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2009 Subaru Forester ReviewThe Good
Top-notch all-wheel-drive power lets you take the 2009 Subaru Forester on and off the road confidently, and a boost in rear passenger and cargo space maintains the popular family functionality of this SUV.The Bad
Questionable build quality inside the '09 Forester produces annoying rattling in the dash and back end, and it has a somewhat bland appearance overall.
The CarGurus View
No longer a “girlie” car, the 2009 Forester straddles the line perfectly between SUV cargo hauler, family-oriented commuter, and weekend adventurer. It offers excellent AWD performance, along with competent engines, a spacious interior, and easy car-like handling. However, this new generation still needs to work on upgrading the cabin and getting rid of its mysterious rattles and shudders.
At a Glance
The 2009 Forester gets tougher, larger, and more practical. Losing none of what accounts for its popularity, the four-passenger Forester SUV (or CUV – it's hard to keep the names straight these days) earns a redesign both inside and out and adds some more options and standard safety features. A stiffer platform and new rear suspension help to improve driving dynamics and provide a smoother ride, while 3.5 extra inches of wheelbase expand the back seat to easily and comfortably accommodate 6-foot adults. The cargo area also expands as a result of hiding the inner fender walls.
On the outside, the Forester steps up to its SUV trappings by adding more heft to its wheel flares, rounder lines to its front and rear ends, a larger grille, and a more muscular hood. Inside, a new sweeping center console and dash mimic that found in the Impreza, and a touchscreen navigation system becomes optional for 2009. Adding to its already strong safety profile, the '09 Forester features stability control and side curtain airbags for both rows in all trims.
The SUV comes in five trims – X, L.L. Bean Edition, Premium, XT, and XT Limited. The last two feature a turbo version of the 2.5 boxer engine found in the other trims. All feature the well-earned pedigree of Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, expert in slippery climates and on tricky roads. The base X rides on 16-inch wheels, while all others get 17-inchers. Power accessories, cruise control, and a CD player are standard across the trims, with a power driver's seat, leather upholstery, heated seats and mirrors, and a sunroof added as you move up the line.
Named Motor Trend's Sport Utility Vehicle of the Year, the 2009 Forester serves as a solid, reliable, and safe family car, and the improvements for 2009 make it even more family-oriented in terms of passenger and cargo space. Its new SUV-like looks give it enhanced street cred among the off-road crowd, while maintaining its easy maneuverability and AWD grip. The '09 Forester remains a good choice for people needing SUV capacity and versatility with the style and performance of a car.
Subaru has made no changes to the engines offered in the 2009 Forester. All X trims get their power from a four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed 2.5-liter boxer engine, paired with either a five-speed manual or four-speed shiftable automatic. This powertrain delivers 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, providing sturdy and adequate power around town. Some test drivers noticed a little struggle during highway passing maneuvers and find the four-speed somewhat outdated, preferring the smoother and quicker action of the manual transmission. Equipped with active variable valve timing, the engine averages 20/26 mpg – not bad for a roomy SUV. It also earns a PZEV rating (partial zero emissions vehicle).
Quicker off the line and more powerful overall, a turbocharged version of the 2.5 resides in the Forester XT and XT Limited. It comes only with the four-speed automatic. The turbo kicks power up to 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,800 RPM. It also impresses with 0-60 times of around 7 seconds. It features Active Valve Control for a smoother and quieter ride and improved fuel efficiency, although mpg numbers hover around 19/24. The turbo tends to be noisier than the naturally aspirated four-cylinder, and it also requires costlier premium gas. When properly outfitted, the turbo Forester can tow up to 2,400 pounds.
Though the turbo remains the speedier, more exciting, and more satisfying of the two engines, the regular four-cylinder performs well for everyday SUV usage, and drivers might want to take the cost of premium gas into consideration. Motor Trend claims the fuel economy numbers of the '09 Forester are best among the small SUVs it tested. The automatic transmission shifts easily, with no hard revs required to get up to speed.
Ride & Handling
Subaru has added some stiffness to the 2009 Forester's platform and widened its wheelbase for a more stable and solid ride in general. This works well with the horizontal boxer engine, which sits low to the ground, lowering the Forester's overall center of gravity. A new double wishbone rear suspension setup not only allows for more cabin space, but also smooths out the handling even over rough and bumpy roads. Test drivers find a much quieter and even ride than in 2008 versions, with superior bump absorption.
Despite its extra 3.5 inches of wheelbase and more muscular profile, the '09 Forester still handles like a small CUV, combining an SUV's high ride height and visibility with a car's tighter turn radius and around-town maneuverability. Both critics and owners give particular mention to its tight cornering, although one owner claims the Forester feels more unwieldy than in previous years. Steering responds precisely and quickly, and though the SUV exhibits some sway in city driving, body lean has been kept to a minimum.
