By on April 16, 2008

4984_116_lg.jpgSubarus are supposed to be the Birkenstock sandal of the automotive world; simple, robust cars with a certain sense of style that doesn't care about current fads. Alternatively, you could say a Subie used to be what a VW used to be (before Ferdinand Piech started messing with the brand) plus a boxer engine (once a key VW characteristic) and standard all-wheel-drive. In recent years, Subaru's image has become less and less clear. The automaker's desire to escape the granola ghetto first gave us the Tribeca, and then the new Impreza. And now we have a new Forester; an answer the question that in the past didn't have to be asked: what is a Subaru?

Subaru has made some major styling missteps in recent years. Thankfully, the new Forester doesn't continue that misguided trajectory. There's no funky grille, no bulbous malformations; just a pleasant. nicely-proportioned wagonish shape… that could have come from Hyundai or Mitsubishi or Toyota. Does the new Forester look just like the Hyundai Santa Fe or the Mitsubishi Outlander? Yes it does.

Just so it's clear that the Forester isn't a wagon… some Baja 1000 racers get by with less clearance between the tires and the wheel openings. Modders can fit double-dubs, a lowered suspension or both– and still have room inside the arches for a plasma TV screen.

4984_059_lg.jpg Subaru's interior is equipped with a lethal combo of upmarket aspirations and cheap materials. There's lots of hard silver plastic– most notably a wide band that forms a wave across the instrument panel. [Note to carmakers: no one wants to grab cheap-feeling plastic every time they shut the door.] Sadly, the soft-touch dimpled polymer that impressed back in 2003 didn't survive the redesign. The old Forester's interior wasn't as suavely styled, but it looked more genuine and felt more solid.

Subarus have traditionally been more dimensionally challenged than the competition, especially in the back seat. For the first time ever, you'll find plenty of legroom inside a Subaru. What's more, the rear seat reclines. More importantly, the Forester offers useful storage cubbies, bins and indents everywhere you look, and many places you don't. Another positive change: you get a decent sliding center armrest as standard equipment, rather than as a dealer-installed accessory. Way hey!

Some of the Forester's key characteristics haven't changed: the Forester still has a boxer four and all-wheel-drive. But the fancy new wrapper makes promises the naturally aspirated powerplant just can't deliver sans turbo. (There is a turbo on offer, just not in the L.L. Bean variant tested.) 

The Forester's Curb weight is up about a hundred pounds (to 3400lbs), the engine's output is down by a few horses (three bhp), and Subaru apparently feels that a fifth gear is still too special for its junior models. Bottom line: no matter how much you rev this engine, there are no thrills to be had. The Forester's engine sounds sounds so gruff you won't want to rev it. But you'll have to rev it, just to get the Forester up to speed. Good thing there's a manual shift gate; the automatic prefers to lug the boxer when left to its own devices.  

4984_050_lg.jpgNot that you want to be making many knots when you turn the wheel. Aside from the over-light steering, the Forester's chassis feels perfectly composed in relaxed motoring. But hit a turn with any semblance of speed and massive understeer meets insufficient grip on the wrong side of the yellow line. No doubt the Yokohama Geolanders (yep, them again) are good at something. But that something isn't hanging on to dry pavement. Stability control is standard for those who think understeer is an invitation to push harder.

On the flip side, the ride is smoother and quieter than in the old Forester. Think Toyota.

Problem is, even with Subaru and Number One now joined at the hip, does the world really need another Toyota? Subaru used to be about getting a Japanese car that was unlike other Japanese cars. In every way that really matters, the new Forester is just another compact crossover. The body is nice to look at. But so are those of the Santa Fe and Outlander it so closely resembles.

Subaru's predictable response: Hyundai and Mitsubishi don't have the automaker's patented symmetrical all-wheel-drive. Granted: Subaru's trademark drivetrain system is desirable- when combined with a lusty turbocharged engine, taut suspension and sticky rubber. In the 170-horse Geolandered Forester it makes not the slightest difference.

4984_121_lg.jpgThe previous Forester was unlike anything else in the segment. The new one is just like everything else in the segment, for both good and bad. This is good for Forester buyers, and bad for Subaru. Go figure.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


70 Comments on “2009 Subaru Forester L.L. Bean Edition Review...”

  • avatar
    John R

    No stars?

