• Jun 2nd 2009 at 11:57AM
  • 38

2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Premium – Click above for high-res image gallery

Adequate dynamics, very capable, super handy. That about sums up the last ten years of the Subaru Forester. And yet – once the sportier turbocharged version put rally-bred heat under the skinny pedal, the Forester was no longer just the squishy, squeezy Official Car of Vermont. It was suddenly possible to haul the family Newfoundland to the groomer and scorch the doors off more prestigious iron by flattening that Birkenstock. Eat our dust, punctuated by a "Be Green" sticker. More luxurious appointments were also put on offer, there was once even a Nardi edition. For all that, the Foresters were still little funk machines. For 2009, Subaru's Forester retains and expands what has historically been great about this Fuji Heavy crossover, but the rough edges have been hammered flat. Click past the jump to see if that's impacted the Subie's appeal.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

A crossover before the term existed, the Forester began life as Subaru's stab at the still-burgeoning SUV market of the late 1990s. Grabbing the handiest platform, the little truck wound up riding on Impreza hardware. Basing its compact SUV on a car continues to be one of the Forester's biggest assets. The personality stays driver-friendly, and the lower center of gravity and modest weight make the Forester responsive instead of lumbering.

Now noticeably larger, the Forester will still please Goldilocks with its just-right dimensions. A giant moonroof on our tester acted like a skylight, making the Forester's cabin feel airy and open, and light colors inside enhanced the cheerful feel at the helm. One common complaint about the Forester has been interior cheapness, and for 2009 materials are improved. Better, but still not Lexus grade, those that molest the dashboard's contours with finger prods and knuckle rapping may be disappointed.

The Tribeca's silvery swoop motif is echoed handsomely by the Forester, bringing a welcome dash of style to a cockpit that previously lacked design whimsy. Seat fabrics no longer look like leftover stock from the 1970s. Squishy padded and devoid of much bolstering, the seats will not be mistaken for anything sporty. Long trips might make some drivers fidgety, too, necessitating stops to walk around and uncramp lumbar regions.

The ergonomics inside are faultless. Rather than go silly with jog dials and digital control schemes, simplicity wins the day. Subaru's done such a good job inside that the Forester just works. No need to crack open the manual, nothing to gripe about, just easy, logical functionality. Temperature controls are a knob each for temperature, fan, and airflow – does it get more intuitive? At the top of the clean center stack is an eyebrow that houses an inconspicuous LCD showing time, trip computer data, and outside temperature. Directly below that little telltale, which manages to hide in plain sight, is the radio.

Packing a lot of functionality into a clean interface, the audio system follows the same easy-to-operate theme that runs through the entirety of the Forester. Satellite radio capable, with an auxiliary input, the ability to speak .mp3/.wma, and the expected radio bands augmented by RDS, there's not much to beg for in the head unit. It's not like you'd expect to find iDrive in a Forester, and Subaru itself offers audio upgrades, not to mention the vast array of aftermarket choices for dB drag racing.

The dashboard's top pad is rendered in a nicer material than past versions, and the silver metallic trim around the center console sets the interior off tastefully. The gray plastic that comprises the balance of surfaces in the Forester's cabin carries a slight sheen of cheapness, but that's not out of the ordinary among the Forester's competition, either. While not the best interior in its class, Subaru has expended noticeable effort improving the environment inside the Forester, making it a place that doesn't alarm with chintz. The silverized plastic does make us think twice about how long it's going to take to scuff and wear thin, however.

Thanks to its size increase, the back seats are now easier to take, too. The 2009 Forester's wheelbase has been treated to nearly four inches of stretch, leaving space in the second row for a megalomaniac and his ego. Normal invitees will find that entry to any seating position in the Forester is stoop-free and visibility out of the glassy cabin is as clear as anyone could wish for. The 2.5X Premium we tried had limo-tinted glass from the rear doors back to manage glare and heat buildup.

