Ok, it’s not a Ferrari. There are other things the 2009 Subaru Forester is not, but they’re few and far between. In fact, it’s likely that the Forester is one of the few vehicles on the market that can fill just about any use a typical owner has for it, from commuting to unkempt dirt roads. Its impressive all-wheel-drive system, interesting engine layout, and great versatility mean that in the compact SUV class, there are few competitors with such a complete package.
ENTRY LEVEL PRICE LISTS UNDER MAIN COMPETITORS
Comes standard with AWD and is still cheaper than main Japanese competitors.
Let’s start at the top: the Forester 2.5X sneaks in at just under $20,000, a price that undercuts base versions of both the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. It’s worth noting that the Forester comes standard with all-wheel-drive, which is an optional extra on its Honda and Toyota competition. The Subaru isn’t a stripped-down penalty box, either, with standard vehicle stability control, 4-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, rollover sensors, a 4-wheel independent suspension, air conditioning, six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, keyless entry, cruise control, and a four speaker audio system with in-dash CD player, XM or Sirius satellite radio capability, and an auxiliary input jack. An automatic transmission, something that the RAV4 and CR-V offer as standard equipment, is not so on the Subaru. And, annoyingly, the $1,200 option gets you an automatic with only four speeds — an extra gear would be helpful. Its engine sort of makes up for it, though, with a torquey and surprisingly powerful 4-cylinder.
BOXER ENGINE: ADVANTAGES AND DRAWBACKS
Unlike most vehicles, Subarus use a horizontally-opposed layout (Porsche also uses the layout in their 911, Boxster, and Cayman models), so the cylinders move side-to-side instead of up-and-down. This layout keeps the vehicle centre of gravity low for good cornering performance, but also helps with frontal crashes as a better buffer for impact forces. Despite having variable valve timing and updated technology, this engine typically consumes more fuel than other layouts. This is reflected by the Forester’s 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway rating, slightly behind comparable (4-cylinder, all-wheel-drive) Toyota RAV4 (21/27) and Honda CR-V (20/27) models.
MODEST POWER, AMPLE TORQUE
Power and torque for the Forester are competitive 170 hp at 6000 rpm, and 170 ft-lbs of torque at 4400 rpm. The class-leading RAV4 makes 179 hp, while the CR-V manages 166. While driving with the base engines in any compact SUV isn’t a heart-pumping experience, for most drivers and situations it’s plenty of power. Because the Forester makes its torque at a low rpm, acceleration away from lights even with a fully-loaded vehicle is more than adequate.
The Forester has a final trump card in the technology department: the Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) rating on 4-cylinder, normally-aspirated models. This means that the car produces very low emissions and qualifies for extended warranties — but are only available in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont — with availabilities in Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington coming soon.
QUALITY INTERIOR TRIM
Inside, it’s a good mix of high-quality silver plastic accents and black, ‘soft-touch’ plastic. Subaru engineers placed the radio at the top of the dash, because we all know that fiddling with the radio is far more rewarding than doing the same with the air conditioning knobs. Because of the fully-adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel adjustable for tilt, it’s easy for drivers of different sizes to get comfortable.
ADVANTAGES OF A CAR-BASED SUV
Helping the comfort level is a very low hood (thanks to such a compact and low engine), boxy sides, and square windows — making overall visibility exceptional. If it feels like a tall wagon rather than an imposing SUV, you’re right — the Forester is a car-based SUV and uses this fact to its advantage in overall driving performance. But SUV attributes creep in as well, with seating for five; split and flat-folding 60/40 rear seats; two grocery bag hooks, four tie down hooks, two upper utility hooks, and under floor storage in the cargo area.
Its five-star safety rating from NHTSA is well-earned, with six airbags (dual front, dual side, and dual curtain) complementing its suite of safety features, like tire pressure monitoring and vehicle stability control.
We should also mention, because it often isn’t, that the Forester is built in Subaru’s Lafayette, Indiana plant.
But what if 170 horsepower isn’t enough, or you’d like a panoramic sunroof? You’re in luck. A turbo motor, large sunroof, and other upgrades all happen to be options on other trim levels
Good torque Impressive interior materials Excellent visibility
Only auto tranny offered is a 4-speed Fuel economy not quite up to par
Every facet of the Forester is designed to take the fight to the class-leading RAV4 and CR-V — but to also distance itself from fierce competition in the compact SUV class. The fact that the Subaru Forester is Motor Trend’s 2009 Sport Utility Vehicle of the Year is no fluke; Subaru’s back-to-basics approach on what drivers actually need in a vehicle means that you get a lot of performance and safety for your dollar.