2010 Subaru Forester
2015 Subaru Forester Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
New Car Test Drive
Foul weather capable and enjoyable to drive.
The Subaru Forester is a compact SUV that seats five, offers good cargo capability and excellent foul weather capability. The Forester competes with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, though the Forester offers better handling than those two, on dry pavement but especially on wet pavement, snow, ice or dirt.
Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, which comes standard, gives the Forester outstanding traction and capability in foul weather and it's fully equipped with safety features. Forester achieved the best-possible five-star rating in all government crash tests, and a four-star rating for resistance to rolling over. Forester has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Forester comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with single overhead cam rated at 170 horsepower. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 20/26 mpg City/Highway with automatic transmission.
The turbocharged Forester XT has twin cams and boasts 224 horsepower. The XT is more desirable because of its superior power, though it calls for Premium fuel and rates 19/24 mpg. Forester's 16.9-gallon fuel tank can last about 400 miles on the highway.
Introduced as an all-new model for 2009, this is the third generation of the Forester, and it's the best-selling Forester ever and the best-selling model in the Subaru line. Redesigned for the 2009 model year, the Forester features a wider track and longer wheelbase than before, a double wishbone rear suspension, more cargo space, more rear-seat legroom. There's more ground clearance, a super tight steering radius with quicker steering, rear doors that swing open nearly 75 degrees, and more power for the base 2.5-liter engine.
For 2010, Forester benefits from a revised instrument cluster with easier-to-see colors, and you can choose which interior lamps light when you open a door. The 2010 Forester 2.5X Premium comes with a 10-way power driver's seat, and the optional navigation system now includes Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.
The 2010 Subaru Forester comes in three trim levels, all with all-wheel drive. The 2.5X models come with the 170-hp engine; 2.5XT models get the 224-hp turbocharged engine.
Forester 2.5X ($20,295) comes with black or platinum cloth upholstery, air conditioning with rear vents and an air filtration system, a 60/40 split rear seat, sound system with single-disc CD, height and lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, cruise control, rear window wiper, and a trailer wiring connector, and 16-inch steel wheels with wheelcovers. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic ($21,495) is available. A Special Edition Package ($400) adds 16-inch alloy wheels and roof rails.
Forester 2.5X Premium ($22,795) adds 17-inch alloy wheels with wider-profile all-season tires, privacy glass, 10-way power driver's seat, a reclining rear seat with retractable tray, roof rails, power moonroof, and steering wheel audio switches. Exterior mirrors are body-color and door handles are chromed. There's a choice of five-speed manual or automatic ($23,795). A cold weather package ($400) includes heated seats, mirrors, and wiper de-icer.
Forester 2.5X Limited ($25,995) features perforated leather seats in black or platinum, seatback storage pockets, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, 6CD changer with MP3/WMA and six-speaker Circle Surround Sound, automatic climate control, foglights, chrome tailpipes. It comes with the automatic transmission and cold-weather package as standard.
Optional on the 2.5X Limited is a touch-screen navigation system ($1,800) that includes a stereo upgrade, auxiliary audio and video input jacks, Sirius Satellite Radio, and a Bluetooth hands-free microphone. A Navigation and Convenience Package ($2,300) bundles all of the above with HID headlights, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, one-touch folding rear seats, and a cargo cover.
Forester 2.5XT Premium ($26,495) features upgraded cloth upholstery, aluminum pedal covers, a telescoping steering column, and the Limited-level stereo. Outside it's distinguished by fog lights, chrome tailpipes, a rear roof spoiler, and a functional hood scoop. Premium comes with the automatic transmission.
Forester 2.5XT Limited ($28,495) adds the automatic climate control, leather-trimmed upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and the all-weather package. The navigation package is optional.
Safety equipment includes two-stage frontal airbags, side-impact airbags in front, and airbag curtains; active front head restraints; LATCH child safety seat system; and a tire pressure monitor. All Forester models come with all-wheel drive, Vehicle Dynamics Control with four-wheel traction control and electronic limited slip differential, and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which adjusts front-to-rear brake balance as the car's weight pitches forward under hard braking) and Brake Assist (which applies additional braking, based on how quickly the driver applies the pedal).
