No matter how it’s categorized, the new Forester is bigger, better and better looking
Is the 2009 Subaru Forester really a sport utility vehicle, or simply a wagon-bodied underling?
The Japanese-based car company is cautiously hedging its bets on that question.
Literature distributed during the Forester’s reveal at January’s Detroit Auto Show referred to the styling as “more SUV-like.” That modest admission seems to indicate that Subaru feels it deserves to join the larger Tribeca as a junior member in the company’s sport utility grouping.
But,ute or no ute, this highly respected model is now looking a bit more rugged and ready to tackle the off-road bog and boondocks with even more authority.
Since its arrival for the 1998 model year, the Forester has proven to be a shining sales beacon for Subaru and highly rated by the press and public alike. Later this spring, the third-generation model will show off its bolder, yet more sophisticated design “language,” which includes the obligatory flared fenders, optional sturdy roof rails and generally edgier lines. The Forester also displays Subaru’s new fleet-wide grille design that works particularly well in this application.
Subaru has generally retained the outgoing Forester’s proportions, but did extend the width by nearly two inches, the height by 3.5 inches (which includes a 1.4-inch rise in ground clearance) and the distance between the front and rear wheels by a significant 3.6 inches. Those adjustments have certainly migrated the Forester’s profile into sport ute territory as well as provide a lot more passenger and cargo space.
The enlarged interior has been spiffed up with an attractive dashboard and gauge/control panel plus a splitfolding rear seat that features a center dual-cupholder tray that folds out from the seat cushion. As well, the floor console now accommodates more gear and there’s a spot for stowing numerous small items below the cargo floor.
The all-new body sits on a platform that has been stiffened for improved ride and driving characteristics as well as enhanced protection in the event of a collision. The rear suspension is also new and designed to do its part in improving drivability and increasing cargo space.
Knowledgeable Subaru followers will find a couple of familiar powerplants. Base models come with a 2.5-liter 170-horsepower horizontally opposed four-cylinder (two pistons are placed on each side of the crankshaft at 180 degrees) that now makes slightly more torque. Optional is a turbocharged dual-overhead cam version of the 2.5 that generates the same 224 horsepower as the 2008 version, but peak torque now occurs at lower engine revs, which, claims Subaru, helps smooth out the power range.
Also carried over are the two allwheel-drive systems. The first is a permanently engaged unit for five-speed-manual transmission models that splits the torque 50:50 under normal driving situations, but transfers power to the front or rear wheels when needed. A continuously variable version comes with four-speed automatic-transmission-equipped Foresters that constantly monitors driving and road conditions and reacts accordingly. Traction and stability control are standard with either transmission, with manual-gearbox Foresters incorporating Incline Start Assist that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when letting out the clutch on a steep incline.
There are no real surprises when it comes to the standard equipment list, which encompasses air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, height-adjustable driver’s seat, four-speaker audio system and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Standard or available on up-level models are climate control, alloy wheels, heated leather-covered seats, reclining back seat, power moonroof, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, premium 100-watt audio system and touch-screen navigation.
No doubt, the new Forester is up against some formidable challengers in the smaller-size sport utility class, some of which offer more room and power. But with its inherent goodness highlighted by comfort, competency and a reputation for reliability, there’s little question Subaru has another winner on its hands, regardless of what how the automaker, or the public, tries to categorize it.