2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Limited
2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Limited. Click image to enlarge
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    2009 Subaru Forester

    Winnipeg, Manitoba – For 2009, this little Subie has finally gone mainstream. In the never-ending quest for a larger piece of the growing compact CUV (crossover utility vehicle) pie, car companies try to come up with ways of winning over new customers while at the same time looking after their existing fans to keep them coming back for more.

    Subaru’s Forester, which has been on sale for more than ten years now, is a bit of a ‘tweener’ in the realm of automotive classification. The definition of a crossover is already hard enough to nail down, but Subaru further blurred the line with the Forester and its tall wagon shape. Its driving position has always been lower than most others in its class, and for that reason some folks dismissed it as more wagon than CUV. And certainly, in terms of driving dynamics, Subaru has held a distinct advantage as one of the sportiest CUVs on the market.

    Determined to put an end to the perpetual question, “is it a wagon or a CUV?”, Subaru has cast away its quirky looks and wagon-esque proportions in favour of more mainstream CUV styling. Thankfully, the entertaining road manners of the original have been preserved.

    While styling is very much a subjective matter, to my eyes the new Forester is more appealing than the outgoing model. Everything is just much easier to look at, from the tastefully more aggressive nose and sharply creased hood to its broader shoulders and more substantial wheel arches. The greenhouse itself appears as one piece in profile, rather than being interrupted by the bulky body-coloured C-pillars just aft of the rear passenger doors. The only issue here is that the whole doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts: it still manages to look just a bit too generic. But as I said, it’s subjective, and broader appeal is what they’re after.

    The interior gets just as complete a makeover (in fact, the Forester’s platform is completely new; it’s just the drivetrain that carries over with only minor revisions – more later). The dash is all but identical to that of the new-for-’08 Impreza, with the exception of the instrument panel design. So this little trucklet still feels very car-like inside, despite the more butch exterior styling. It’s a clean design, but one that’s not likely to raise the pulses of those seated in the Subie.

    The corporate three-spoke steering wheel has buttons for cruise on the right and audio on the left. An upper dash display shows time, temperature and trip computer readouts, while the audio unit occupies the next-highest spot on the centre stack (sound from the “premium” six-disc system in our Limited tester was strictly average). Down below the dash vents are dials for the automatic climate control, which I’ve complained about before and I’ll keep complaining about until Subaru either gets around to fixing it or stops letting me drive their cars. (I really shouldn’t joke about that when there’s an STI sitting in my garage.)

    I don’t normally harp about climate control systems, primarily because most of them work just fine and hardly announce their presence, but every time I drive a Subie I notice that cold air pumps out of the dash vents even when I have the temperature set several degrees higher than ambient levels. This time around it was 19 C outside and I had the darn thing set at 25 and still had to point the vents away from my face to avoid getting blasted with cold air.

    Thanks, I feel better.

    Bottle holders in the doors were appreciated, but the centre console cup holders amounted to little more than square bins and inspired little confidence in their ability to contain circular containers such as cups.

    The whole works sits on a completely new chassis design with a longer wheelbase, higher ground clearance, and better approach and departure angles for those interested in off-road shenanigans.

    A new double-wishbone rear suspension replaces last year’s struts for better packaging and a resultant improvement in rear passenger and cargo capacities.

    Buyers can choose one of two ways to fill the Forester’s engine compartment. Both are horizontally opposed four-bangers, or “boxers” to signify the pistons’ horizontal movement which mimics two boxers throwing punches at one another. Both measure 2.5 litres in displacement but one uses an intercooled turbocharger to force more air into the combustion chambers and eke out more power. The naturally aspirated version produces 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, while the force-fed turbo boosts those figures to 224 and 226 respectively.

    While the base engine is available with either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the turbocharged XT model makes do with the slushbox only. These transmissions, along with the engine choices, are essentially carryovers from last year save for such changes as a new intake port design to improve mid-range torque and optimized transmission design for better shifting.

    And that’s where the Forester disappoints me the most: they should have done more with the available powertrains to keep the model competitive. In particular, a five- or six-speed automatic should be on the Subie’s spec sheet, and they should have kept the turbo model with a manual transmission on the order form, as it made for a fine sleeper in the last-generation Forester.

    I don’t take issue with the available engines that have carried over though: the base flat-four automatic consumes fuel at a relatively frugal 10.4 L/100 km in the city and 7.8 on the highway, according to published figures. It’s a fairly smooth unit and exhibits that familiar flat-four thrum that give Subarus so much character.

    On a short highway trip east to Falcon Lake we were able to appreciate the Forester’s fine car-like road manners and comfortable seats. Passing requires forethought, though, and that’s where an additional cog or two in the transmission would have been appreciated.

    Aside from exterior styling, the Forester’s value proposition is probably its most improved feature. $25,795 is the price of entry into the ’09 Forester family, which is about $1,200 less than last year. The standard equipment list on the base 2.5X hasn’t been thinned out either: heated front seats, stability and traction control, six airbags, anti-whiplash front head restraints, heated exterior mirrors, tinted glass, A/C, cruise control, and an auxiliary input jack for the audio system are all accounted for.

    $27,995 buys you a manual-equipped Touring package, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a huge panoramic sunroof, de-icers for the windshield wipers, reclining rear seats, and a cargo tray. An automatic transmission adds $1,100 to each of those non-turbocharged models.

    The move up to the Limited model (automatic only) as my tester was equipped requires a $32,395 outlay, which nets buyers 17-inch wheels, xenon high-intensity headlights, a premium six-CD audio system, automatic climate control, and leather for the steering wheel, shifter and seats.

    The turbocharged XT comes only in Limited trim for $34,895, or about $4,000 less than last year’s automatic.

    Better looks, better value, great driving dynamics, and a broader appeal: the 2009 Forester now belongs on more shopping lists than ever.

    Pricing: 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Limited

    Base price: $32,395

    Options: None
    A/C tax: $100
    Freight: $1,495
    Price as tested: $33,990
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2009 Subaru Forester

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