2009 Subaru Forester

    (19 Reviews)




    MSRP
    $19,995 - $28,195
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    2009 Subaru Forester Expert Review:Autoblog


    2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Premium – Click above for high-res image gallery

    Adequate dynamics, very capable, super handy. That about sums up the last ten years of the Subaru Forester. And yet – once the sportier turbocharged version put rally-bred heat under the skinny pedal, the Forester was no longer just the squishy, squeezy Official Car of Vermont. It was suddenly possible to haul the family Newfoundland to the groomer and scorch the doors off more prestigious iron by flattening that Birkenstock. Eat our dust, punctuated by a "Be Green" sticker. More luxurious appointments were also put on offer, there was once even a Nardi edition. For all that, the Foresters were still little funk machines. For 2009, Subaru's Forester retains and expands what has historically been great about this Fuji Heavy crossover, but the rough edges have been hammered flat. Click past the jump to see if that's impacted the Subie's appeal.



    Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.



    A crossover before the term existed, the Forester began life as Subaru's stab at the still-burgeoning SUV market of the late 1990s. Grabbing the handiest platform, the little truck wound up riding on Impreza hardware. Basing its compact SUV on a car continues to be one of the Forester's biggest assets. The personality stays driver-friendly, and the lower center of gravity and modest weight make the Forester responsive instead of lumbering.



    Now noticeably larger, the Forester will still please Goldilocks with its just-right dimensions. A giant moonroof on our tester acted like a skylight, making the Forester's cabin feel airy and open, and light colors inside enhanced the cheerful feel at the helm. One common complaint about the Forester has been interior cheapness, and for 2009 materials are improved. Better, but still not Lexus grade, those that molest the dashboard's contours with finger prods and knuckle rapping may be disappointed.

    The Tribeca's silvery swoop motif is echoed handsomely by the Forester, bringing a welcome dash of style to a cockpit that previously lacked design whimsy. Seat fabrics no longer look like leftover stock from the 1970s. Squishy padded and devoid of much bolstering, the seats will not be mistaken for anything sporty. Long trips might make some drivers fidgety, too, necessitating stops to walk around and uncramp lumbar regions.



    The ergonomics inside are faultless. Rather than go silly with jog dials and digital control schemes, simplicity wins the day. Subaru's done such a good job inside that the Forester just works. No need to crack open the manual, nothing to gripe about, just easy, logical functionality. Temperature controls are a knob each for temperature, fan, and airflow – does it get more intuitive? At the top of the clean center stack is an eyebrow that houses an inconspicuous LCD showing time, trip computer data, and outside temperature. Directly below that little telltale, which manages to hide in plain sight, is the radio.

    Packing a lot of functionality into a clean interface, the audio system follows the same easy-to-operate theme that runs through the entirety of the Forester. Satellite radio capable, with an auxiliary input, the ability to speak .mp3/.wma, and the expected radio bands augmented by RDS, there's not much to beg for in the head unit. It's not like you'd expect to find iDrive in a Forester, and Subaru itself offers audio upgrades, not to mention the vast array of aftermarket choices for dB drag racing.



    The dashboard's top pad is rendered in a nicer material than past versions, and the silver metallic trim around the center console sets the interior off tastefully. The gray plastic that comprises the balance of surfaces in the Forester's cabin carries a slight sheen of cheapness, but that's not out of the ordinary among the Forester's competition, either. While not the best interior in its class, Subaru has expended noticeable effort improving the environment inside the Forester, making it a place that doesn't alarm with chintz. The silverized plastic does make us think twice about how long it's going to take to scuff and wear thin, however.

    Thanks to its size increase, the back seats are now easier to take, too. The 2009 Forester's wheelbase has been treated to nearly four inches of stretch, leaving space in the second row for a megalomaniac and his ego. Normal invitees will find that entry to any seating position in the Forester is stoop-free and visibility out of the glassy cabin is as clear as anyone could wish for. The 2.5X Premium we tried had limo-tinted glass from the rear doors back to manage glare and heat buildup.