The cargo area, always a compelling aspect of the Forester, has a bigger gut now. Stuffing things down the gullet of the 2009 Forester will still surprise you. The big cargo/small footprint strength is further augmented by the three-inch taffy pull the Forester's overall length has undergone for 2009. Our tester also had a handy vertical cargo net to keep loads secured and a retractable cargo cover handily kept greedy eyes off our bric-a-brac.

You can dress it up in fancy new clothes, but there's no way to disguise the familiar boxer-engine powertrain once the key is twisted. Subaru touts the horizontally-opposed layout's inherent balance and low profile, but it still speaks with a gravel throat and jiggles slightly at idle. Growling out 170 horsepower in naturally aspirated form, the engine's forte is torque, also 170 ft-lbs. XT trim level Foresters spice it up with a more lively turbocharged engine good for 224 hp.

A four-speed automatic isn't unknown among the Forester's peers, but it still feels behind the curve when there are some boxes out there offering double that (admittedly not in this class). We didn't mind our 2.5X's auto, but the five-speed manual is the way we'd go. There's even a short-shift kit to tighten up the standard linkage, and the extra cog should serve to keep the engine boiling more gracefully than the bigger ratio gaps in the auto. Fuel economy of 20/26 isn't horrid for a vehicle spinning a transfer case and differentials at each axle, but we'd snap up Subaru's diesel version of this engine in an instant if we could for its torque and efficiency.

Dynamically, the Forester is more mature. The chassis is newly buttoned down and pleasantly well behaved. Torque feels strong off the line, though with only four ratios and a tuning eye turned away from high RPM screaming, the 2.5X runs out of lung capacity before anything satisfying happens. The turbocharger would do a lot to offset the syrup in the automatic, but saddling the blown powerplant with anything other than a manual would be a shame.

Surefootedness is the mainstay of the Forester, and that capability has been augmented by for 2009. Structural rigidity is up, allowing suspension engineers to dial in more discipline and make the Forester's responses less sloppy, though there's still a healthy amount of body roll telling you to cool it if you corner too hot. The soft seats don't help keep you in place, either, so the driver ends up gripping the wheel extra hard and bracing him or herself. Vehicle Dynamic Control is a welcome safety net, and airbags have proliferated to the front, side, and seat positions. Smooth, confident security in any weather is to be expected from Subaru's Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system, a big factor to the Forester's long popularity in regions that see winter. Brakes are four wheel discs, and feel strong and sure, unlike our experience with Foresters past, where using the binders was akin to stepping into a bucket of custard.

Starting at $20,295, the Forester 2.5X offers much of the goodness that made our one-step-up 2.5X Premium pleasing at around $26,000. Five star crash ratings and a passel of accolades make ownership a comforting proposition, especially with top resale values. The superlative loyalty of Forester owners means that lovers of this Labrador puppy of a car tend to hold on to them, and Subaru offers a healthy list of options and add-ons to build a near-custom Forester.

This latest iteration has been scrubbed behind the ears and emerges less esoteric than before. Styling that's clean might be uncharitably described as boring, but we'll go with classy. Too much frippery would only harm the design's timelessness, and the new Forester looks like it should cost more, a happy circumstance. The Forester puts up solid numbers and has got the goods where it counts. Legions of fans speak to the success of the recipe, and for 2009, there's new sweetening added with more size, better performance, and slicker looks.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      We own a 2004 Forester XT. The only real gripe I have (aside from my wife didn't wan the manual) are the frameless doors. This lets in quite a bit of wind noise. Has that been resolved for the 2009 model?
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'm 6'2".

        no problem whatsoever.

        the wife's miata is another matter
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yep. Frameless doors are gone from the Forester now.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You ever tried using one of those things called a door-handle, Dan? They tend to shut doors pretty well. You just grab and pull...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Don't work real well when you're out of the car.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I love the frameless windows in my Legacy. I was sad to see them go away from the Subaru lineup. I don't notice a lot more wind noise than any other vehicle that isn't plushly padded luxury-oriented.

