Vail Valley auto test: 2009 Subaru Forester |

Vail Valley auto test: 2009 Subaru Forester

Andy Stonehouse
Vail, CO, Colorado

The ongoing perception that previous generations of Subaru Forester were especially attractive to members of the gay community may or may not hold much weight ” there’s a subject for a Google search, if you’re interested ” but folks of all persuasions will find themselves with their own ideas on the totally redesigned 2009 Forester.

What was for many years an exceptionally boxy little machine has now transformed into a larger, taller, rounder crossover SUV ” one that looks kinda like an overgrown Honda CR-V, and, to its credit, was just named Motor Trend magazine’s SUV of the year.

As part of its metamorphosis (and three extra inches of wheelbase), the Forester has lost a bit of that square-edged, oddball personality, but still serves as a healthy alternative to the National Car of Colorado, the Outback.

Economy is still the name of the game, with buyers being able to get into the new Forester for just under $20K. in the variation I tried out, the Premium Package with the standard 170-horsepower 2.0 liter boxer engine (a turbocharged 224-HP 2.5 liter engine is also available), larger wheels, roof rails and one of the largest sunroofs in the business brought the price tag just a bit over $24,000.


It is, as a result, still an economically-minded offering, with interiors and finishings that are pleasant but austere: cloth seats, plastic doors and dash, very rudimentary gauges and a basic stereo and AC system.

My biggest observation was the purely old-school Subie sound and feel of that basic boxer engine, rattly and whiny as a 1980s model. Shifting the five-speed manual is brisk but the clutch pedal is posed at such a curious angle that I never could use it without banging my knee under the dash. Odd indeed.

The ride is also a little bumpy and the Forester is moderately well sound-insulated, but not unpleasant for a crossover ” that 2.0 liter engine just doesn’t give you a heck of a lot of boost and when hard acceleration is required, things are even more noisy.

Looks have been truly de-Forestered from the former squarish neo-station wagon look of yore, but like so many other entries in the crossover segment, the result is a design that’s sorta round, sorta smooth, sorta tall and middlingly contemporary.

An elongated, smooth-topped nose, broad bumper, taller and more sweeping lines, body-colored mirrors and a completely different rear end (with bejeweled tail lamps, rugged offroad-style cladding and dual exhausts) also greatly differentiate the 2009 model from Foresters past.

The significant rear cargo area (33.5 cubic feet with seats up, 68.3 cubic feet with seats down) was pre-equipped in my machine with a tree-patterned rubberized spill mat, a rolling tonneau cover and, one of my favorite Subarisms, space underneath the cargo deck to actually store the tonneau cover if you don’t use it.

Adequately large seating (especially the rather comfortable rear seat) is matched with an integrated pop-out cupholder system in the back and low rear seat headrests, allowing better-than-average rear visibility.

And that ginormous sunroof, which covers literally 60 percent of the whole cabin, will allow you summertime tanning like never before.

Beating the elements

In rougher weather or on light off-road excursions, symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive, 8.7 inches of clearance and a heavy duty four-wheel independent suspension (plus new double wishbone rear suspension) make the Forester a machine to beat the elements.

Vehicle dynamics control (with four-wheel traction control and an electronic limited slip differential) and daytime running lights also make it a safer ride. That’s helped it earn NHTSA five-star crash test ratings and an IIHS Top Safety Pick award.

Mileage was good but not astounding, with about a 23 mpg average during my travels, although the EPA highway numbers suggest 26 mpg is possible.

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