2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X: Mainstreaming a crossover
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Now in its third generation, the Subaru Forester has always been a sports utility ride for the granola-and-fresh water brigade. It has gained a following among those who genuinely love the “forest” portion of the name, despite the fact that very few Forester owners really take their vehicles off road or deep into the woods.
Beginning with its first incarnation in 1997, the Forester replaced the Impreza Gravel Express in Japan, which was marketed in the U.S. as the Subaru Outback Sport. Perhaps a crossover from the beginning, even before the term existed, Subaru gave its early version the slogan: “SUV tough, car easy.” This third-gen model is marketed as a crossover, employing the versatility of a minivan, car and small sports-ute in its abilities.
Considered within the industry as a compact cross-over SUV, the Forester’s 103-inch wheelbase supports its 17.5-inch length, 70.1-inch width and 65.9-inch height with ground clearance of 8.7 inches. It sits 3 inches longer than last year’s version and is an inch taller and 1.8 inches wider on a stretched wheelbase that gained 3.6 inches.
The symmetrical AWD vehicle gets it power from a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder SOHC Boxer engine mated to a five-speed manual shift. The set-up puts out 170hp and 170 lbs.-ft. of torque, with a Tier 2 BIN 5 LEV II emissions system. As a safety precaution, to start the vehicle, you must first depress the clutch all the way to the floor – it won’t start unless this procedure is followed.
Once started, the Forester is steady but not quick. The 3250-lb. sports-ute can certainly use a power upgrade, as I tested it from zero to 60mph in a sleepy 9.4 seconds, as part of a 17.3-second sojourn down the quarter-mile. The optional 224-hp turbocharged engine would have been a much for fun vehicle to rev up sacrificing about 1 or 2 mpg.
However, in this more economical set-up, my Topaz Gold Metallic press fleet ride was EPA rated at 20mpg in the city and 26mpg on the Interstate. I fared better than that during my week of testing, as after driving about 500 miles, with highway driving making up about two-thirds of the examination, my test Forester averaged 28.5mpg.
On or off road, the Forester provides a comfortably accommodating ride. While quick turns set the high center of balance quavering and long and winding roads tilt the suspension from side to side, the 4-wheel independent, heavy-duty raised suspension with MacPherson-type struts with internal rebound springs, lower L-arms, coil springs and stabilizer bar up front and a double wishbone with subframe in the rear, deftly smooth out speed bumps and road ruts.
Off-road, it isn’t an extreme, Baja 500 vehicle, but Forester can definitely navigate over and through mudholes, critter trails and rocky or snowy roads. It is a mainstream SUV, meaning that most of them probably will never see a dirt road, but it can do the job if called upon to get dirty. Continuous All-Wheel Drive with viscous-coupling locking center differential makes a seamless transition when asked.
The vehicle’s 5-speed manual transmission is forgiving, and its Incline Start Assist does help when stopped on hills or steep roadways, and power-assisted disc brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and 4-channel/4-sensor ABS and Brake Assist work well for quick stopping even during recent rainstorms throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Behind the wheel, the loud presence of road noise negatively affects a smooth ride that consisted of better-than-average handling, attentive steering and a roomy comfortable driving experience. Headroom is sufficient even with its moonroof, at 40 inches in row one and 37.7 inches in the second row; legroom is 43.1/38.0 and shoulder room is 56.1/55.6 as part of a 102.1 cu. ft. passenger volume.
Interior comforts include AM/FM stereo with single-disc CD player and four speakers plus auxiliary input jack, Air conditioning with 3-dial electronic control, air filtration system, power doorlocks and windows, and front and rear defroster and windshield wipers.
Subaru safety is paramount and is attended to via Subaru's ring reinforcement safety system, front, seat-mounted side, and three-row side-curtain airbags and ABS. Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control system, which incorporates stability and traction control systems with a roll-over sensor, is standard.
The NHTSA awarded the Forester a perfect 5 stars in frontal and side crash tests and 4 of 5 in rollover tests, and Forster is outfitted with active front seat head restraints, advanced frontal airbag system with dual-stage deployment, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, curtain side-impact airbags with rollover sensor and 5mph bumper compliance.
Base priced at $22,495, my test-ute was outfitted with all standard fare except a $400 set of steering wheel-mounted audio switches and a $451 equipment package consisting of luggage compartment cover, cargo tray, rear bumper cover and splash guard kit. Add to that a destination and delivery charge of $665, and the Forester’s bottom line is $24,011.
The 2009 Subaru Forester is an aggressively priced crossover that should still attract its forest-loving audience and gain mainstreamers along the way.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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