The Subaru Forester is a compact SUV similar in size to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Forester and RAV4 look similar when parked side by side. All of these are considered crossover vehicles with car-based chassis designed to offer good driving characteristics and good fuel economy.
The Forester is slightly longer than the CR-V, slightly shorter than the RAV4. Forester is an inch narrower than the other two. It's slightly taller than the CR-V, the RAV4 is the tallest.
Forester XT is distinguished by a functional hood scoop. We like the five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels. From the rear, the XT has a twin chrome-tipped exhaust and a spoiler over the rear window.
Inside is a comfortable cabin with comfortable seats. The cloth seats come in gray or black, and are on the conservative rather than sporty side. The available perforated leather is a whole new ball game, erasing the almost-frumpy feeling sent by the cloth.
Driver visibility is excellent in all directions. The A-pillars were designed to minimize blind spots. The Forester XT gets sporty aluminum pedals, which we liked. We found the air conditioning cools well, fast and quiet.
Instrument colors have been revised for 2010, for easier readability. There's a digital display over the center stack for time and temperature. The dash 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 aluminum-look trim. Just forward of the shift lever is a good-sized cubby. Climate and audio controls on the center stack are simple to operate. The front doors have a nice elbow rest and large pockets each with a recess for 24-ounce bottles. The center console is deep, and slides forward four inches to make an armrest.
The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat to make a gigantic cargo area capable of carrying lots of gear. Cargo space measures 33.5 cubic feet with the rear seat up, 68.3 with the seats flat.
The rear seat reclines and includes a retractable center tray with fixed drink holders. Legroom is excellent. The front door is wide, and the rear doors swing open 75 degrees, making it easy to get in and out.
There's a lot of headroom. There's headroom even when you jack the height-adjustable driver's seat to the top. The optional panoramic moonroof cuts into headroom, but it feels like more because it's the sky that's over your head.
The navigation system is not the best available. In the daytime it's hard to read with sunglasses, because there's a lack of contrast.
We found the Forester dazzling in its sure-footedness and comfortable ride, never once whimpering in the face of abuse. The suspension isn't firm but offers relatively long travel. There's 8.7 inches of ground clearance and good Yokohama Geolander tires with the 17-inch wheels.
The electronic 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 CR-V couldn't come close on the same run.
The two engines differ dramatically in torque. Torque is that force you feel when you accelerate up a hill and more is better. The normally aspirated single overhead-cam engine delivers 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The turbo delivers 226 pound-feet at 2800 rpm and 224 horsepower.
On the freeway, a Forester 2.5X has to work to keep up with a Forester XT. We found the four-speed automatic transmission and the 170-horsepower engine 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 off-road. A five-speed automatic transmission seems called for. Or a five-speed manual.
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. If the car is stopped on a hill, the brake stays applied for one second after you take your foot off the pedal, allowing time to accelerate smoothly.
The rack-and-pinion steering gives the XT a tight steering radius, similar to that of the RAV4, tighter than that of the CR-V, allowing it to turn around in less space, important for parking and maneuvering. When cornering on smooth roads, the suspension feels relatively soft, though on dirt roads or rough pavement it feels perfect. The suspension does a good job. The highway ride is comfortable, with no harsh spots.
The Subaru Forester offers foul weather capability with its all-wheel-drive system and it excels on unpaved roads and in other less-than-perfect driving conditions. Forester is stable and rugged off road, while there are no harsh spots to the highway ride. Overall, the Forester compares favorably to the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and other compact SUVs.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Los Angeles; with NCTD staff reports.
Subaru Forester 2.5X ($20,295); 2.5X Premium ($22,795); 2.5X Limited ($25,995); 2.5XT Premium ($26,495); 2.5XT Limited ($28,495).
Options As Tested
Subaru Forester 2.5XT Limited ($28,495).
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