        A lack of a window frame allows the doors to be much lighter, and the roof structure to be much stronger without getting thicker and thus heavier, high above the vehicles center of gravity.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Dan Said
        "The frameless doors are only a good idea if you're 5'6. Otherwise closing the door means either leaning down to reach the door proper or else getting fingerprints all over the glass. Dumb."

        Dan might i suggest sitting down in the car before attempting to close the door.

        My 2002 WRX has frameless and they make the doors sound cheap. The only benefit with frameless is that you can close a hand in the window part of the door and not hurt it. Not much of a benefit.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I miss the ugly little troll of a car that the 1st gens were. Those things had some character. This thing could be mistaken for a .
      • 6 Years Ago
      "The ergonomics inside are faultless. Rather than go silly with jog dials and digital control schemes, simplicity wins the day."

      God bless Subaru.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Great little CUV!!! but i really want Toyota to work their magic on Subbie's engines for more power/efficiency! :)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Oh! BoxerFanatic mentioned his Legacy GT - everybody has to drink.
        • 6 Years Ago
        'not needlessly driving the rear wheels on the freeway.'
        'he permanent split in awd does contribute to worse fuel economy'

        You either drive those wheels as part of the drivetrain via a center differential.
        you drive them through the car.
        The rear wheels are pulled along via the chassis/suspension, [overcoming rolling resistance] as a consequence of them being connected to the car. [tire/wheel/hub/CAV joint, axle, CAV joint, differential, pinion/ring gear, universal joint, driveshaft, driveshaft beaing, universal joint]

        Take option #1, it is more utilitarian & fun, for no cost of fuel economy. (and it could save you money. If you were to get the 4 speed auto, no center differential, you'd be wise to get directional tires, if you get the 5 speed stick, you can get away without directional tires)

        and if you do, you get to take advantage of the better rear suspension (no more rear struts)
        • 6 Years Ago
        They can't because the engine isn't the only issue, the setup of the awd system also comes into play. systems like 4motion can default to fwd for better fuel efficency, not needlessly driving the rear wheels on the freeway.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @BoxerFanatic did someone piss in your cheerios again today? such a lofty rant, i hope you feel better now. back to the point at hand, which you've not addressed, the permanent split in awd does contribute to worse fuel economy. whatever econo box your driving is irrelevant to the topic at hand, which is the forester and the fuel economy it achieves, incase your reading comprehension is also impaired.
        • 6 Years Ago
        BoxerFanatic drives a Legacy GT, which isn't an econobox. My 5spd Legacy GT Wagon easily gets 26 on the highway as well, running at slightly extralegal speeds with the AC on. With full-time AWD.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I test drove one of these several months ago and was very pleased. However, I found it odd that the height of the driver's seat could be raised what seemed like a foot, but the passenger seat was not height-adjustable at all. My wife raised her seat up when she drove, as I sat in the passenger seat, staring up at her like she was atop a mountain... weird feeling.

      Perhaps this is only a base model issue?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Over the years my wife and I have had two Outbacks and an Outback Sport, all three were great cars. We did notice that when the mileage would get to around 60 or 80k the engine would rap, rap, rap during startup. This would only happen on cold New Hampshire mornings and not during warmer months. Does anyone know if this still happens or has it been resolved in the newer models. Thanks
      • 6 Years Ago
      The Foresters are doing incredible at our dealership. Subaru has done a great job on them. I do wish they had a 5 spd automatic and a manual transmission available for the turbo. That would be sweet.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wish list:

      2009 forester
      sti engine
      2009 wrx 5 speed transmission (screw the extra gear in the sti)
      Brembo brakes
      spt struts and springs all around
      larger front and rear swaybars
      sti rims and tires

      = my new daily driver

      Until then my bugeye wagon will have to do.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The STI and Legacy Spec B 6MT is a better gearbox, with a better clutch.

        The 5MT, and the new econo-6MT in the '10 Legacy GT are both extensions of the old 4-speed manual. They are acceptable, and workable transmissions.

        But the 6MT is more robust, smoother, with variable torque distribution or DCCD with an external controller, and in STI guise has a front limited slip, which can be fitted to the otherwise similar Spec B gearbox.