    Anyway, after reading this, I can’t wait to see what they do with the next iteration of the Legacy. oh boy…

  • avatar
    Captain Neek

    Why did they bother? Why should I purchase this over a Honda?

    Perhaps if Subaru doesn’t even understand its own niche, it deserves to die. Which, is a great pity.

  • avatar

    This does not make me happy. I always liked Subaru, and now my company has announced that the Forester and Outback wagons are replacing our company fleet standard (Chevy Equinox… yuck) for AWD. I guess the Outback is where I will go then!

  • avatar

    As a current 2003 Forester owner considering a new CR-V, I was very interested in the new Forester with the understanding that it’s gotten quieter, and that the back seat has become somewhat more comfortable. However, the continuing presence of the considerable drivetrain hump in the back makes this car a poor choice for anyone who wants to put three abreast in the rear seat. Given the CR-V’s flat rear floor, that’s sadly going to be the choice now.

  • avatar

    Sounds just like a RAV4 review…except this is the 4 cylinder variant.

  • avatar

    Thank you for a very candid review. TTAC is great as are the comments here. The car mags pale in comparison in my opinion.

  • avatar

    Interesting review. I’m considering this for the next family vehicle (for my wife), but I’m really holding out to see how the diesel does…when it arrives. Since I don’t “need” AWD, the fuel economy penalty seems excessive.

    For a vehicle that starts under $20k (non-LL Cool Bean edition), still seems like a lot of car.

  • avatar

    It’s a good amount of content for the money. It’s just no longer much different than the competition.

    TrueDelta wants to provide quick reliability results for this one. If you know someone who buys one, please send them here:


    • 0 avatar

      I would need to test drive the new Forester to believe it. Subaru normally handles extremely well and has good power. I do agree with you on the automatic trans though. I personally don’t like automatic. Subarus are meant to be driven hard. If you can’t drive hard, then buy another brand.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t say the CR-V is a sad choice at all…for the value, residual, upkeep and vehicle as a whole; it is very hard to beat. It’s certainly better than this thing.

  • avatar

    I thought Subbie was on a trend to reduce weight what happened? Binge engineering?

    Then again – at least it doesn’t look like the Tribeca or Baja. Oh wait the Tribeca got a new nose – yeah it does look like the Tribeca – and those anonymous SUVs you see in the background of commercials for allergy medicine.

  • avatar

    My wife loves her ’05 Bean. She chose it over the previous gen CRV and has never regretted it. I think she would pick this over the current CRV, but she wouldn’t trade in her current Bean for it. The turbo manual is still a unique offering in this segment, so there’s that. Unfortunately my wife couldn’t get past the hood scoop when we were in the market and wanted an automatic (for the first time). What she loves most about it is that it is extremely easy to drive. It really is a nice appliance if you don’t need the back seat. This new one is probably better in every way that counts, but something definitely got lost in translation. Tribeca, Jr., indeed.

  • avatar

    This is a real shame.

    I though the 2008 MY Forester struck a decent stylistic note. The XT looked particularly good.

    For 2009 Subaru gives us something that looks like a CR-V mated with a Santa Fe.

    I knew Toyota would influence Subaru, but I certainly didn’t expect it to come this quickly or suck this badly.

  • avatar

    the last subaru i liked was the swoopy coupe number with the crazy windows. I suppose they made more money selling crossovers tho. I wish someone would start making sexy cars instead of practical ones.

  • avatar

    I actually wrote to Subaru decrying the lack of a turbo manual transmission model in the the Forester line. I know, wasting my breath. However, Subie always differentiated themselves by offering a bit more oomph then the other Japanese brands. First the Legacy turbo wagon is gone and now this.

  • avatar

    I thought Subaru’s biggest value to Toyota was access to a completely separate group of buyers. If they’re not careful, they’re going to screw this up.

  • avatar

    What is it with new model replacements and cheap-ass nasty plastic interiors? First the 2009 Corolla, now the Forester.

    It’s off our list.

    Hyundai is going in the opposite direction. BETTER interiors on the 2009 Sonata compared to the 2006-2008 cars.