    The cargo area, always a compelling aspect of the Forester, has a bigger gut now. Stuffing things down the gullet of the 2009 Forester will still surprise you. The big cargo/small footprint strength is further augmented by the three-inch taffy pull the Forester's overall length has undergone for 2009. Our tester also had a handy vertical cargo net to keep loads secured and a retractable cargo cover handily kept greedy eyes off our bric-a-brac.

    You can dress it up in fancy new clothes, but there's no way to disguise the familiar boxer-engine powertrain once the key is twisted. Subaru touts the horizontally-opposed layout's inherent balance and low profile, but it still speaks with a gravel throat and jiggles slightly at idle. Growling out 170 horsepower in naturally aspirated form, the engine's forte is torque, also 170 ft-lbs. XT trim level Foresters spice it up with a more lively turbocharged engine good for 224 hp.



    A four-speed automatic isn't unknown among the Forester's peers, but it still feels behind the curve when there are some boxes out there offering double that (admittedly not in this class). We didn't mind our 2.5X's auto, but the five-speed manual is the way we'd go. There's even a short-shift kit to tighten up the standard linkage, and the extra cog should serve to keep the engine boiling more gracefully than the bigger ratio gaps in the auto. Fuel economy of 20/26 isn't horrid for a vehicle spinning a transfer case and differentials at each axle, but we'd snap up Subaru's diesel version of this engine in an instant if we could for its torque and efficiency.

    Dynamically, the Forester is more mature. The chassis is newly buttoned down and pleasantly well behaved. Torque feels strong off the line, though with only four ratios and a tuning eye turned away from high RPM screaming, the 2.5X runs out of lung capacity before anything satisfying happens. The turbocharger would do a lot to offset the syrup in the automatic, but saddling the blown powerplant with anything other than a manual would be a shame.



    Surefootedness is the mainstay of the Forester, and that capability has been augmented by for 2009. Structural rigidity is up, allowing suspension engineers to dial in more discipline and make the Forester's responses less sloppy, though there's still a healthy amount of body roll telling you to cool it if you corner too hot. The soft seats don't help keep you in place, either, so the driver ends up gripping the wheel extra hard and bracing him or herself. Vehicle Dynamic Control is a welcome safety net, and airbags have proliferated to the front, side, and seat positions. Smooth, confident security in any weather is to be expected from Subaru's Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system, a big factor to the Forester's long popularity in regions that see winter. Brakes are four wheel discs, and feel strong and sure, unlike our experience with Foresters past, where using the binders was akin to stepping into a bucket of custard.

    Starting at $20,295, the Forester 2.5X offers much of the goodness that made our one-step-up 2.5X Premium pleasing at around $26,000. Five star crash ratings and a passel of accolades make ownership a comforting proposition, especially with top resale values. The superlative loyalty of Forester owners means that lovers of this Labrador puppy of a car tend to hold on to them, and Subaru offers a healthy list of options and add-ons to build a near-custom Forester.



    This latest iteration has been scrubbed behind the ears and emerges less esoteric than before. Styling that's clean might be uncharitably described as boring, but we'll go with classy. Too much frippery would only harm the design's timelessness, and the new Forester looks like it should cost more, a happy circumstance. The Forester puts up solid numbers and has got the goods where it counts. Legions of fans speak to the success of the recipe, and for 2009, there's new sweetening added with more size, better performance, and slicker looks.



    Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

    All-new, bigger, roomier.

    Introduction

    The redesigned 2009 Subaru Forester is the third generation of the popular crossover utility vehicle. The Forester competes with the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 among others. Its style used to be distinctive, but it's now less so, as its shape has morphed toward the others, while theirs has morphed toward the Forester's. 

    There are two engines, both horizontally opposed four-cylinders displacing 2.5 liters; but the 170-horsepower base engine is single overhead cam, while the 224-horsepower turbocharged XT model has twin cams. 

    The base model offers more standard equipment than ever, in particular electronic stability control and airbag curtains, yet its price has been cut by $1200. That's with a manual transmission; a four-speed automatic costs, coincidentally or not, $1200 extra. 

    Other improvements include a new chassis with safety structure, wider track and longer wheelbase (by 3.6 inches), new double wishbone rear suspension that yields tons of cargo space, 4.3 inches more legroom in the rear seat, 4 inches more headroom all over, 1 inch more ground clearance for the XT, a super tight steering radius with quicker turning ratio, rear doors that swing open nearly 75 degrees, and more torque for the base 2.5-liter engine. Visibility is exceptional. 

