About an hour and a half from Denver on I-70 lies the Eisenhower Tunnel, at 11,000 feet above sea level.  If you live in the area and you ski, snowboard, or do anything in the mountains you’ve passed through it and two years ago it was the site of somber discussions between members of the Subaru Forester engine testing and development team and their boss, Kazuharu Ichikawa – the man who has been working on Subaru’s famous boxer engines for close to 25 years.

At altitude, the Forester engine just didn’t have the power necessary to impress. That’s a real problem for a Subaru, because Subaru wagons are standard issue in Colorado for getting to ski areas. They simply had to find more power.

So they rigged up a test mule with the 2.0-liter turbo engine used in the Impreza WRX. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. So they took the larger 2.5-liter engine from the Forester and gave it a turbo of its own, and the Forester 2.5XT was born.

The 2.5XT features a custom-made 210-hp, 235-pound-feet DOHC 2.5-liter boxer four with variable intake-valve timing through 35 degrees of crankshaft rotation and its own smaller Mitsubishi Heavy Industries intercooled turbo. Boost maxes out at 11.6 psi.  Oh and that 235 pound-feet at 3600 rpm is a whopping 42 percent more than the vanilla Forester engine generates.

The Forester 2.5XT also got some cosmetic surgery. Most noticeable, is the functional air scoop in its aluminum alloy hood.

When the Forester poses for a profile picture you get a look at its tasty five-spoke, 16-inch alloy wheels and matching high-performance tires.  Don’t worry, it’s beautiful on the inside too.  You get a special combination of instruments, seats, fabrics, textures, and interior graphics; a seven-speaker, 120-watt sound system with a six-CD changer; a chromed exhaust tip; brushed aluminum roof rails; and 2.5XT badging-all in a package for which the company is asking $1825, bringing the price of a five-speed manual version to $25,520. The Premium package-leather seating, a sunroof, and an automatic transaxle-will set you back another $2550.

Our Forester showed up with a 4 speed automatic transmission with an available Sport mode for making things more fun.  The 5 speed manual will, arguable, give you more fun but for a crossover vehicle capable of carrying 5 dudes comfortable to the mountains or a mountain of groceries home from Costco I think the automatic is probably the most versatile option.  Plus the automatic was still good for a 6 second 0-60 time.

The 2.5XT has it where it counts with its stiff yet light alloy wheels and the Yokohama Geolandar G900 all-weather tires paired to an independent front and rear strut suspension. The high-profile tires are perfect for cutting through snow and muck, but that doesn’t mean the XT is a slouch in the corners.

Another reason the XT has fantastic stable handling is that the XT isn’t as tall as your typical SUV, it feels more like a tall car – giving it a very comfortable step-in height as well.

What’s truly strange though is that once you’re inside it starts to feel like and SUV in size. With the rear seats up, there are 32 cubic feet of cargo space; with the seats folded down, it will carry 64 cubic feet of stuff. The roof rack will hold 200 more pounds of stuff, and the XT will trailer up to 2000 pounds with the automatic.

The Subaru Forester 2.5XT also has a very nicely appointed interior. You get sport seats, great textures, nice textiles, and metallic elements in the cockpit that look plenty good and feel like they’ll last a good while.

So how’d the Subaru Forester 2.5XT handle the Eisenhower Tunnel?  Like a dream, plenty of power to keep up, great handling for those sweeping mountain curves and great tires for humping it through snow.  The 2.5XT is a mountain goats dream.

Some of you might ask yourselves why you would get this car instead of a WRX wagon? And it’s a fair question to ask.  The Forester 2.5XT makes almost as much horsepower and more torque and has greater headroom and a cargo hold that’s larger and more regular in shape. If you’re looking for power it’s also significantly quicker than the WRX. It’s about the same price.