    Can a little bit of cloth and padding covering the harsh, hard plastic cost THAT much? And if so, can’t car manufacturers actually give us the option to NOT have to touch hard plastics?

    In my Prius, it’s not so bad because the car is a niche product (and they put mouse-fur on the places where you touch the door, etc). But interiors are getting nastier and nastier.

    I guess Chrysler was just doing what everyone else is doing, and for a change, was ahead of the curve instead of way behind.

  • avatar

    From nearly leaving the U.S. market around 1995, to 10 years of AWD excellence and success despite bizarre marketing decisions (“Subaru: We’re the gay car”), and then this bland styling abomination. WTF? What was wrong with making money as a niche vehicle? This is just a cynical cash grab. Pardon me while I vomit.

  • avatar

    This review was the ONLY somewhat negative review of the many reviews I have read. There have plenty of great reviews which state that the 2009 Forester has everything the 2008 had going for it and more!

    Wanting a vehicle that has proven reliability, decent room, great visibility, decent mileage,the best 4 wheel drive system (for the price) and not a car that every other driver has (RAV4, CRV, Jeep)the 09 Forester gives it.

    I have driven it. Unless you have driven it, do not offer your opinion on anything but looks. And as far as looks, it looks a lot better than its competition.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Great review Michael. Having just bought a Subaru (08 LGT 5-speed), I’m a big fan of the brand.

    However, they’ve made only a few serious advances in the last 8 years (whereas alot of other automakers have advanced substantially).

    They improved their interiors from ’00 to ’08…the Legacy/Outback interior is now a cross between entry-level luxury and economy car, not necessarily a bad thing. The Impreza is making progress in design but materials are still woefully untouchable.

    And they brought over their Turbo 4 cylinders from 2002-2004 (2.0 liter in the WRX and then 2.5 liter in the STI, Forester, and then Legacy GT in 2005). This brought them up to snuff with power, for the most part.

    But now….it’s been 4-5 years. Their powertrains are essentially the same, with only the most minor of tweaks for emissions, performance, or both. Their transmissions are still mostly agricultural, or at least not as refined as others (they just introduced a 5-speed automatic on SOME models for 2008).

    They’ve got a good handle on handling, steering, and braking.

    But they’ve just kind of drifted. They totally defined themselves as the cool we-don’t-need-to-sell 1 million cars a year, we’ve got symmetrical AWD and turbo fours….and then they became stagnant in their overall development.

    I bought my ’08 Legacy GT 5-speed (well, my wife’s) because it offered everything she wanted in a package that cost $5000-6000 less than competitive cars which offered the same feature content. With a aftermarket short shifter, sway bars, and some basic engine tuning it’ll provide the performance we want.

    Tangent: all turbo four cylinder Subarus went on a STOP SALE about 2 weeks ago. Subaru is not selling a single turbo 4 cylinder engine’d car in America right now (New STI, WRX, Legacy GT, Forester, Outback).

    Oh yeah, I bought my car 3 days before the stop sale….in other words, it’s affected by the potential engine flaw (whatever it might be). Or at least in the VINs that are affected.

    Anyway…somehow, despite all of Subaru’s flaws, they are endearing cars :)


    P.s. Why would someone buy a CRV over a new Forester? Have you seen the gas mileage between the two?

  • avatar

    Unless you have driven it, do not offer your opinion on anything but looks.

    Somebody needs his own web site.

  • avatar

    Very sad, Michael, and very well said.

    I was thinking it even before you said it: What is a Subaru? A Toyota with a boxer engine. Especially with the upcoming coupe that isn’t even AWD.

    Captain Neek, I don’t think the problem is that “Subaru doesn’t even understand its own niche.” It’s that its new overlords don’t. Toyota is well on the way to ruining Subaru exactly the way it’s ruining Scion — by trying to bland out each individual model into all things for all people.

    Toyota’s inability to nail anything but the middle of the road wouldn’t be so worrisome to it, except it seems to be losing its touch with blandmobiles too — witness the plasticky Corolla and the sloppily built Camry. I sure don’t know if GM is truly ever going to come around. But I’m slowly evolving to the suspicion that mighty Toyota won’t, even if it takes 20 years for these seeds to germinate into GM-scale failure.

    The next question is, who has the combination of means and clear focus to step into the void? Hyundai? Nobody?