Two symmetrical full-time AWD systems come with the Forester. Trims equipped with manual transmissions get a viscous locking center differential, which defaults to a 50/50 front/rear torque split, but automatically delivers up to 100% of torque to the axle that needs it most. The AWD in the automatics features a hydraulic continuously variable transfer clutch and sends power directly to the appropriate wheels when it senses a change in acceleration or traction. The system not only performs well in snow and ice (its primary use), but also tackles soft surface and rocky roads with ease and confidence, helped by 8.9 inches of ground clearance. In fact, several reviewers say that the Forester is at the top of its game and shines best when driving on back roads and through, well, forests.
Cabin & Comfort
The '09 Forester seats four with ease in its two rows of seats. Increasing the wheelbase and switching to an independent rear suspension allows for extra legroom in the back. Motor Trend claims it offers more front and rear head- and legroom than any other CUV in its class, and the numbers don't lie – 41 and 40.6 inches of headroom respectively and 43.1 and 38.0 inches of leg space. Owners over 6 feet tall feel nicely accommodated no matter where they sit. The dual-pane panoramic sunroof found on all but the base trim adds an open and airy feel throughout the cabin. Though the back seat can hold three passengers, critics and owners agree that maximum comfort suits only two.
Rear seats recline in all but the base X and also split-fold 60/40. The cargo area starts at 33 cubic feet and expands to 68 in naturally aspirated models, while turbo trims reduce those numbers to 30.8 and 63. Tiedowns come standard, with the option to add a cargo net and cover. The roof rack can hold up to 175 pounds, besting most other CUVs, many of which can hold only 75 pounds up top. One drawback mentioned by a few owners is the lack of a power liftgate option. Interior convenience features include a fold-down tray in the back seat for kids to put their toys or drinks on and a deep center storage console with removable divider.
Up front, drivers sit up high. Large windows and thin pillars enhance visibility all around the Forester, adding to the overall feeling of safety and security. Power driver's seats can be found in the L.L. Bean Edition and XT Limited, also equipped with heated seats and leather upholstery. Some owners find the leather too hard, while most agree that the lack of lumbar support causes serious back pain on long trips. Improving overall seat comfort is one of the most common suggestions from owners. The dash layout remains simple and minimalistic, with tiny, somewhat hard to read buttons for the audio system. Cruise control has moved to the steering wheel for 2009. Tilt steering is standard across the lineup, but for telescopic you need to get a turbo Forester.
The 2009 Forester offers a great list of standard equipment for its price, which has been reduced by $1,000 this year. The base X and XT feature power windows, locks, and mirrors, a CD player with MP3 input (a 6-CD changer in the XT), alloy trim, a trip computer, and wheel-mounted cruise control. The Premium upgrades with a panoramic sunroof (a favorite of owners) and reclining rear seats. The L.L. Bean and XT Limited offer similar features, such as a 10-way power driver's seat, leather upholstery, heated seats and mirrors, a 6-CD changer, automatic climate control, and a windshield de-icer. The new navigation system can be added only to Limited trims.
Safety remains a big selling point for potential SUV owners, who often use their vehicle to cart around small children to various play dates and sporting practices. The 2009 Forester earns five stars in all categories except rollovers, where it earns four stars. The Insurance Institute named it one of its Top Safety Picks. Large windows and thin pillars combine to provide top-notch visibility all around the SUV.
Along with the extra traction of the superior AWD system, traction and stability control are now standard across the lineup this year. Other important equipment includes 4-wheel disc and ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. Manual models get Hill Start Assist to help prevent rollbacks. Side curtain airbags with rollover sensors for both rows join the dual front-side bags in all trims. Rounding out the safety profile are a tire monitor, automatic headlights, and active head restraints.
What Owners Think
Owners of the '09 Forester have noticed the extra room in the backseat and cargo area, and tall drivers appreciate the high ceiling. In fact, many owners say they discounted previous models of the Forester due to its small second row, but now choose the 2009 Forester over the competition because of its superior cabin space. Practicality also plays an important role, with drivers praising its smooth ride, AWD performance, nimble handling, and tight turning ratio. Visibility earns top marks, as do its simple ergonomics. Fuel economy earns either high praise or slight disappointment, with several drivers claiming the actual numbers do not match the EPA estimates. The panoramic sunroof consistently makes everyone's list of favorite features.
By far the biggest complaint focuses on annoying rattling throughout the Forester. Many drivers notice it in the dash, ceiling, and rear panels, and have gotten little help from dealers in diagnosing and fixing the problem. Many find the plastic cabin materials cheap and easily broken. Other common complaints mention the weak stereo system and the uncomfortable seats. Lacking much in the way of lumbar support, the seats cause some drivers serious back problems on long trips. Suggestions for improvement include a higher driver's arm rest, standard satellite radio, and a hybrid version. Though many drivers like the fast turbo, they don't appreciate the need for premium gas, and some suggest a V6 engine would be better.
Only a few CarGurus drivers have commented on the '09 Forester, mostly in a positive way. Highlights include its confident AWD capability, responsive turbo engine power, and the improvement in standard equipment and high-end features. Owners say the Forester feels more luxurious than ever before. The added dimensions and more SUV-like profile disappoint some owners who say the Forester has sacrificed its easy car-like maneuverability for worse handling and cornering. The non-turbo engine feels underpowered to a few drivers.
by Ann Jackman
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