What's New for 2009
Redesigned for 2009, the Subaru Forester compact crossover SUV is bigger and more beautiful inside and out.
The Subaru Forester has long been an offbeat entrant in the compact crossover SUV class; in fact, we weren't sure it technically belonged in that class. While some of its competitors featured jacked-up ride heights and butch aesthetics, the all-wheel-drive Subaru didn't sit that much higher than a typical station wagon -- and it kind of looked like one, too. Despite this quirky model's loyal following among folks in colder climes, Subaru decided it was time to tackle the segment leaders head-on. Enter the fully redesigned 2009 Subaru Forester.
Although it's still based on the same platform as the compact Impreza, which was itself redesigned for 2008, this new Forester can look the competition square in the eye. The 2009 Forester rides on a 103.0-inch wheelbase, some 3.6 inches greater than before. It's also 3 inches longer overall, about an inch taller and has more ground clearance. Combined with a more traditional SUV styling treatment, these changes give the Forester an unprecedentedly rugged persona, even if few owners are likely to put its middling off-road chops to the test.
The outgoing model's carlike handling has generally been retained, thanks to improved chassis rigidity, wider front and rear tracks and a new double-wishbone rear suspension in place of the old car's strut-based setup. However, don't expect the new Forester to corner like a sport wagon -- extra height and ground clearance along with increased suspension travel add up to lots of bounce and roll in corners. Happily, the trade-off is a compliant ride, and the compactness of the new suspension frees up extra space inside -- especially in the cargo hold. Rear legroom and overall comfort have also been dramatically expanded, and the new Forester sports a well-constructed and attractive control layout.
Overall, the Forester is a comfortable and practical people mover that looks like an SUV, drives like a car (albeit one that's tall and softly sprung) and offers the security of standard AWD. And although there are no major engine upgrades for 2009, the Forester's performance remains satisfactory. We're not sure why Subaru elected to offer the Forester with a four-speed automatic transmission instead of the company's five-speed unit, as this puts the redesigned crossover at a distinct disadvantage relative to top-selling competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. On the whole, though, the 2009 Subaru Forester has outgrown its quirky phase and looks like a legitimate contender for the compact crossover SUV crown.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Subaru Forester compact crossover SUV is available in three trim levels: 2.5X, 2.5X Limited, 2.5XT and 2.5XT Limited. The Forester 2.5X is equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories and a four-speaker CD audio system with an auxiliary audio jack. The 2.5XT model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, roof rails, a sunroof, a tilt/telescoping steering column, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, reclining rear seats and a six-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer. The 2.5XT Limited throws in heated mirrors, automatic climate control, a power driver seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter.
Optional for the 2.5X is the Premium Package, which adds 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, a power sunroof and a reclining rear seatback. When equipped with the Premium package, the 2.5X is also eligible for one of two additional option packages. The all-weather package includes heated side mirrors, a wiper de-icer and heated front seats. Going with the 2.5X Limited gets you the all-weather package's equipment plus foglights, a power driver seat, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, automatic climate control, and a six-speaker CD audio system with a six-CD changer. There are no available options on the 2.5XT. The Forester 2.5X Limited and 2.5XT Limited, however, can be outfitted with a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Forester 2.5X is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. It's available with a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. (L.L. Bean Editions come with the automatic only.) Forester XT models have a turbocharged version of this engine that churns out 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. The automatic transmission is mandatory on turbocharged models. Every Forester is equipped with AWD. EPA estimated fuel economy for the 2.5X is 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined, the XT returns an estimated 19 city/24 highway and 21 combined.
Standard safety features on all 2009 Subaru Foresters include antilock brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Subaru Forester is blessed with a more stylish but no less functional interior than its predecessor, with visually interesting contours complementing generally straightforward controls. Enlarged dimensions have given rise to a roomier rear seat, and the cargo area out back has broadened by more than 5 inches compared with the outgoing model. While the last Forester boasted maximum cargo volume on par with its Toyota and Honda rivals, its passenger compartment was somewhat cramped by comparison. This is thankfully no longer the case, rendering the new Forester a more well-rounded entry.
While the 2009 Subaru Forester offers an impressively compliant ride for this class, winding roads throw its soft suspension for a loop. Subaru knows that most drivers won't be hustling their Foresters through corners, so it has understandably prioritized comfort over canyon carving capability. To Subaru's credit, the Forester's composure over bumps and ruts is beyond reproach. Accurate steering and an excellent driving position round out the Forester's refined driving character.
Under the hood, 2.5X models measure up well against other four-cylinder compact crossover SUVs. Performance with the optional turbocharged engine is brisk, but less so than last year's manual-shift XT model, which drove like an Impreza WRX on stilts. The anachronistic four-speed automatic perceptibly blunts the performance of both engines.