  • avatar

    I don’t think Toyota will ever suffer the same problems as GM, simply because, even if they’re messing up, they still haven’t managed to alienate their market. They’ve always sold mass-market blandmobiles, at least in recent memory, and the same people will buy them if they don’t screw it up in a huge way.
    GM did it with disastrous reliability. Subaru may well do it by ditching their identity.

  • avatar

    ctoan, I’d liken Toyota’s position today to the #1 role IBM held in personal computers in the late 1980s. Respected as reliable and well made by all, yet beloved by nobody, they were the default choice for the risk-averse and the uninterested.

    The problem with building your brand this way is that your pool of brand loyalty is broad but shallow. All Compaq had to do was establish that its faster-for-the-money computers were about as reliable as IBM’s pricier ones. A few years later, when enough time went by that the word filtered down to the masses, IBM’s PC share was toast.

    Now Toyota’s eye is off the ball, with mainstreamers that are still dull but no longer pack the workmanship and value found in the ’80s and early ’90s vehicles that cemented the brand here. Contrary to popular belief, Toyotas don’t sell BECAUSE they’re dull. They sell DESPITE their dullness, because their resolute goodness makes non-enthusiast buyers overlook their homely facade.

    It’s axiomatic in life that you’re likeliest to get what you most strive for. When Toyota put quality uber alles, they achieved it. Now their first priority is to move the most units. Remind you of any other carmaker you’ve seen before?

  • avatar

    I actually wrote to Subaru decrying the lack of a turbo manual transmission model in the the Forester line.

    I missed that detail. That’s a shame. I would never shell out for an XT with a four speed automatic.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Unless you are a Honda snob, there is little reason to buy CRV over Forester.

    Not necessarily a Honda snob, but I like the Honda exterior design and interior quality better than the new Forester….plus the fact that you can get the Honda in FWD form (although I ‘hear’ that may be a consideration for Subie down the road). What’s the mpg difference between them?

    Imagine a Forester AWD diesel-hybrid. Now that would be different.

  • avatar

    Nobody here must own a Subaru because nobody has complained about their paint: Subaru has the worst paint in the automotive industry, bar none. I’ve seen better paint on ten year-old Cavaliers.

  • avatar

    Great Review.

    I have been looking at Subaru as my next car for at least a year. Wanted a car for 2-4 week road trips in Western US.

    Criteria 1. Good ground clearance. 2. AWD 3. Reasonable milage on 87 Octane. 4. Light colored cloth interior.

    Passed on the 07-08 Outback and Forester because VDC only worked with leather. 20008 color combos straight out of the 8 color crayola box. Whatever happened to earth tones, especially at Subaru the “greenest auto maker on the planet” “you can drink our effulent”

    Probably will get an 09 Forester but only color I really like is the Sage Green and for whatever reason the Cold Weather Package will not be available until mid summer (go figure). Sad to hear about the hard plastic interior. It might be a deal breaker. Haven’t actually gone and looked at the 09 in person. Plan to keep the car for 8-10 years.

    In the crossover arena I have looked at them all and the Forester really does stand alone at the $20-25K price point.

    If you want a low end crossover built on a compact car running gear then Toyota, Honda and Nissan all have products but when you add AWD the milage is not much better than the Subaru and the Price is higher. These other CUV’s seem to be built on Compact car chassis (CRV = Civic, Rogue = Sentra, Murano = Altima) Ground clearance on those vehicles mostly in the 7-7.5 inch range.

    Kind of interesting that when you go to Manufacture’s sites and look for SUV’s and Crossover specs ground clearance specs is usually not available. Salesmen I talked to also didn’t know it off the top of the head. Why would anyone buy an AWD CUV or SUV without ground clearance at least as important as the number of cup holders (just a rhetoricalquestion).

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Adub –

    I’ve owned my Legacy GT for 900 miles now, and I’ve washed and polished it once. Paint is great so far :)

    The paint on my 06 Civic SI is pretty thin….chips like crazy, good amounts of orange peel, etc. I waxed it about 2-3 weeks ago and found a rock chip on the front with some good ol’ rust in the middle of it.

    My 05 Saab 9-2x Aero, which was a subaru, had fair silver paint.