    Overall, the 2009 Forester is 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider, and about 100 pounds heavier than last year's model. Despite the increase in size and power, the base Forester gets improved fuel mileage, achieving 20/26 mpg on the EPA's new City/Highway cycle, the same as the CRV and RAV4. The turbocharged Forester XT gets 19/24 mpg and requires premium fuel. The 16.9-gallon fuel tank can last about 400 miles on the highway. 

    So much downshifting by the four-speed automatic transmission intrudes upon the otherwise smooth acceleration of the normally aspirated 2.5X, making it seem underpowered although 170 horsepower should do the job. The turbocharged XT is more desirable because of its torque, although it's more expensive to operate because of its premium fuel requirement. 

    Lineup

    For 2009, there are a number of changes to the styling that make the Subaru Forester way sleeker, but the identity has not been changed. 

    The functional hood scoop on the XT has a smaller bulge than before, but its opening is no less wide, thanks to a redesign of the turbocharger intercooler opening, and the steeper slope of the hood. The headlights with amber turn signals are shaped like gold-tipped eagles' wings, and the uplifting grille that fills the space between them has lost its boxiness, with corners upturned. Under the grille is a lower lip fascia that looks like there's a pack of snuff stuffed in it. The corners are tucked in so tightly that the bumper has almost been lost. The foglights are mounted in gray plastic fascia that runs 360 degrees around the car, being rocker panels on the sides. Even if there are no foglights the mounting spots are there in the gray plastic. 

    The lines on the sides of the car, especially the flares over the wheelwells that might be bigger for the sake of trendy styling but aren't, made the '08 Forester look dumpy. A black C-pillar, camouflaged to hide in the tinted glass, helps with the shape thing on the 2009 model. The five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels aren't bad looking. 

    From the rear, the XT has a twin chrome-tipped exhaust, pretty cool for a tidy crossover. And the spoiler over the rear window makes its statement. 

    The Forester and RAV4 look alike when parked side by side. 

    Walkaround

    The new dashboard for 2009, taken from the Impreza, has a nice gullwing sweep from the center stack off to the passenger side, in brushed-aluminum-looking plastic material, interrupted only by a single climate vent. Underneath is a big glovebox. The center stack has a bit more of that nice aluminum-look trim, which others have called cheap but it looks fine to us, and just forward of the shift lever is a good-sized cubby. Climate and audio controls on the center stack are simple to operate. 

    The background light to the gauges is a funky blue, just for effect, some will like it some won't. There's a slit over the center stack with digital display for time and temperature. The center console is deep, and slides forward four inches to make an armrest. 

    The cloth seats are comfortable, with a new cushion and spring in front. They come in gray or black, and are on the conservative rather than sporty side. The material and design is very conservative, like a gray suit, a missed opportunity to appeal to younger buyers. The really nice perforated leather is a whole new ball game, erasing the almost-frumpy feeling sent by the cloth. 

    The front doors have a nice elbow rest and large pockets each with a recess for 24-ounce bottles. The aluminum pedals on the XT are cool. 

    The air conditioning cools well, fast and quiet. 

    Following Subaru's design goals, the new 2009 Forester most needed rear-seat legroom and cargo space. The rear 60/40 seats fold flat to make a nice cargo area, widened by 5.2 inches between the wheelhouses thanks to a new double-wishbone rear suspension. The relatively gigantic cargo area will definitely appeal to active outdoors enthusiasts with lost of stuff. The specs are 33.5 cubic feet with the rear seat up, 68.3 with the seats flat. 

    Driver visibility is excellent in all directions, thanks to careful pillar design. Subaru staged a demonstration for us, placing a cutout of a kid behind the Forester and a Toyota RAV4. The Forester driver could see the kid in his rearview mirror at seven feet, but in the RAV4 the kid was lost in a low blind spot for 23 feet. 

