The Subaru Forester is a full redesign for 2009 that brings with it a higher stance, a longer wheelbase and a larger cabin. This increased size and new styling place it squarely in the compact SUV mainstream, addressing two former criticisms -- a non-SUV-like appearance and cramped passenger space, especially in the rear. While the Forester's new look is intended to bring it closer to other small SUV favorites, not everyone sees that as a good thing. The New York Times' Chris Jensen calls it "generic" and laments, "Now it looks like everything but the Forester."
Overall, however, critics have responded to the changes favorably. The 2009 Subaru Forester took the SUV of the Year title at Motor Trend, a Top Family Vehicle award at MotherProof.com, and was a finalist for the 2009 International Car and Truck of The Year award. The Subaru Forester was also declared Best Redesigned Vehicle by the editors of Kelley Blue Book.
In a three-way review at Motor Trend of the Subaru Forester against the Volkswagen Tiguan and the midsize Mazda CX-7 (all three models had turbo four-cylinder engines), editors found the Subaru Forester to be the quickest to 60 mph, the fastest in the quarter mile and the most fuel-efficient vehicle of the bunch. "You have to be impressed with what you get for the money," says Motor Trend's Arthur St. Antoine. MotherProof.com's Emily Hansen praises the Subaru Forester's fuel economy, low price and good safety scores, but wishes Subaru had thought to offer a power tailgate (a feature usually found on midsize and larger SUVs) option on its small SUV. Edmunds.com describes the new Forester as being more SUV-like and useful now that it's been redesigned, but editors still call out the Forester's handling capabilities, saying that "winding roads throw its soft suspension for a loop." Still, the Subaru is deemed more maneuverable than competition from Toyota and Honda thanks to a tighter turning circle, according to editors at Edmunds.com's enthusiast website, Inside Line.
One particularly glaring source of criticism is the Subaru Forester's four-speed automatic transmission -- standard on turbocharged models and optional with the base engine. Most critics consider the four-speed outdated compared to the offerings in competing small SUVs. The Honda CR-V (*est. $21,245 to $27,245), for example, features a five-speed automatic in all models as standard equipment. Inside Line's Kelly Toepke calls the four-speed automatic an "unfortunate hand-me-down from the Impreza sedan" that "no longer seems to offer the speed or fuel economy we expect."
For 2009, the Subaru Forester's interior closely resembles that of the Subaru Impreza sedan and hatchback (covered in our report on economy cars). Edmunds Inside Line likes it, saying that "apparent quality has improved" and that Subaru now has "a surer sense of interior style than either Nissan or Toyota." The unapologetic reviewers at TheTruthAboutCars.com don't mince words in their criticism, however. Reviewer Michael Karesh calls the 2009 Subaru Forester's interior "a lethal combo of upmarket aspirations and cheap materials," and Megan Benoit follows up in a second review of a turbo model, saying "the ridiculously low front seats give occupants a nice view of the dash, hood scoop and little else." Karesh applauds the Forester's copious legroom, reclining rear seat, and abundant storage cubbies, though. Cars.com's Kelsey Mays is more measured in his criticism, saying, "Interior quality is good, if occasionally inconsistent" and he points out that some materials do seem cheap, but that controls that will see consistent use feel sturdy. Mays also comments that the Subaru Forester's high dashboard creates the impression of a low driving position but notes that outward visibility is excellent. Cars.com also points out that to get a telescoping steering wheel, you have to buy the more expensive turbo model -- the steering column in the base-engine Subaru Forester only tilts up and down.
The Subaru Forester seats five, and thanks to the updated longer wheelbase (the distance measured between the centers of the front and rear wheels), there's now more room in the back seats, addressing a prior complaint. Up front, the Subaru Forester offers more legroom than either the Toyota RAV4 (*est. $21,500 to $27,810) or the Honda CR-V. A wider tailgate opening and low cargo floor make the Forester easy to fill with cargo, but dimensionally it doesn't offer as much hauling capacity (in cubic feet) as the other small SUV class leaders. Critics don't hold this against the Subaru Forester, though, since its easy-to-use packaging (swing-up tailgate, fold-flat second-row seats) offers advantages over the Toyota RAV4's side-hinged cargo door and the Honda CR-V's clunkier second-row fold-and-tumble seats. In addition, there are some hidden storage cubbies tucked under the Subaru Forester's rear cargo floor.
The Subaru Forester is only available with all-wheel drive, and its AWD system doesn't include a transfer case or the low-range gearing considered essential for serious off-road driving. However, the Forester's chassis provides almost 9 inches of ground clearance, as well as good approach and departure angles, making it more capable off road than most other all-wheel-drive compact SUVs. In the Motor Trend comparison, the Subaru Forester fared better in the dirt than both the Mazda CX-7 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
A horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine displacing 2.5-liters is used in every Subaru Forester. The base version of this engine has 170 horsepower, while an optional turbocharged variant with 224 horsepower is also available. Drivers who opt for the standard engine in this small SUV are offered a choice of either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. Turbocharged Subaru Foresters, on the other hand, are restricted to the four-speed automatic.
Fuel economy in the Subaru Forester is respectable. Turbos require premium fuel and get about 21 mpg in mixed driving (19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway), according to Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy estimates. The standard 2.5-liter engine does a little better: 22 mpg in combined use (20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with the manual; 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with the automatic) These mileage figures are at the high end of the range for compact SUVs, and nearly equal to those of the all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V.
A full complement of safety features is standard with the 2009 Subaru Forester, including stability and traction control systems; antilock brakes; front and rear side curtain airbags; and front-seat side airbags. It performs well in government crash tests as well as those conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which names the Forester a 2009 Top Safety Pick.