  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Volvo makes a good point. When comparing MPG with other CUVs make sure you compare apples to apples. The MPG of an FWD crossover and an AWD Subaru are not fair comparisons assuming that AWD is what you want (and if AWD is not what you want, you wouldn’t be cross-shopping Subaru in any case.)

    As for the rest of the review, I gotta ask, what is up with the TTAC obsession with plastic? I see this over and over again in other reviews and in the comments section.

    Never in my life have I noticed (much less complained about) “hard plastics” in any of the vehicles I’ve owned. Nor have I ever heard anybody else complain about them.

    Now, maybe I hang around with a bunch of knuckle-dragging truck guys, but I am certain that the topic of “why can’t vehicle makers put softer plastics into their vehicles” has never come up in any conversation I’ve been part of.

  • avatar

    I’d also like to point out that I recently had the chance to drive a current generation rental Toyota RAV4 with only 9400 miles on it.

    Versus my 10 year old Forester S the RAV4 has:
    – Almost no road feel.
    – Incredibly soft, land-barge suspension
    – Incredibly light steering with a larger dead zone than late-90s Jeep Grand Cherokees.
    – A cheaper looking interior with a weird looking center stack.

    The RAV4 was clearly a vehicle that was designed for the tastes of the average buyer. Toyota would do well to avoid blessing future Subaru models with such traits.

  • avatar


    My 1998 Forester S and I don’t disagree with your statement.

    It’s pretty amazing that Subaru didn’t put more effort into their paint since a large %age of their buyers live in harsh winter climes where a lot of salt and other chemicals get dumped on the roads.

  • avatar

    Well, my WRX’s paint is just fine.

  • avatar

    The biggest complaint about the old Forester was that the back seat didn’t have enough room. It looks like this solves the problem.
    It should do OK.
    What’s bad for some might be good for others;
    Versus my 10 year old Forester S the RAV4 has:
    – Incredibly soft, land-barge suspension=
    smooths out the bumps and potholes
    – Incredibly light steering with a larger dead zone than late-90s Jeep Grand Cherokees.=
    easy to maneuver in parking lots
    I’d rather have hard plastic over soft touch (sprayed on foam)or fabric covering. It’s easier to clean and looks good longer.
    The Forester still seems a good value if you get the base model.

  • avatar

    By the photo, it looks as though I’ll have to retrain my feet to operate it.

  • avatar


    The RAV4 just did not feel “good” in the normal sense of the word.

    Particularly the imprecise steering and floaty suspension.

  • avatar

    Martin I agree with you on the hard plastic. I guess new cars are so good,we are down to judging the plastic.

  • avatar

    The paint quality must be country specific. I’d be willing to bet that the Subarus with decent paint were assembled in the US and not in Gunma like the Forester. I know my Hiroshima-built Mazda has far crappier paint than my previous US-built Mazda did.

  • avatar

    Joe O

    I bought my ‘08 Legacy GT 5-speed (well, my wife’s) because it offered everything she wanted in a package that cost $5000-6000 less than competitive cars which offered the same feature content. With a aftermarket short shifter, sway bars, and some basic engine tuning it’ll provide the performance we want.

    Deja vu all over again. I bought the same car for my wife for the same reasons. Already put the short shifter, AccessPort, etc on the car

  • avatar

    My company has two basic 2006 Foresters and one basic 2008 Forester for use by our service technicians. Other than new tires, the 2006 vehicles have been reliable, liked by the drivers, and deliver a low cost-of-ownership. I had a 2006 Legacy spec.B and now drive a 2007 spec.B. My wife drives a 2007 Outback LLBean 3.0 R. None of these vehicles has been troublesome or ever in need of parts. I once owned a Subaru SVX which I liked so much; it may be my favorite of the two dozen or so cars that I’ve owned. I had two Audi A6 4.2 cars, both of which were far more luxurious than any Subaru and I am thinking of getting another Audi, but I cannot imagine that any Audi will be as trouble-free as a Subaru. It’s a shame that Subaru does not offer in the USA the optional features available in other markets because the Legacy could a desirable alternative to some costlier European cars. I would consider buying a loaded Subaru six-cylinder Legacy.