    The rear seat reclines in all but the 2.5X base model, and includes a retractable center tray with fixed drink holders. Legroom is excellent, increased by 4.3 inches, on a wheelbase increase of 3.6 inches; and there's a couple inches more shoulder room, as well. The front door is wider than before, and the rear doors now swing open 75 degrees, making it easy to get in and out. 

    There's a lot of headroom, a whopping four inches more on the 2009 model over 2008; there's a bit less with the panoramic moonroof, but it feels like more because it's the sky that's over your head. There's headroom even when you jack the height-adjustable driver's seat to the top. 

    The new rear suspension is quieter, and other noise/vibration areas were refined. 

    We didn't get along with the navigation system, which comes in a unit with a single-disc CD replacing the standard six-disc CD (it's a space issue). In the daytime it's hard to read with sunglasses, because there's a lack of contrast; once, we even had to remove our sunglasses and close the sunroof, to read the map. It made at least one wild error on Southern California freeways. An awful male British voice seems to tell you to do everything three times, but usually not at the right time. It's impatient at stop lights, insisting you turn while you're waiting for the green arrow. It might take you a while to figure out what 'Way Point' means, if you haven't been to London or can't remember even if you have. (Hint: you sometimes stop at a Way Point on your Way Out.). 

    Interior

    The new dashboard for 2009, taken from the Impreza, has a nice gullwing sweep from the center stack off to the passenger side, in brushed-aluminum-looking plastic material, interrupted only by a single climate vent. Underneath is a big glovebox. The center stack has a bit more of that nice aluminum-look trim, which others have called cheap but it looks fine to us, and just forward of the shift lever is a good-sized cubby. Climate and audio controls on the center stack are simple to operate. 

    The background light to the gauges is a funky blue, just for effect, some will like it some won't. There's a slit over the center stack with digital display for time and temperature. The center console is deep, and slides forward four inches to make an armrest. 

    The cloth seats are comfortable, with a new cushion and spring in front. They come in gray or black, and are on the conservative rather than sporty side. The material and design is very conservative, like a gray suit, a missed opportunity to appeal to younger buyers. The really nice perforated leather is a whole new ball game, erasing the almost-frumpy feeling sent by the cloth. 

    The front doors have a nice elbow rest and large pockets each with a recess for 24-ounce bottles. The aluminum pedals on the XT are cool. 

    The air conditioning cools well, fast and quiet. 

    Following Subaru's design goals, the new 2009 Forester most needed rear-seat legroom and cargo space. The rear 60/40 seats fold flat to make a nice cargo area, widened by 5.2 inches between the wheelhouses thanks to a new double-wishbone rear suspension. The relatively gigantic cargo area will definitely appeal to active outdoors enthusiasts with lost of stuff. The specs are 33.5 cubic feet with the rear seat up, 68.3 with the seats flat. 

    Driver visibility is excellent in all directions, thanks to careful pillar design. Subaru staged a demonstration for us, placing a cutout of a kid behind the Forester and a Toyota RAV4. The Forester driver could see the kid in his rearview mirror at seven feet, but in the RAV4 the kid was lost in a low blind spot for 23 feet. 

    The rear seat reclines in all but the 2.5X base model, and includes a retractable center tray with fixed drink holders. Legroom is excellent, increased by 4.3 inches, on a wheelbase increase of 3.6 inches; and there's a couple inches more shoulder room, as well. The front door is wider than before, and the rear doors now swing open 75 degrees, making it easy to get in and out. 

    There's a lot of headroom, a whopping four inches more on the 2009 model over 2008; there's a bit less with the panoramic moonroof, but it feels like more because it's the sky that's over your head. There's headroom even when you jack the height-adjustable driver's seat to the top. 

    The new rear suspension is quieter, and other noise/vibration areas were refined. 

    We didn't get along with the navigation system, which comes in a unit with a single-disc CD replacing the standard six-disc CD (it's a space issue). In the daytime it's hard to read with sunglasses, because there's a lack of contrast; once, we even had to remove our sunglasses and close the sunroof, to read the map. It made at least one wild error on Southern California freeways. An awful male British voice seems to tell you to do everything three times, but usually not at the right time. It's impatient at stop lights, insisting you turn while you're waiting for the green arrow. It might take you a while to figure out what 'Way Point' means, if you haven't been to London or can't remember even if you have. (Hint: you sometimes stop at a Way Point on your Way Out.). 

