More stories related to New York Auto ShowNEW YORK – When Subaru of America Inc. introduces a freshened Forester cross/utility vehicle in the U.S. for the ’06 model year, lower lease rates may accompany it.

The auto maker refreshes the grille, bumps up horsepower and upgrades much of the underbody mechanicals for the upcoming model year. It showed the new version at the New York International Auto Show here.

Bill Cyphers, vice president-sales, tells Ward’s Subaru “will be better,” or more competitive on lease rates, and the Forester will benefit from a lower lease strategy if it is possible.

“We haven’t priced the vehicle yet,” he says. “We haven’t gotten the residual values form ALG (Automotive Lease Guide), and we’re optimistic about residual values we’ll get on the car. Good residual delivers a good lease rate.”

Forester likely to get more competitive lease.

The Forester’s 2.5L engine gets a lift to 173 hp from 165 in ’05. The optional turbocharged 2.5L ratchets power also, increasing to 230 hp from 210.

Forester’s transmission, suspension and all-wheel-drive system are improved for ’06, Cyphers says. Subaru also tweaks the available array of trim packages.

Pricing will remain relatively flat compared with ’05’s $21,300 to $27,400 range, Cyphers says.

Although rising gas prices seemingly have clamped traditional SUV sales, Cyphers sees little hard evidence buyers are flocking to Subaru’s CUV-rich lineup in search of fuel-sipping alternatives. Still, he says many of the brand’s conquest sales come from people trading out of big SUVs to sedans and wagons.

“It’s funny, but I have not heard any anecdotal information from our dealers saying people are trading in because of gas prices, but people do trade in a larger SUV,” he says. “And the reason they say they do is they don’t like the truck-like ride, they don’t like the poor gas mileage. But they did like the AWD, so they want to stick with the AWD.”

jstoll@primediabusiness.com