  • avatar

    Subaru is not like Honda. Totally A different Japanese car manufacturer. they built their cars for consumer who are sport minded people.

    Their cars or wagon are almost for out door use or should I say cater to people who like going to campings, rock climbing or Rally events.

    Honda is for consumers who likes quality and durablitity but without the smell of nature.

    That’s why Mitsubishi and Subaru are very good competitors in their own way.

    Just like Coca-Cola and Pepsi

    I drive a Lancer but I have great respect for a car that is totally competitive and aggressive in style.

  • avatar

    I don’t know why, but this car, along with the boxy Volvo station wagons, are just so repulsive to me. Young hipsters like them because they’re so tacky and nerdy they’re almost “cool”, but remember, these weirdos also love the Albert Maysles look and eat nothing but hummus. Absolutely revolting! Stephen Hawking’s face has more pleasing proportions than this loser cruiser!

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Brapoza –

    Weird….how did you get the spouse to agree to the AP? I’m going to have to wait on that one for awhile, as the short shifter, tint, and sway bars will consume the Year One $1000 budget that we didn’t have… :)


  • avatar

    Once upon a time, if you wanted to look part of the crowd in Moab, UT, you would drive up in a;

    1) Land Rover Series II – uber cool, don’t mess with me ‘cos I have the real thing’.

    2) First Generation Outback – Not as ‘seat of your pants safari’ as the Land Rover, but a nod that you get what’s important when taking to the dirt

    3) Jeep Rubicon – Still with us, the ‘take no prisoners’ approach to climbing the local scenery.

    4) Volvo 240 station wagon – Not AWD, but says that I believe in functionality and you bet I have camping gear iin the back.

    5) Toyota Land Cruiser 40 series – no not the Mall cruiser we have today, but the original “I pack my own bearings” hard core utility vehicle of yesteryear.

    Now looking at the Forester it says

    I am staying at the local hotel (no camping for me buddy), please be careful not to dent this car,
    and hey its a Suburu man, get over it.

    Thanks to Ford, GM and now Toyota, we are going back to the days of the Ford Model T, one design fits all.

  • avatar

    theswedishtiger :
    April 16th, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks to Ford, GM and now Toyota, we are going back to the days of the Ford Model T, one design fits all.

    Don’t blame the manufacturer- blame the consumer.

    Auto manufacturers aren’t going to sell oddly styled or unique vehicles when the 10 best selling vehicles are three truck families with almost identical performance and 7 FWD family sedans designed to be as unobtrusive as possible from day one.

    If you want unique products America needs to quit buying Camrys, F150s, and Civics.

  • avatar

    Toyota was not involved with the new Forester development. Also, Toyota was not involved with the new Impreza.
    Toyota purchased Subaru stock for SIA capacity not for their customer base. Their work at SIA went well enough for Toyota to purchase extra shares of Subaru.
    Subaru’s development of the B9 was to expand their customer base and profit.
    Subaru/Fuji is a smaller company and does not have extensive cash reserves thus their development is on more of an conservative nature.
    With Toyota tie in future Subaru products will have more advanced features.

  • avatar

    Last August I happened to take my old ’99 original style and essentially trouble-free Impreza in for service just as the new 2008 WRX and Imprezas arrived for the first time. Whoohoo. One look inside, after almost removing my left eye on the dangerous door, and my dream of a WRX evaporated. I could not, cannot and will not stomach that hard plastic low-seated interior, not for $34K CDN. It is horrible.

    I immediately knew the new Forester would have the same interior, because it is Impreza-based. I also knew that the turbo automatic would lose the beautiful VTD center planetary differential and the rear limited slip differential, because the WRX had lost them, replaced by sensors, a chip and hope. Much cheaper to produce electronics than nicely finished hardened steel gears.

    So, like Joe O., I purchased a Legacy GT. The 5EAT has those special diffs, plus a soft interior. It has the VDC as well, so it has belt and suspenders, both analog (mechanical diffs) and digital (VDC). The VDC has never operated in even the worst snowstorm or sheet ice this past winter here in the far northeast, such is the mechanical surefootedness.

    Being old and old-style, I had saved up for 9 years in my car fund, and had the loot when they offed the Legacy GTs cheaper than the new WRXs for cash. There will be no 2009 LGTs as far as I can find out, so the WRXs may well be the precursor to cheaper mechanicals for the new 2010 Legacy.

