The redesigned 2009 Subaru Forester is the third generation of the popular crossover utility vehicle. The Forester competes with the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 among others. Its style used to be distinctive, but it's now less so, as its shape has morphed toward the others, while theirs has morphed toward the Forester's.
There are two engines, both horizontally opposed four-cylinders displacing 2.5 liters; but the 170-horsepower base engine is single overhead cam, while the 224-horsepower turbocharged XT model has twin cams.
The base model offers more standard equipment than ever, in particular electronic stability control and airbag curtains, yet its price has been cut by $1200. That's with a manual transmission; a four-speed automatic costs, coincidentally or not, $1200 extra.
Other improvements include a new chassis with safety structure, wider track and longer wheelbase (by 3.6 inches), new double wishbone rear suspension that yields tons of cargo space, 4.3 inches more legroom in the rear seat, 4 inches more headroom all over, 1 inch more ground clearance for the XT, a super tight steering radius with quicker turning ratio, rear doors that swing open nearly 75 degrees, and more torque for the base 2.5-liter engine. Visibility is exceptional.
Overall, the 2009 Forester is 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider, and about 100 pounds heavier than last year's model. Despite the increase in size and power, the base Forester gets improved fuel mileage, achieving 20/26 mpg on the EPA's new City/Highway cycle, the same as the CRV and RAV4. The turbocharged Forester XT gets 19/24 mpg and requires premium fuel. The 16.9-gallon fuel tank can last about 400 miles on the highway.
So much downshifting by the four-speed automatic transmission intrudes upon the otherwise smooth acceleration of the normally aspirated 2.5X, making it seem underpowered although 170 horsepower should do the job. The turbocharged XT is more desirable because of its torque, although it's more expensive to operate because of its premium fuel requirement.
For 2009, there are a number of changes to the styling that make the Subaru Forester way sleeker, but the identity has not been changed.
The functional hood scoop on the XT has a smaller bulge than before, but its opening is no less wide, thanks to a redesign of the turbocharger intercooler opening, and the steeper slope of the hood. The headlights with amber turn signals are shaped like gold-tipped eagles' wings, and the uplifting grille that fills the space between them has lost its boxiness, with corners upturned. Under the grille is a lower lip fascia that looks like there's a pack of snuff stuffed in it. The corners are tucked in so tightly that the bumper has almost been lost. The foglights are mounted in gray plastic fascia that runs 360 degrees around the car, being rocker panels on the sides. Even if there are no foglights the mounting spots are there in the gray plastic.
The lines on the sides of the car, especially the flares over the wheelwells that might be bigger for the sake of trendy styling but aren't, made the '08 Forester look dumpy. A black C-pillar, camouflaged to hide in the tinted glass, helps with the shape thing on the 2009 model. The five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels aren't bad looking.
From the rear, the XT has a twin chrome-tipped exhaust, pretty cool for a tidy crossover. And the spoiler over the rear window makes its statement.
The Forester and RAV4 look alike when parked side by side.