Strengths and weaknesses:
- does everything well
- great visibility
- some noise and vibration
- not a lot of wow factor
The sensibility of utility
At the Automobile Journalists’ Association of Canada’s annual TestFest in October, the Forester won its SUV/CUV under $35K category over the Dodge Journey and Volkswagen Tiguan, which gave me a fair degree of high expectations when I picked it up from Subaru.
But my first impression was that it didn’t make much of an impression.
Looking at the numbers garnered at TestFest, it was a close race that might have had a different outcome had the VW Tiguan been able to beat it in price. The model tested was about $1,000 less than Journey but almost $5,000 under Tiguan.
On styling, the Tiguan had it beat; quality, vehicle dynamics and performance too. It was neck and neck with a slight edge to Tiguan for occupant environment. It took off-road capability narrowly and tied Tiguan for subjective value.
It was the slowest in the bunch in acceleration times but considerably bested both in braking. Journey got a better interior score, but it clobbered the other two in cargo and fuel. It and Tiguan were again tied in safety features.
But after my time in it, I began to appreciate its well-roundedness – it never did elicit passion in me, but in a long-term relationship, I’ve grown to look for the more tangible qualities that make love last.
For 2009, Subaru has given Forester new styling, additional standard features and a refined suspension (a double-wishbone rear mounted to a sub-frame replaces the prior strut-type) – and new prices that are lower than the 2008 version: the 2.5X Touring with manual transmission (my tester) went down by $1,000; the loaded 2.5XT Limited by a whopping $4,100. It may well be just what it takes to get consumers to try what really is a very capable vehicle, but one that has lacked the kind of instantly identifiable personality that has made Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV-4 the genre’s gold standards.
Among the added standard features are roof rails, heated front seats and privacy glass, audio with steering-wheel controls and speed-sensitive volume, air conditioning and tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
A new, longer platform has added rear-seat legroom and improved crash-worthiness.
Exterior design changes are highlighted by new headlights, contoured bumper, pronounced grille and higher hood line. Pronounced fender flares and new side creases have tweaked its profile.
Its slight growth spurt for 2009 is most notable in its roomy, well appointed and comfortable backseat, and in cargo capacity.
The cabin is a fine place in which to spend time - it’s reasonably stylish but understated, with good all-around visibility and decent level of comfort. In my tester, the hill ascent assist light occasionally came on and went off at random intervals, and the cupholders were an odd shape but except for those minor quirks, the space was quickly adapted to and appreciated throughout the week.
Everything appears solid and the equipment you have in hand 100 times on every trip (like, say, the steering wheel and shift knob) all simply felt good; gauges are pretty and fabrics feel nice. The expanse of plastic dash is a bit more utilitarian in look and feel than the rest of the cabin.
Part of its utility comes from a flat cargo floor (with washable, non-slip mat), 60/40-split folding rear seat and cargo cover. Whether grocery-getting or heading off into the true wilderness, it would be up to most jobs. The tailgate opens wide and the load floor is fairly low, to swallow just about anything.
All Foresters also feature Subaru’s rightfully well respected symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive, with slightly more ground clearance in this third-generation iteration. The system in the five-speed manually-equipped 2.5X has a 50/50 front-rear weight distribution; the four-speed automatic-equipped model manages power distribution based on driver input and traction. Vehicle stability control and traction control are standard on all. Its off-road worthiness is evident, if not quite at, say, Rubicon levels.
As a highway companion, the Forester did OK, although there was enough engine noise and vibration to write about it here. The automatic likely would be somewhat smoother, but I enjoyed shifting manually, and was happy to squeeze a little extra giddy-up out of what is already a quite capable four-banger. It handled well, too, and cornered flat.
Being an emotional sort, it’s possible that if I were on the market for a vehicle in this segment, I could be wooed away from Forester by something that made my heart flutter, but if I managed to keep my wits about me, Forester would be very high on my list.