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2008 Subaru Forester XT - Family First

John Prisco’s STI-inspired Forester may put family first, but that doesn’t mean fast and fun have taken a back seat.

David Pratte
Jan 2, 2014
Photographer: Jordan Donnelly

Ever heard the expression "Families that play together, stay together"? For families driving around in run-of-the-mill minivans or SUVs, this presumably means going on vacation together or at least enjoying the occasional group outing. But for those of us who can't bear the thought of a family road trip in some soulless, bone-stock people-hauler, this expression tends to take on a slightly different meaning.

John Prisco and his family definitely fall into the latter category, where the saying may as well be "Families that modify their car together, haul ass together," given his subtly tuned yet thoroughly improved '08 World Rally Blue Subaru Forester XT. Call it a wagon, call it a crossover, or even call it an SUV. But what the SG-generation Forester XT is once you strip away all marketing-driven name-calling is an Impreza-based machine with the same all-wheel-drive system and turbocharged engine as the WRX.

2017 Subaru Forester
$22,595 Base Model (MSRP) 22/28 MPG Fuel Economy

As John explained, "My first car was a '76 Buick Skyhawk, bright orange, chrome American Racing wheels, a built 305, all the goodies. I slowly moved into the sport compact scene with a first-gen Acura Integra. I spent many years after that buying something different every year or two to satisfy the hunger. It was only in late 2007 that the craziness settled down. We had two kids, and my wife and I were tired of being minivan people. I started looking around again and ended up at the Subaru dealership here in Jacksonville, Florida. Out front as we pulled in was a vehicle that immediately excited me like none before. It was an '08 Forester XT in World Rally Blue. Back then I didn't know much about Subaru, but I looked past the stock form and could see it the way I wanted it to be."

2008 subaru forester xt rear right side view Photo 2/9   |   2008 Subaru Forester XT - Family First

There was just one problem, though. Being a brand-new car, it was outside of John's price range. But he was so excited about the FXT's potential as a fast and fun family hauler that he sent a picture of it to his mom, who told him to make it happen. "She loaned us the money for a down payment, and off we went. My mother passed away just a few months after we got the car, and I think she only saw it once. I decided that I was going to build it in her honor," John shared.

Selling his wife on the idea of modifying their brand-new grocery getter was the next challenge, but it sounds to us like she's been onboard since day one. "After purchasing and driving the XT for about a year, I was really craving some crisper shifting. I told my wife, ‘I'm just going to upgrade to a short shifter, and that's it. I promise.' She said OK and tried hard to hold back her laughter. It has come a long way since then and has really become my vision of a catalog build, with reliability and safety being at the top of the list."

From here the question for John became: How do I make a reliable street performance car out of a Forester? As he told us, "It's sort of an Impreza, but not really. I'm lucky to have a unique Subaru dealership in town that is full of performance specialists. It really started with their guidance. I worked with master techs William Maham and Brent Patchen on all of the upgrades. We covered all the bases, including engine, drivetrain, suspension, and brakes." This meant using all-new parts, most of which were Subaru factory goodies for the GD Impreza STi, along with some other hard-to-find Forester-specific items like the turbo-back exhaust, JDM Defi gauge cluster, and Subtle Solutions fender braces.

John's local Subie dealership also happened to have an in-house Dynapack chassis dyno, so that's where Doug Wilks from Top Speed worked his ECU tuning magic. As John explained, "Doug's been recalibrating Subaru ECUs for many years and had the in-depth knowledge of the EJ motor I needed. He came down from Atlanta and really took his time on the tune, setting up several maps to handle different driving conditions. In the end, we'd effectively doubled the horsepower and torque from the stock setup while maintaining OE reliability."

2008 subaru forester xt front left side view Photo 3/9   |   2008 Subaru Forester XT - Family First

It's not easy building a machine that's truly capable of pulling double duty as a family workhorse and a weekend track day toy, though, a reality John was confronted by once he started taking his Fozzie to the FIRM (Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park). "It felt sluggish in the corners, brakes were fading after only a few laps, tires were losing grip, and oil temperatures were getting way too high for my comfort. That's when I started looking more to aftermarket specialists for guidance," John said.

For starters, John tapped into TurninConcepts' deep Subie knowledge, upgrading to its recommended brake setup as well as using its Killer B deep aluminum baffled oil pan for improved oil pressure and temperature control. John also turned to Subtle Solutions, one of the few shops making Forester- specific upgrades, for an intercooler splitter, a piece he describes as "the missing link for us guys running STI top-mount intercoolers and JDM big hoodscoops." He also went with Subtle Solutions front fender braces, which has improved turn-in feel and response.

