Here’s a vehicle that really lost its appeal with a redesign. The last-generation Forester was pretty funky, but it was unique and stood out in the crossover/tall wagon world. This Forester couldn’t be more generic and the test car’s silver paint makes that even worse. The non-turbo engine and automatic transmission (a manual transmission is available, but not with the turbo engine) is also the least appealing combination. The Forester does offer all-wheel drive and lots of utility, but an EPA rating of 22 mpg combined seems like a death sentence for a vehicle this underpowered.
Inside, the Forester is about on a par with a base Impreza, which is to say pretty basic. I didn’t find the interior to be too cheap or uncomfortable, but it’s just as uninspired as the exterior of the vehicle. This passes for basic transportation, but that’s about it.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I completely agree with Floraday on this one. I was a fan of the last-generation Forester, especially in wicked-quick XT form, where a detuned version of the STI’s turbo flat four lived under the hood. It was fast, it was weird, it looked like a shopping cart, and it heeled over in corners like a half-toppled moose. This one just seems anodyne, as if a product planner asked Joe Ordinary to sketch out his idea of what a small SUV looks like. Any semblance of the old Forester’s personality has been lost, exchanged for the kind of mass-market blah you find in a box of generic Pop-Tarts.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s an entirely acceptable vehicle, but it’s totally lacking in spark or verve or the kind of offbeat flair you traditionally find in a Subaru. Maybe a little more power and a manual transmission (which is standard with the base engine but no longer available with the turbo) would help, but ultimately, something is just missing.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor
Sam’s right about the missing spark – but I’ve got to say, it’s been lost for quite a while. Outside of a few Legacy models or anything with a WRX badge, what, pray tell, in Subie’s current lineup jumps out at you? Nothing, I’m afraid – much of that Subaru quirk has gone the way of the SVX.
I’d liken this transformation of the Forester to the development of the RAV4 over the past decade. When first launched, both were cute, small, funky, and (surprisingly) fun. Now, they’re large, overweight, underpowered, and trying too hard to be serious, and targeting a different demographic. No longer is the Forester trying to target young buyers who wanted a car-based SUV. I feel it’s aiming at former (and now older) Forester owners who, after some time, want something a little larger although can’t divest themselves of the Forester nameplate. At least that’s what the TV spots (no, not the one with the wrestlers) seem to imply.
Evan McCausland, Assistant Web Producer
I haven’t spent much time in the new Forester, having driven it just once – straight home from work and then right back the next morning. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the Forester is that it didn’t really create much of an impression. Which is to say, it is a perfectly nice crossover/SUV – comfortable and smooth, with a reasonable amount of cargo space and good lines of sight from the relatively high seating position. The dash layout is clean and well-executed, and the exterior design is pleasant if not eye-catching. It’s true, as others have said, that the Forester doesn’t spark your enthusiasm. But I don’t really see that as a problem for Subaru (the WRX and the STI cater to those customers who are looking for a little driving excitement). Forester loyalists drive this vehicle for its all-weather, all-terrain capability, its cargo-carrying capacity, and its reliability. I have some neighbors who love their two previous-generation Foresters, and it’s not because the vehicles are “fun to drive.” My neighbors love their Foresters because they’re avid gardeners, and they can go to the nursery and carry home a full load of perennials and bags of dirt. They don’t have to worry about getting stuck when the snow falls, because they know they can depend on the Forester’s four-wheel-drive system to navigate unplowed streets. The new Forester may not appeal to enthusiasts, but it has one enduring trait that Subarus have had for several decades: it is practical. So, we can criticize Subaru for not making the Forester “enthusiast-friendly,” or we can applaud them for catering to those customers who buy their vehicles because they’re practical and predictable.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I think it’s unfair to completely discount the Forester, as my persnickety colleagues seem to have done. I agree with Amy: I’d be willing to bet that many (most?) previous-gen Forester owners love their ride not because it drives like a tall WRX but because it is useful, spacious, 4WD, and a Subaru. The new Forester still maintains all of those desirable characteristics in a quieter and more modern-looking package.
That’s not to say that I personally don’t prefer the quirkier and more nimbly compact previous Forester. The spec on this particular vehicle (base, base, base with an automatic gearbox) doesn’t help polish the nouveau Forester experience, either. I was especially unhappy with the flat, tipped-forward seat cushions, which I found quite uncomfortable. I do like the seats’ design, though: black with blue pinstripes. That blue is nicely carried over to the IP gauges, too. Overall, I think Subaru’s interior design themes work better here than in the larger Tribeca. Exterior styling – well, I’m not so keen on Subaru’s generic new approach. And this Forester is no exception.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X
Base Price (with destination): $23,160
Price as tested: $25,011
– 4-Speed Auto Transmission w/Sportshift – $1000
– All-weather package – $400
– Luggage Compartment Cover, Cargo Tray, Rear Bumper Cover, Splash Guard Kit-$451
-20 / 26 / 22 (city/hwy/combined)
-4-cylinder, horizontally opposed, aluminum cylinder block and heads
-Size: 2457 cc (150 cu. in.)
-Horsepower: 170 @ 6000 rpm
-Torque: 170 @ 4400 rpm
– 4-speed electronic direct control automatic with lockup torque converter and Sportshift
– 3300 lbs
– 215/60 R16 96H Bridgestone Dueler H/T 687 M+S all-season