    Driving Impression

    If you're thinking of entering the Baja 1000 in the unmodified crossover class, a Subaru Forester would be the way to go (but don't stop at any Way Points). We spent half a day driving over steep and rutted dirt roads on Catalina Island, and the Forester was dazzling in its sure-footedness and comfortable ride, never once whimpering in the face of abuse. It's a good combination: the new suspension that isn't exactly firm but includes more travel to the shocks, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and good all-season Yokohama tires with the 17-inch wheels. We had a similar drive in the Volvo XC70 Cross Country last year, and the Forester wins, if only on account of the tires. 

    The stability control is programmed to allow the tires to spin a bit, under acceleration, so the throttle won't cut out on dirt roads. We tackled an awe-inspiring steep rutty hill, foot to the floor to climb the final 100 yards, and the Forester made it. A Honda CRV was there for comparison, and it couldn't come close. 

    There's a huge difference in torque between the two available engines, especially felt on the freeway, where the 2.5X works to keep up, despite the fact that the normally aspirated SOHC engine has been refined to deliver more low and mid-range torque than before. Now it's 170 pound-feet at 4400 rpm. The four-speed automatic transmission and the 170-horsepower 2.5X is a weak combination; running with the flow of traffic into LA on an extremely slight upgrade, ours needed to frequently kick down. It kicked down a lot in other places, too, including offroad on Catalina. A five-speed automatic transmission seems called for. Or a five-speed manual. 

    The turbo delivers 226 pound-feet at 2800 rpm and 224 horsepower. 

    The five-speed manual shifter feels soft, has a longish throw, and raises the NVH level in the cabin, but we'd still choose it over the automatic with the non-turbocharged engine. A nice touch on models with the standard five-speed manual transmission is Incline Start Assist, an upgrade for 2009 over what was previously called Hill Holder. If the car is stopped on a hill, when you pull out in first gear, the brake stays applied for one second after you take your foot off the pedal, allowing time to accelerate smoothly. 

    The Forester is rated to tow 2400 pounds. Maybe so, but it will struggle without the boost of the turbo, whose torque comes lower and lasts longer. 

    The Forester engine is mounted 0.4 inch lower for 2009, and every fraction counts toward lowering the center of gravity. Because the engine is designed for safety to be pushed back under the car in a head-on crash, this four-tenths of an inch counts more. 

    The new rear suspension does a good job. It allows a rear frame height to be the same as a sedan, but ground clearance is unaffected. Driving behind a Forester, you can see it working away under there, like the knees of a mogul skier. The highway ride is comfortable, with no harsh spots. 

    The rack-and-pinion steering in the XT has been upgraded to provide an even tighter steering radius, always good for parking and maneuvering. But the Forester isn't about cornering; here, the suspension feels its softness, and compromises for comfort. But, curiously, not offroad. 

    The double wishbone with subframe design was taken from the WRX, and the basic engine too, but if you want a sporty WRX influence in your Subaru CUV, you have to look at the Outback or Legacy. That's because the XT uses the four-speed automatic too. It's not saddled with the kickdowns of the 2.5X, and the shifts are sharp and smooth, but the SportShift mode that allegedly allows manual shifts only allows some of them. 

    Summary

    Redesigned, the 2009 Subaru Forester offers more than ever before, for less money. It's slightly longer and wider, and has a good bit more rear seat legroom and cargo space. Its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is handicapped by a four-speed automatic transmission, more so in the base engine than the turbocharged version (which requires premium fuel). It's stable and rugged off road, using its proven all-wheel drive and a new rear suspension to good advantage, while there are no harsh spots to the highway ride. Overall, the new Forester compares favorably to its main competitors, the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4. 

    Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Catalina Island near Los Angeles. 

    Model Lineup

    Subaru Forester 2.5X ($19,995); 2.5X Performance Package ($22,495); L.L. Bean Edition ($25,995); XT ($26,195); XT Limited ($28,195). 

    Assembled In

    Gunma, Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    Model Tested

    Subaru Forester XT Limited ($28,195). 

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