    So I think Michael Karesh’s review here is spot on. We now have no compelling reason to buy Subie’s over anything else. The company has lost the plot, at least in North America, and they are flailing. I wish them no malice, on the contrary – I hope they are around to service my LGT for the foreseeable future. But, as Mr. Karesh says, there has to be a reason for picking a Sube over the competition, and grunty non-turbo engines are offputting to the average punter. (The newer turbo engines are really smooth, for some reason). Plus Subaru seems to be unable to explain in easy language why even their cheap 4EAT transmission is still better than Honda’s Realtime AWD, which is anything but. Calling the Subaru drive system symmetrical AWD is about as useful a description as printing “New and Improved” on a jug of laundry detergent. It means nothing.

    Sad. Add Subaru to the list of automakers who forgot why they existed — decent engineering, decent parts, great AWD, not bad interiors, all reasons to drive the road less traveled with a smile on your face. Yep, now we just have Subie Lite, and it’s not very filling.

  • avatar

    Really a disappointment. Hopefully this (and the recent Impreza) are ill advised detours for Suburu and they get their groove back. But it sure doesn’t make you look forward to an Outback redesign.

    In the meantime, if I wanted a mini SUV, I would wait for VW’s Tiguan especially one with a Tdi under the hood.

  • avatar

    The increase in the size and weight of the Forester is a reasonable response to the criticism of the old model’s rear seat being too small.

    The deserved criticism of Subaru’s attempts at creating a unique visual identity in the old Impreza and B9 Tribeca (grill looks like a flying vagina) have resulted in a series of blandly-styled, but inoffensive Subarus that blend into the background.

    The base Forester is one of the few, if not only, small CUVs available with a manual transmission as standard. It lets its driver wring a little bit more performance and gas mileage from the Boxer engine than one could get from the comparable Honda CR-V (5-speed automatic only) or the 4-cylinder Toyota RAV4 (4-speed automatic only).

    The continued availability of the 5-speed manual in the base models offer a compelling reason to buy a Forester. (However, if you want an automatic, buy the CR-V).

    And maybe Subaru will work on improving the performance and fuel mileage of ALL of their vehicles in the future.

  • avatar
    kenn j

    Do you remember 15-20 years ago driving behind a Volvo wagon? It seemed that they could not get up to the speed limit, get out of their own way, or actually be aware that the road behind them was ever going to get used again by someone else.

    Fast forward 20 years, and all those Volvo owners have moved out their Volvos and into Subarus. When ever there is too slow traffic for no apparent reason, you can count on the front car being a Subaru wagon of some type ( or a taxi making random, unobvious stops, turns, reverses etc.). And this is from someone who drives a Prius (the official car of Seattle!).

    What’s the deal here?

  • avatar


    I just paid some $$$ to fix a Subaru transmission issue a few weeks ago, so right now I’m not of the opinion that Subie trannys are more reliable than some competitors’.

  • avatar

    People have always bought Subarus because they live somewhere where AWD is a necessity but they want something more wagon-like than SUV-like. That remains the case.

  • avatar

    I just wonder what is so important about the dashboard of a forester or any other car?

    Are they really that important in a car?

    Do we really need leather interior,leather seat or leather dash.Common Consumer be practical and whassup with that nature lovers are weird and stephen is much better looking. Stephen doesn’t even drive a car and tell me all nature lovers smoke pot.

    To tell you frankly Leather is old school.
    The Fab is now Carbon Fiber Interior.

    for better cleaning and durability and less expensive than killing an animal

    Oh by the way Subaru’s are popular cars in Massacusetts just like Saab

  • avatar

    If you drive an Automatic it will break down.
    No matter what car you drive.

    How to save your Automatic tranny:

    Don’t drive stop and go and Don’t accelerate and race your car do the Red Light (it is red light anyway why rush).

  • avatar

    This is pretty bad for Subaru.

    I own a ’97 WRX hatchback, and I love my little car. It gets good mileage, all-terrains with trucks (at least in lower clearance terrain), is zippy, fun-to-drive, and reliable. No one else made a car like that when I got it. That was Subaru, and I thought I had found my niche auto-maker. I still plan to get a Legacy GT in a couple years, but from the looks of it I’d bet it won’t be a new one.

