The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Subaru Forester

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

My pretty blonde and I sat by the front window of a small town diner in rural New Hampshire while on a spring vacation a couple of years ago. In fact, it was the week that the emblematic Man on the Mountain rock formation, that inspired the image on state’s license plates and innumerable other New Hampshire trinkets, broke away and fell off the mountain during the spring thaw. We had hiked beneath his nose the day before his demise.

I was struck by the number of Subaru's passing by on the busy main street. I counted them while I waited for my blueberry cakes and found that nearly half of the cars in that town were Subarus of one kind or another. As I think about the climate and the culture there I shouldn’t be surprised. Long and harsh, snowy winters and a hearty folks with a penchant for frugality might describe New Hampshire winters and New Hampshire-ites.

Our test car this week is a new Subaru Forester compact, 5-passenger CUV. It looks pretty conventional. There was a time when Subaru style and design were quite distinctive. But the design has homogenized over the years to look much like everyone else. This segment of the market is populated by a competent vehicle from just about every manufacturer. The Japanese and Korean entries look mostly the same while the US version have much more distinctive designs, like Chevy Equinox (which I don’t think comes with all-wheel drive), Ford Escape and a number of Dodge and Jeep products.

The interior at first glance looks a bit plain. The fabric seats on our test car have an odd shadowed pattern that makes it appear stained. Not particularly attractive, I’d say. And, it’s not an especially warm fabric either. I’d much prefer leather inside. Otherwise, I didn’t really notice until I turned the radio off on a quick trip to town how gentile and graceful it is inside. Controls peer out at us from large, mostly analog gauges. A wide band of polished metal (aluminum I think) wraps from the middle of one door to the middle of the other drawn down and broken halfway by the center stack. Simplicity is the theme, obviously, and it is executed well. Controls are logical and tactilely good with the glaring exception of the seat heater controls which are well below the driver’s elbow where I couldn’t see it. The seats got plenty hot though.

On the road the Forester feels competent and sturdy. Every vehicle in the Subaru stable comes with what they refer to as “symmetrical” all-wheel drive. We’re having another snowy and icy week here in Michigan so I had plenty of opportunity to experience the system. While we can get the vehicle more askew than many other modern vehicles with all-wheel drive and sophisticated electronic chassis dynamics but we didn’t get it out of control. Suspension is fully independent front and rear as is virtually universal in this category of vehicle.

The most unusual element of this power train is the horizontally-opposed engine – a “boxer” it’s often called. Rather than pumping up and down like a conventional “V” or in-line arrangement, the pistons pump horizontally – two to the right and two to the left. I’ve always appreciated the unique rhythm we feel with a boxer engine, though it is considerably less noticeable in this Forester. Perhaps it’s a bit too well isolated. It does feel like it has a bit more grunt than a conventional 170-hp four banger. I never felt like I needed more power, but it did feel a bit buzzy, more like a conventional inline 4.

The basic Forester “Limited” (a meaningless moniker, by the way) with 5-speed stick and no options lists for $19,995. Our tester is the “Premium” which starts at $22,495. A loaded, top-of-the-line “Premium” with navigation and all the other extras costs just about 30-grand. The automatic transmission in ours costs $1,000 extra and the All Weather Package (heated seats and side mirrors along with windshield wiper de-icer) is $400. The Popular Equipment package (luggage compartment cover, cargo tray, rear bumper cover and splash guard kit) adds another $451. With the $665 destination and delivery charge the sticker shows $25, 011.

That price includes 17-inch tires on alloy wheels, a moon roof with tinted glass, roof rails, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and all the other stuff we’ve come to expect in a modern vehicle.

Safety features include the highest ratings (5-Star) for crashworthiness and 4-Star for rollover protection. Like just about all vehicles there are six airbags to cushion the blows from outside.

Fuel mileage is officially estimated at 20-city and 26-highway. We managed just about 22 in our mixed use this week.

Warranty coverage is 3-years/36,000-miles, the minimum in the industry. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Rust-through is covered for only 5 years but mileage is unlimited.

Subaru has a well-earned reputation for durability and dependability which translates to a loyal following. While this Forester is nothing special when compared feature-to-feature and price-to-price to all the other great products in this field it continues to sell well because of this image and the affection of its loyalists.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved