Standard all-wheel drive, spacious cabin with ample cargo space, comfortable ride, capable engines.
Outdated four-speed automatic transmission, handling could be sharper.
Redesigned for 2009, the Subaru Forester compact crossover SUV is bigger and more beautiful inside and out.
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The Subaru Forester has long been an offbeat entrant in the compact crossover SUV class; in fact, we weren’t sure it technically belonged in that class. While some of its competitors featured jacked-up ride heights and butch aesthetics, the all-wheel-drive Subaru didn’t sit that much higher than a typical station wagon — and it kind of looked like one, too. Despite this quirky model’s loyal following among folks in colder climes, Subaru decided it was time to tackle the segment leaders head-on. Enter the fully redesigned 2009 Subaru Forester.
Although it’s still based on the same platform as the compact Impreza, which was itself redesigned for 2008, this new Forester can look the competition square in the eye. The 2009 Forester rides on a 103.0-inch wheelbase, some 3.6 inches greater than before. It’s also 3 inches longer overall, about an inch taller and has more ground clearance. Combined with a more traditional SUV styling treatment, these changes give the Forester an unprecedentedly rugged persona, even if few owners are likely to put its middling off-road chops to the test.
The outgoing model’s carlike handling has generally been retained, thanks to improved chassis rigidity, wider front and rear tracks and a new double-wishbone rear suspension in place of the old car’s strut-based setup. However, don’t expect the new Forester to corner like a sport wagon — extra height and ground clearance along with increased suspension travel add up to lots of bounce and roll in corners. Happily, the trade-off is a compliant ride, and the compactness of the new suspension frees up extra space inside — especially in the cargo hold. Rear legroom and overall comfort have also been dramatically expanded, and the new Forester sports a well-constructed and attractive control layout.
Overall, the Forester is a comfortable and practical people mover that looks like an SUV, drives like a car (albeit one that’s tall and softly sprung) and offers the security of standard AWD. And although there are no major engine upgrades for 2009, the Forester’s performance remains satisfactory. We’re not sure why Subaru elected to offer the Forester with a four-speed automatic transmission instead of the company’s five-speed unit, as this puts the redesigned crossover at a distinct disadvantage relative to top-selling competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. On the whole, though, the 2009 Subaru Forester has outgrown its quirky phase and looks like a legitimate contender for the compact crossover SUV crown.