Since the 2009 Subaru Forester is a new model, there was no shortage of good reviews to refer to. Motor Trend and Truck Trend each subjected the Forester to comparison tests with other small SUVs. We also read detailed reports on the 2009 Subaru Forester at Edmunds.com, MotherProof.com and ConsumerGuide.com. ConsumerReports.org provides a complete review of the new 2009 model, but it's behind a subscribers-only wall.
1. Motor Trend
Motor Trend compares the performance of the midsize 2008 Mazda CX-7 and two compact SUVs, the 2009 Subaru Forester and the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan. All three vehicles were highly optioned, turbocharged models. The 2009 Subaru Forester comes out on top, winning praise for its low price and displaying the best performance, fuel economy and off-road capability.
2. Truck Trend
Truck Trend compares five compact SUVs, each optioned for best fuel economy. (The Saturn Vue model tested was the hybrid.) Editors pick favorites based on a test drive that included curvy mountain roads and Los Angeles freeways. The 2009 Subaru Forester places first.
MotherProof.com's Emily Hansen didn't find earlier versions of the Subaru Forester particularly appealing, but she calls the 2009 Forester a good effort to appeal to a broader customer base. Hansen praises the large moonroof, audio system with auxiliary jack and unique rear seat cup holders, but laments the Forester's lack of an automatic liftgate.
Review: Appealing Forester Enhances Its 'Granola' Reputation, Emily Hansen, Aug. 2008
4. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds Inside Line tests the redesigned 2009 Subaru Forester and likes what it sees, for the most part. The redesigned body is practical and the new interior is stylish, but mushy brake feel and an outdated four-speed automatic are points of criticism.
Review: Full Test: 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5XT Limited, Kelly Toepke, May 14, 2008
5. The New York Times
The New York Times' Chris Jensen isn't particularly enamored with the 2009 Subaru Forester's "generic" styling, but he summarizes that overall, "the Forester is more practical and safer than ever."
Review: A Small Hauler Crosses the Line, Christopher Jensen, July 13, 2008
Cars.com's Kelsey Mays provides a comprehensive and insightful review of the 2009 Subaru Forester. He says that the redesigned Forester goes a long way toward erasing the model's former image as a "quirky car for quirky people" and that it is deserving of mainstream consideration.
Review: 2009 Subaru Forester, Kelsey Mays, March 12, 2008
TheTruthAboutCars.com's Michael Karesh is critical of the new Subaru Forester's interior aesthetics and materials, but says the cabin is roomy, with plenty of legroom and storage compartments. The ride is smooth and quiet, with a "perfectly composed" chassis in relaxed driving, but he indicates that the nonturbo engine struggles with the redesigned small SUV's heft.
Review: 2009 Subaru Forester L.L. Bean Edition Review, Michael Karesh, April 16, 2008
TheTruthAboutCars.com goes back for seconds when reviewer Megan Benoit takes the wheel of a Subaru Forester -- a turbo model this time around. Benoit dislikes the tall dashboard and low seating position but says the back seat is very spacious. Overall, however, she derides the small Subaru SUV's handling as "atrocious" and says the Acura RDX is a better pick if you want a compact turbocharged SUV.
Review: 2009 Subaru Forester XT Review, Megan Benoit, Aug. 25, 2008
9. Motor Trend
In the most recent installment of Motor Trend's annual SUV torture test, SUVs are thoroughly tested for their off-road ability, comfort and value. The Subaru Forester was the unanimous pick of the judges. Editor-in-chief Angus MacKenzie calls the Forester "the SUV for our times."
Review: 2009 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year: Subaru Forester, Edward Loh, Oct. 2008
Every year, MotherProof.com selects its picks for best family vehicles in nine categories. Testers evaluate how friendly the vehicle is for family use, checking how easy it is to enter and exit the vehicle, seat belt use for children in car seats, latch connector usability, cup holders, etc. For 2009, the Subaru Forester is the top SUV/Crossover with two seating rows.
Review: What Cars Make Mom Happy? MotherProof.com Names 2009 Family Cars of the Year, Editors of MotherProof.com, Feb. 3, 2009
11. Kelley Blue Book
Kelley Blue Book names the 2009 Subaru Forester its Best Redesigned Vehicle. In a full review, editors praise the Forester's new exterior styling, spacious interior and smooth ride. They also feel its quiet ride and good fuel economy make it worth a serious look by potential buyers.
Review: 2009 Subaru Forester Review, Editors of Kelley Blue Book
Edmunds.com editors praise the 2009 Subaru Forester's new design, saying the compact SUV has become more useful. Editors like the cabin and comfortable ride but are not as happy with the four-speed automatic transmission, which is outclassed by competitors, and the suspension, which allows lots of bounce and roll during cornering.
Review: 2009 Subaru Forester Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
ConsumerReports.org's auto editors buy and evaluate nearly every car on the market, including the redesigned 2009 Subaru Forester. The reviews also include predicted reliability ratings, based on past-model-year reader-survey data. While ConsumerReports.org conducts full track and road testing, its analysis focuses primarily on reliability, ride quality, handling and safety.
Review: Subaru Forester, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Editors at ConsumerGuide.com say the Subaru Forester is comfortable and roomy, but it pitches and dives a bit more than other compact SUVs. Editors also note that while the previous generation Forester used interior materials that were near premium quality, the 2009 model is at about class average. However, the new Forester now costs less than the earlier model.
Review: 2009 Subaru Forester, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com