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

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2009 Subaru Forester, by Paul Williams
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2009 Subaru Forester

Oshawa, Ontario – Back in the 1950s, GM designer Harley Earl told an interviewer that his sense of proportion told him that “an oblong is more attractive than a square.” If you’ve ever doubted that, then look at the difference between the Subaru Forester of 2009 and the 2008 model that it replaces.

Yes, it’s still one box on top of another, but the edges are smoother, the grille flows into the lights which in turn flow into the fenders, and the bumpers wrap around into a cohesive whole. It’s more conventional SUV styling than before, but it’s now a very attractive vehicle, and a fine start to what waits inside for drivers and passengers.

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

Now in its third generation, the 2009 Forester also undergoes a considerable update to its interior, receiving a “twin-cockpit” design first seen on the Tribeca that gives it a more mature appearance that looks more in line with its price-tag.

Two engines are available: the top-line 2.5XT Limited uses a turbocharged 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder, while all other models – the 2.5X, my 2.5X Touring Package tester and the 2.5X Limited Package – use a 2.5-litre that’s naturally-aspirated. The 2.5X and Touring start with a five-speed manual transmission, but in my tester, it had been optioned to a four-speed automatic that’s the sole choice in the Limited. Prices for the 2.5X range from $25,795 to $32,395, while the turbo will set you back $34,895. My tester’s price-tag started at $27,995 and went to $29,095 with the autobox, which seemed like a reasonable sticker for the vehicle (at least, if I didn’t look at the U.S. consumer site, where a similarly-equipped model comes in at $23,895 in practically-at-par greenbacks).

My colleagues who have driven the turbo version give it the nod over the naturally-aspirated model for its enthusiasts’ driving pleasure, but in the real world, purchase price and fuel economy mean more than they ever have. Even so, those who opt for the non-turbo will not feel short-changed. At 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, it sends the Forester wherever you need it to go; at no time did it feel overwhelmed, even when passing at highway speeds. It’s got a bit of a rough idle, which I’ve found pretty much inherent in Subaru’s flat engines; it’s not unacceptable by any means, but you always know there’s some internal combusting going on below the hood.

2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Touring
2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Touring
2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Touring; bottom photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

There’s a bit more ground clearance than in the Forester it replaces, and you’re aware of its height, but it never feels tippy, and it’s a nimble handler. As with all Subarus, it features the company’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (which refers not to the torque distribution, but to the fact that all components are arranged equally on either side of the car’s longitudinal axis). The type of all-wheel you get depends on the transmission: with a stick shift, it’s 50/50 front to rear, while with my tester’s automatic, an electronically-controlled multi-plate system distributes torque as needed, depending on speed and traction. Electronic stability control and traction control come standard on all models, along with ABS with brake-force distribution and brake assist, side and curtain airbags, and active head restraints. The ride is firm, but not unpleasantly so, the brakes have good bite, and the whole package feels exceptionally well-planted at highway speeds. Against a published fuel economy of 10.4 L/100 km in the city and 7.8 on the highway (with the automatic), I got a combined 9.3.

What really impressed me about the Forester was its visibility, which I really noticed when I went to an event in Toronto and had to get it around a tightly-packed underground garage. Most SUVs are rolling blind spots, due to their height and thick pillars, but thanks to its large greenhouse, and especially its low-cut rear window, the Forester offers excellent sightlines all around. Needless to say, parking it is a snap.

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

Inside, the Forester sports a well-done interior which, as mentioned, pays tribute to the Tribeca’s design, and it works equally well here. The instrument cluster glows with very attractive blue dials, and the centre stack controls are simple and easy to figure out. Storage spaces abound, and they’re often very clever: if you’re not using both front cupholders, you can clip a special “pocket” cubby onto the front of the console box for small items, while the covered console box contains a tray with a cut-out, so you can keep your iPod or telephone on top, and snake the cord through to the auxiliary jack and 12-volt socket below.

The Touring Package, as well as the Limited, adds a huge sunroof that slides open, but doesn’t tilt; it’s big enough that rear-seat passengers can also enjoy looking at the sky.

I found only three things that detracted from the interior. The seats are comfortable at first, but got pretty hard after an hour’s drive; there was a rattle in the dash that I never could pinpoint; and finally, admittedly a minor quibble, the stereo and heater are surrounded by two pieces of brushed metallic trim. It looks great against the dark plastic dash, but I always caught a glimpse of the brightwork in my peripheral vision, and like the proverbial sore thumb, I was constantly aware of it when trying to concentrate on the road.

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

The hard seat cushions aside, there’s a great deal of room in the cabin, both for front- and rear-seat passengers; those in the back seat can make use of a small tray with cupholders that flips forward and then slides ahead from between the seats. The cargo floor lifts up to reveal a moulded foam insert for storage. With the rear seats up, the cargo area is 93 cm long; drop the seats (which doesn’t require removing the head restraints) and you’ve got a flat, carpeted 170-cm-long space.

Overall, this is a very well-done makeover, producing a vehicle that can confidently sit among the top vehicles on any SUV test-drive list. Smoothed out both inside and out, the Forester takes on city streets and cottage roads with a new level of performance and all-wheel agility. Oh, and it looks pretty good, too. Oblong against square and all that, y’know.

Pricing: 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X Touring

Base price: $29,095

Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,495
Price as tested: $30,690
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2009 Subaru Forester

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