2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV
2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV. Click image to enlarge

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2010 Subaru Forester

The focus on changing our hard-to-break habits in order to save the planet has put a spotlight on hybrid and electric cars, and further down the road, alternative fuel vehicles that run on hydrogen, for example. But while hybrids have won favour with many motorists, there are others who aren’t sold on the driving-a-computer feel that the affordable ones inflict on the driver.

Subaru, for its part, has been popular with “greenies” for some time now, ostensibly for how it has long offered small and medium-sized wagons with smaller engines and all-wheel drive, an attractive alternative to generally thirstier SUVs.

Last year, Subaru introduced its Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) technology on the Legacy, and for 2010, it’s added the same greenhouse-gas-limiting set-up to the Forester.

2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV
2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV
2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV
2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV. Click image to enlarge

Subaru claims its PZEV models run 90 per cent cleaner than the average new vehicle, thanks to a number of differences compared to non-PZEV cars: a charcoal canister in the engine air intake that absorbs unburned gasoline fumes before they can vent to the environment; different fuel injectors that close tighter to further reduce evaporative emissions; a catalytic converter that’s more effective than those on regular Subarus; and an engine control computer that is programmed to warm up the engine and its exhaust more quickly, which brings the catalyst up to operating temperature sooner.

From the driver’s seat, Subaru says the net effect is a louder, rougher idle when the engine is cold, but I couldn’t hear or feel anything different during the first official week of summer; I suspect the difference might be more apparent in cold weather.

Note that while PZEV cars run cleaner than their standard Subaru counterparts, they don’t use less gasoline. As such, my PZEV tester’s fuel consumption ratings were the same 10.4/7.7 L/100 km as for the non-PZEV Forester automatic. In city driving, I averaged 11 L/100 km, a number I suspect would have been lower in a fully broken-in car (my tester had about 1,700 km on it).

The rest of the Forester, which was fully redesigned for 2009, continues into 2010 unchanged. The engine choices are a turbocharged 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed (flat) four cylinder making 224 horsepower and 226 lb-ft of torque; and the base engine (which my tester had), also a 2.5-litre flat four, but one that breathes without the benefit of a turbo and as a result produces 170 hp and 170 lb-ft. A five-speed manual is the entry-level transmission, and a four-speed automatic is the upgrade.

That automatic is the only one available with the PZEV engine, probably due to its electronic controls being better suited to limiting emissions than a lawless, uncaring manual. The automatic is a fine transmission, and while I generally don’t begrudge four-speed automatics and the way they’re overshadowed by the five- and six-speeds and CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) that are becoming common, this naturally-aspirated motor would probably benefit from a gearbox with an extra gear or two.

2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV
2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV
2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X PZEV. Click image to enlarge

Acceleration off the line is okay, but floor the gas to pass on the highway, say, at 70 or 80 km/h and the tranny shifts down two gears (to second). At this point, you start to wonder when the other 30 horses are going to wake up. The car feels peppier at part throttle, when you’re not bracing yourself for the burst of speed that never happens. A four-cylinder Toyota RAV4 feels quicker, even though it only has a nine-horsepower and two lb-ft advantage over the Subaru. I can’t be sure, but I’ll blame my Forester tester’s not-quite-broken-in engine once more for its lack of punch, as this one felt slower than a similar (minus the PZEV stuff) 2009 version I drove last year.

While my tester made more noise than acceleration at full throttle, the sounds it makes are more similar to those of traditional in-line four-cylinders than the riding-mower-on-steroids soundtrack that older Subarus were known for. Otherwise, the engine is nearly silent at idle and quite well-behaved at part-throttle and cruising speeds.

I like the Forester’s cushy suspension, as it’s a comfortable alternative to the stiff ride found in the Toyota RAV4 and, to a lesser extent, the Honda CR-V. The Subaru’s ride verges on too soft, though, and could use stiffer dampers (shock absorbers) to better control body motions over uneven pavement; the ride becomes even more wishy-washy with a passenger or two or significant amounts of cargo in back. The Forester’s cornering abilities are also hampered by its soft springs, with somewhat wishy-washy responses and noticeable body roll at higher speeds.

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