru gave me employee pricing, and I approached Dan Perkins Subaru in Milford, CT. To his credit, our salesman honored the discount, but said he could do better, and he did. But, as I stated in my first post, I wanted no down payment apart from the first month’s installment. And Dan Perkins was having none of it. Even with exceptional credit, they demanded a substantial down payment.

Even accepting their terms, my largest hurdle was communication. The sales person I met gave me his card, and I e-mailed him the options and colors we were interested in. No response. I called the dealer, and spoke to him, but never got a call back. I visited the dealership in person, after my wife and I cruised the lot looking for cars we might be interested in. He wasn’t available, and the sales person who was available told me all the cars I looked at had been moved, and the dealership was closing soon, and I would have to come back. I again e-mailed my first sales person, specifying the Impreza we were interested in. No reply. And I know the e-mails were going through because I never received an undeliverable notice. But what burned me is Dan Perkins had me running around desperately around their lot looking for the car I wanted, and when I could not find it, told me to leave. When I sold Honda’s, the rule was as long as a customer was there, we stayed. Period. We never turned anyone way. Ever. With a complete lack of service from Dan Perkins Subaru, we threw up our hands and gave up. If they couldn’t be bothered to service and take care of us, they did not deserve our business.

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During this awful process, it was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, and the VW Beetle Convertible was the sponsored car. My wife has owned a ’92 VW Cabriolet and a ’95 VW Cabrio. Not to mention our romantic relationship started after watching Patrick Dempsey’s ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ movie, where his female interest drive a 1987 VW Cabriolet. It was serendipity, and although pricier than the Cruze and Impreza, I was determined to make it happen. I first called Curran Volkswagen in Stratford, CT. I was told they had one denim blue Convertible in stock, and they refused to discuss price over the phone.

So, we made a trip up to where we leased our 2010 Jetta, at Langan Volkswagen in Meriden, CT. Alexio, our sales person was very helpful, and for the first time in our shopping experience, was determined to find the exact car we wanted, not what was on the lot. It so happened my test car that week was a VW Beetle Convertible Turbo. On our way to and back from a family gathering in rural Connecticut, we were totally sold on the car, now it was a matter of price. I know my wife wanted the car badly, but it was a bit of a stretch from our Jetta. But I had to make it work.

We did get a discount off the sticker price. I then went to Truecar.com and got a slightly lower price than what I was quoted. Langan VW met that price. Then they also honored the discount I received from VW America. In buying a car, timing is everything. Since my wife was happy with the 2.5 inline five cylinder in her Jetta rated at 170hp, paired to a six-speed automatic, I had an ace up my sleeve. The five banger is going away for 2014, to be replaced with a more powerful and fuel efficient turbocharged four cylinder engine. With that in mind, VW wants to dump all remaining five cylinder Beetles.

Alex found us a gorgeous Reflex Silver 2013 VW Beetle Convertible, and my wife could not be happier. Yes, you might find it mad that for a family of three this is our family car, but may I remind you millions of families around the world had the Beetle as their sole car and it worked out just fine. The trunk can hold a week’s worth of groceries. The Beetle has so far worked out great for us, and again I thank Langan VW, and Alex personally for making the buying process as stress free as possible.

 

Subaru Prices 2014 Forester

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The Subaru Forester has undergone a massive transformation from when it started life as a 1998 model. With all-wheel drive, a boxer four cylinder engine and a slightly quirky persona, the Forester was a tall wagon that hit all the right notes with its loyal, and yes, quirky fan base. In 2008, Subaru ditched the tall wagon design of the Forester, and went typical compact crossover. Yes, sales of the Forester were up, but we questioned if Subaru had sold out. After testing a 2011 Forester, we concluded that Subaru had not, sticking with its core principles-all wheel drive, boxer engines, and turbocharging.

Which brings us to the all new 2014 Forester. Starting at $21,995USD for a base model 2.5i. A six-speed manual is standard-for $1,000 extra you can get a continuously variable transmission. I have to say it really disappoints me that Subaru opted for a CVT. The 2.5i is powered by 170hp boxer four, while there is the option of the 2.0 XT which features a 250hp turbocharged engine. The CVT is the only available transmission. A top-spec 2.0XT Touring will set you back $32,995. No word from Subaru as to when we can expect to see the new Forester in dealer showrooms.