Full Edmunds Expert Review: 2008 Subaru Forester Wagon
What's New for 2008
Changes are minimal for the 2008 Subaru Forester. Stability control is now standard on all turbocharged models equipped with an automatic transmission, and Subaru has shuffled the equipment among the Forester's many trim levels. One notable change is the L.L. Bean model's loss of its self-leveling rear suspension, which increased the pressure of the shock absorbers to compensate for heavy loads.
At a glance, the 2008 Subaru Forester might seem like any other compact SUV. It shares its basic underpinnings with a car, for instance, and as such it's easy to drive and provides plenty of family-friendly versatility. However, Subaru has instilled enough variations on this basic formula to give the Forester a distinct character in a crowded field. Without a doubt, the Forester has a higher entertainment quotient than most sport-utilities. Its smaller dimensions, lighter weight and responsive handling give it a tossable feel. Even the base four-cylinder engine offers good punch, and the optional turbo engine delivers its power in a sudden, thrilling manner that competitors' V6 engines can't match. Subaru's offering of a manual transmission with either engine should entice enthusiasts further, as should the Forester's standard all-wheel drive. On the whole, this is one fun-to-drive crossover.
At the same time, the Forester also fares well in most practical matters. Its cargo area is surprisingly roomy and usefully square. It rides smoothly enough on the road (if a bit noisily) and treats its front passengers to a user-friendly interior and comfy seats. Rear-seat riders are less lucky, and are apt to complain about the unsupportive cushioning and lack of legroom back here. On the other hand, they're less likely to be injured in a collision, given the Forester's stellar scores in side-impact crash tests.
Despite its advancing age, the 2008 Subaru Forester isn't short on virtues, and those who prefer their compact SUVs a little smaller, sportier and quirkier may find a favorite in the 2008 Subaru Forester. But prospective buyers would be wise to examine its competitors, most of which are younger designs. The latest Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4 offer roomier interiors than the Subie, and the Toyota and Mitsu even offer a third-row option. In addition, all three offer a higher, more commanding seating position that many SUV buyers find so appealing. Also, some might prefer the Outlander and RAV4 for their V6 engines, which deliver their power in a more familiar, evenhanded fashion than the Forester's turbo.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A compact crossover SUV, the 2008 Subaru Forester comes with one of two engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a turbocharged version of the same. Foresters with the regular engine carry a "2.5 X" designation and come in base, Sports, Premium and L.L. Bean trim levels. Models with the turbo engine get the "2.5 XT" stamp and come in Sports and Limited trim levels.
The base Forester 2.5 X includes 16-inch steel wheels, a roof rack, a rear wiper with de-icer, air-conditioning, a CD player, full power accessories, cruise control and keyless entry. The first of three upgrades is the 2.5X Sports version, which loses the wiper de-icer but adds alloy wheels, black body accents and silver roof rails, leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control and a seven-speaker, MP3-capable stereo with a CD changer and auxiliary input jack. The 2.5 X Premium loses the upgraded speakers but gets back the wiper de-icer. The Premium then adds bigger side mirrors with turn-signal repeaters, rear disc brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, a moonroof, a power driver seat and heated front seats and mirrors. The ultimate 2.5X is the L.L. Bean model, and it comes with leather seats, a leather-and-wood steering wheel and shifter, the upgraded speakers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and sturdier plastic trim in the cargo bay.
As for the turbocharged Foresters, the 2.5 XT Sports is mostly equipped like the 2.5 X Premium. It deletes the power driver seat and heated seats and mirrors, but adds 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, a hood scoop, black body accents, silver roof rails, and front and rear spoilers. Finally, the 2.5 XT Limited has five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and sportier-looking instrumentation.
Options on the 2008 Subaru Forester include a rear spoiler, a rear bumper cover, splash guards, various cargo trays and bins, a short-throw manual shifter and upgraded sound systems.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard on all 2.5 X models is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged version on the XT packs 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. All trim levels have a choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, excepting the automatic-only L.L. Bean. Like all Subarus, the Forester comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive, with automatic models using a higher-tech electronic system. Manual models have a Hill Holder feature to keep the Forester from rolling back on inclines.
Antilock brakes are standard on all 2008 Subaru Foresters; traction and stability control come exclusively on turbo models with the automatic transmission. Other safety features include active front head restraints and front-seat side airbags that provide head and torso protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Forester an optimal "Good" rating for frontal offset and side-impact crashes and named it a top safety pick in the compact SUV class. The Subaru Forester also earned a perfect five stars in all front- and side-impact testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Interior Design and Special Features
Even the base 2.5 X version of the Subaru Forester has a well-appointed interior with tight build quality and simple controls. If the plastics look a bit utilitarian, the leather seats have an upscale look, and the front seats are comfortable and supportive. The rear seat, in contrast, has tight legroom for taller adults (it's also a problem for those with bulky car seats) and a somewhat unsupportive bottom cushion. Cargo space, on the other hand, is competitive with 31 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat upright, 69 when folded and a low lift-over height for ease of loading.
Performance with the base 2.5-liter engine is no more than adequate, though its generous whack of low-end torque makes the Forester feel spirited around town. The turbocharged version, on the other hand, packs a fierce punch, especially when equipped with its crisp-shifting manual transmission. In terms of handling, the Forester is stable and predictable even when pushed to its limits, and its small dimensions and below-average weight make it among the most carlike in its class. The steering is a bit light, but the 2008 Subaru Forester should be nimble enough to suit most drivers. Our main complaints concern the Forester's excessive road and wind noise. Enthusiastic drivers might also find the automatic transmission slow to downshift.