First Drive Review: 2009 Subaru Forester
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Andrew Bornhop of Road & Track
Catalina Island, California — Since its introduction in 1997 as one of the first crossover SUVs, the Subaru Forester has cultivated a following of folks who appreciate the vehicle for its compact size and its distinctive styling that places a boxy greenhouse on the lower body of a small car. And from the driver's seat, the original all-wheel-drive Forester did feel like a car, easy to drive (and park) in an all-weather city environment but with a spacious upper body that made it ideal for folks who mountain biked or perhaps hauled around a pair of Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.
Indeed, that's the environment where the rugged little Forester shined. And although it hasn't matched the sales success of the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V, it has found its niche as perhaps the most carlike crossover SUV, a characteristic the company has strived to maintain with the all-new 2009 Forester, which went on sale this spring.
Although it has lost some of its boxy distinctiveness (and could almost be mistaken for a Chevy Equinox with a Chrysler grille), the Forester has matured nicely. Built on a version of the new Impreza's sturdy platform, the Forester is 3.0 in. longer and 1.8 in. wider than before, with a wheelbase that has grown by 3.6 in. That, together with a 4.3-in. higher roof, makes for a slightly larger vehicle, but the Forester's reasonably low driver's seat makes it still feel carlike, despite a slightly higher cowl.
Another attribute that's familiar is the rumble of Subaru's flat-4 engines, again available in naturally aspirated and turbo-charged forms. In the 2.5X models, the sohc 2.5-liter produces 170 bhp at 6000 rpm and 170 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm. While peak horsepower hasn't changed, the torque is up by 4 lb.-ft. and the curve is much broader, thanks to a new intake port design and revised timing on both the intake and exhaust. The engine, which has an aluminum block with forged steel liners, now sits 0.4 in. lower in the chassis for an improved center of gravity.
As last year, the turbocharged dohc engine in the 2.5XT models produces 224 bhp and 226 lb.-ft. of torque. But this year, with a revised intake manifold and a new twin-scroll turbocharger, the horsepower peaks 400 rpm sooner than before, and the peak torque arrives 800 rpm lower on the tachometer. A larger intercooler is also at work here, beneath a hood scoop that's been visually toned down compared with last year's.
The standard transmission with the 2.5X models is a 5-speed manual with linkage that's a tad sloppy. A smooth-shifting 4-speed automatic with a lock-up torque converter is standard on the turbo-charged XT models; it gets the job done, but a modern 5-speed would improve both smoothness and fuel economy. As before, Foresters with manual gearboxes have a viscous-coupling center differential at the heart of their awd systems, whereas those with automatics use an electronically managed hydraulic clutch to continually vary the torque split. In both systems, traction control simulates the function of a limited-slip rear differential.
On the road, in the dry, there's no strong sensation that the Forester has awd. What you will notice is that it's significantly roomier inside, both in width and leg room. The back seat reclines, and it accommodates someone who's 6 ft. 2 in. reasonably comfortably. It's also much quieter inside, perhaps because the door windows now have their own frames; whatever the reason, it's easy for folks to maintain a conversation at freeway speeds without raising their voices. Moreover, in spite of excellent ground clearance, the Forester also handles pretty well, its strut front suspension complemented by a new double-wishbone rear that allows for a significantly larger cargo area.
Base models, which start just below $20,000, are equipped with standard side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control and 4-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist. Top-of-the-line turbocharged Foresters, with every conceivable option, might touch 30. However you feel about these prices, this is one crossover SUV that's grown up without growing too far out, and that's a trait we admire.