Mach V Motorsports, another well-known go-fast specialist in the Evo and STI world, was John's source for a lot of the smaller details when it came time to make his FXT more track-worthy, like all the Whiteline suspension goodies. And as John put it, "Last but not least is my car club, Kindred Impulse. This is a very tight-knit group that I consider family. They have supported me all along the way and really helped put together all the small things I may have overlooked."

With his Forester now working just as flawlessly around the racetrack as it does picking up his kids in the carpool line at school, John considers Phase 1 complete and is already planning to embark on Phase 2 with a JDM Spec C front LSD, custom fender flares so he can stuff more wheel and tire under it, and a few more suspension tweaks for even more cornering power. All of which begs the question: Does John's wife even know there's a Phase 2, because we're not really sure if she knows about our modified version of the whole "Families that play together, stay together" thing.

Specs & Details

'08 Subaru Forester XT

Engine: 2.5L EJ255 turbocharged flat-4

Engine Modifications: STi VF43 turbo with heatshield, top-mount intercooler, AVCS heads, uppipe, radiator, fuel pump, and water pump; Grimmspeed stainless cross pipe, Injen 4-inch stainless downpipe with hi-flow cat and 3.5-inch stainless turbo back exhaust; JDM STi air cleaner element/plenum, NGK Iridium one-step colder plugs, Subaru super coolant, Subaru SPT oil cooler, Killer B deep aluminum oil pan and custom pickup and race baffle; Zero Sports magnetic plug, NAPA track spec battery, custom-designed/CNC battery tie-down, WR blue vented engine cover, Kartboy oil cap

2008 subaru forester xt EJ255 turbocharged flat 4 engine Photo 7/9   |   2008 Subaru Forester XT - Family First

Engine Management: Cobb AccessPort, ECU map selector and boost controller, tuned by Doug Wilks (TopSpeed Motorsports)

Drivetrain: Group N transmission mount and engine mounts; STi short throw shift kit, Kartboy bushing kit

Wheels, Tires & Brakes: STi 12-spoke 17"x7.5" wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 235/50R17 PS2 tires, JDM STi three-piece lug nuts, DBA 4-piston calipers (f) and 2-piston calipers (r), 5000 two-piece slotted rotors (f) and 4000 slotted rotors (r); 1mm thick titanium shims, EBC red stuff pads (f/r), Kartboy CNC adaptor brackets, Goodridge ss brake lines, Motul RBF600 brake fluid

2008 subaru forester xt STi 12 spoke wheels Photo 8/9   |   2008 Subaru Forester XT - Family First

Suspension: STi pink sport struts and springs, 21mm sway bar (r), endlinks (f/r), trailing arms, and lower arm bar; Group N top hats (f/r), Whiteline 27mm sway bar (f), offset castor bushings, adjustable lateral links, and steering rack bushings; TiC forward arm bushings, Subtle Solutions fender braces (f)

Interior: Recaro Speed seats and slider kits; Planted Technology seat bracket, Schroth quick-fit racing harness, JDM STi Defi gauge pack (boost, oil temp/pressure) with custom pod, STi badged steering wheel, STi aluminum pedal assembly and leather/aluminum shift knob

Exterior: STi Limited front lip, JDM STi hoodscoop and badges; Sports XT rear wing and taillights; Subtle Solutions IC splitter, Subaru factory cross rails, Yakima bike carrier, On-a-Mission aero pads

Numbers: 310 whp and 360 wtq at 21 psi on 93-octane pump gas

Special Thanks: God, my supportive family, Mariana, Victor and Silvia (FDH crew), Mom and Dad, Subaru of Jacksonville specialists William Maham, Bill Cook, Brent Patchen, Steve Cissel, Kevin McCarthy and Shaun Parks; Lorenzo Barcelo and my entire Kindred Impulse crew; Alan Leung, CJ Yi, Andrew Zachman, Vernon Williams and Chris Cayll for helping to make this happen; Jon VanWey for the meticulous paintwork, Shay O'Brien (NADY) for the custom CNC work, Evan Geske at Vanity Detailing, the FIRM Motorsport Park, TurninConcepts, 425 Motorsports, Subtle Solutions, Fearless904

2008 subaru forester xt STi badged steering wheel Photo 9/9   |   2008 Subaru Forester XT - Family First
By David Pratte
216 Articles

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