        Otherwise, that sounds like a nicely equipped XTI, or XT Sport.

        Make mine a soft-road ready rig, (if it is going to be a Forester, it might as well be good-to-go near-truck.) with long travel suspension, front brush guard, etc... With an STI H4, or an H6 under the hood, 6MT or 5EAT with torque distribution, front and rear Limited Slip diffs, and skid plates, and pretty much ready for almost anything.

        An STI performance driveline swap would go into a GC Impreza coupe, or a 6MT swap into a nice SVX... Performance for a car. Capability for a ute.
      • 6 Years Ago
      At least Subaru's design language suits a CUV. They are making everything look like a CUV, this one actually happens to be.

      Really, all it needs is some driveline upgrades. 5-speed manual and automatics for XT, Turbo-diesel boxer engine option, and 3.6 H6 engine option.

      I know Baja burned them because they executed the truck below it's potential... but a back-halved body on a Forester, with a short open cargo bed would be a newer, better Baja-like truck. Bajas didn't sell well new, but now you can't find a used one for love nor money, as those who have them won't sell them.

      Be it a small SUV or SUT, equipped with a proper driveline, brakes, and towing equipment for Class II or III, for a modest boat, or utility trailer, and this would be a fantastic class leader. They just need to up it from the 4-speed auto to their newer, Variable-torque-distribution AWD, with front and rear limited slip diffs.

      Again, Subaru having much more potential than they actually make use of.
      • 6 Years Ago
      4-speed automatic? I thought it had a 5. Strange.
      That said, I would definitely recommend this to anyone needing this sort of vehicle because it is so great in each area; it's amazing all-around. Well done, Subaru!
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's amazing how Subaru gets a free pass for offering the 4 spd automatic whereas if it were a GM product, there would have been 100 comments about that's why GM's sales are down. The exterior on this car is nice, but the interior is so generic plain Japanese to me. I just don't get the Subaru AWD appeal when it's heavier, and less efficient, (and I've driven quite a few Subarus).

      For the 95% of us that don't need AWD, I still think FWD with stability control is the way to go. I know I sound like a broken record, but my Saab 9-3 Aero V6 SportCombi gets 30+ mpg on the highway with 255 hp, gobs of low end torque, a 6 spd automatic, more standard safety features, better handling, maybe slightly less cargo room. But having more horizontal space is more practical for me than having more vertical space. With the seats folded down, I can put my road bicycle in there easily without taking a wheel off. I wonder if the same can be done with a Forester. With rebates, a 9-3 Aero probably costs less and you can always get a 2.0 T. I think now the 9-3 Aeros are all AWD.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The 4EAT is dreadful, and the fact that it's ALL you can get with the XT's turbo is just stupid. It prevents the Forester from being a contender to replace my Legacy GT Wagon... not that it needs replacing.

        However, I hope Saab doesn't have enough rebates to make up the difference you described. INVOICE on a 9-3 Aero SportCombi is $14.5k more than MSRP on a Forester XT Limited.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah I agree with the auto, but it isn't that bad. Subaru is putting a CVT and 6-speed auto in the 2010 Legacy/Outback so maybe they will drop those into the Forester too.

        As for getting a Saab, you also have to factor in the reliability and re-sale value. They are pretty cool, but Saabs loose their value pretty quick and they are expensive to fix.
        • 6 Years Ago
        One reason Subaru gets a pass for the 4-speed auto is that they're a small company; specifically they don't have production capacity to put their 5-speed auto across the line. IIRC the Forester is supposed to get the 5-speed auto in a year or two.

        GM, on the other hand, somehow has the capacity to make ridiculous production choices which is why they get slammed for offering 4-speed autos. For example, they offered the current list of engines in the ~3.6L displacement range:

        3.4L V6
        3.5L V6
        3.6L V6
        3.6L V6 (direct injected)
        3.7L I5
        3.8L V6 (production stopped only last August)
        3.9L V6

        Frickin' inexcusable.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hope that Subaru does not go too mainstream.
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