    It seems to me that ever since the big motherships started beaming Subie up (starting with the G to the M) they have been watering their identity down, and slowly ruining their brand. Everything about the Tribeca, even the name of the thing, was a shameless focus-group tested ploy for the yuppies, who then went and bought Prii, oops – Subaru missed that (hybrid) bus so-to-speak.

    Then Subaru made the Impreza into some kind of androgynous wagon. It looks like a 21st Century Japanese take on the American malaise era for a small car. And they want so much money for a WRX STi that I can go seriously consider a Bimmer as competetion. Dangerous for Subaru to be doing that with a car that looks like that.

    Subaru I think is ideally positioned to do something that I hear rumbling about on the forums at TTAC from time-to-time as being desirable, and that is to build a true light truck. Not a Brat or something like that either, but a real light truck. Their AWD tech and boxer motors would be an ideal fit for that application, and nobody makes a real light truck anymore. I noticed the other day one of the new Tacomas sitting next to an old C/K long bed single cab Chevy at a stoplight. By the time you’ve got the “crew” cab (on a small truck? Who we kidding here?), bumper junk, and all the plastic bolted (glued?) on to the Tacoma, it looks bigger than the “full size” Chevy of yore. Toyota doens’t make anything like the cool trucks they used to, the stuff that got them their good rep in that business, and Subaru could step right in and pick up the slack, if they want to expand.

    But they for a few years had a formula for cars and yuppie-yutes that was a winner, they should stop trying to choke their goose before it stops laying the golden eggs.

  • avatar

    It sounds like the engineers have ceded product design leadership to marketeers – who are, in turn, being “led” by marketing data and “likely purchaser” focus groups.

    A couple of years ago a Subaru officer, when asked about door intrusion protection remarked (paraphrased): ‘Why, if you are trying to stop intrusion through the door, add mass to the window frame instead of where you need to prevent intrusion?’

    That logical, common-sense engineering approach is what made Subarus special cars that operated at a level that was a couple of cuts above their price point. Alas! Two rules eem to be universally true: everything ends in entropy and everything else heads towards the average.

    With the new Forester, it seems Subaru is following the second of those laws with increased velocity. Very sad!

  • avatar

    Joe O. It’s easy. First you give your friend the cash that you squirreled away to order it on his Visa card. Then you have the stuff delivered to your work address. Then you make a pretext to have to drive her car to work and you have it installed. Of course it helps if your wife has never driven the car past 2500 rpm to begin with so she has no basis for comparison. :) Not something to be proud of but a pistonhead has to do what he has to do. Besides it runs better and actually gets better gas milage. 25 mpg in suburban traffic.

  • avatar

    I think your review would fit most new small SUV’s sold today. Subaru has learned the hard way that buyers are buying cars like they buy cell phones. Americans buy cars using useless specs and which one has an MP3 jack for their IPOD’s. Now that gas is approaching $4 a gallon everyone is looking at MPG as the acid test, what’s next? I looked at CRV and the RAV4, Outlander ad nauseum. No thanks. My recent experience with Honda and Toyota has convinced me that they are no more reliable than Subaru. That’s after replacing transmissions in both with less than 50K miles. Honda replaced the tranny with no objections. The Toyota factory rep had to be shown maintenance records and 4 phone calls. My Forester fits the bill quite nicely.

  • avatar

    Subaru offered a Turbo Forester with Manual, that did not sell in any appreciable numbers. And of course, once they discontinue it, every enthusiast’s publication howls how stupid Subaru is.

    There are many Subaru marketing and comparison videos out there on YouTube, etc. that clearly show why Subaru designed the ’09 Forester the way they did. Other than so-so interior (but equal to RAV4), the car’s improved in every way over last years’, and the Turbo version handles and rides like a euro without crashing its suspension on bad roads.

  • avatar

    My 75 year old mom just bought one of these, LL Bean edition and all. Seems like a decent enough car.

    Do people really get worked up about people movers like this? I cannot imagine spending any time worrying about what plastic is on what surface in what is a shopping cart. The all-wheel drive counts for something, and the aesthetics are reasonably pleasing.

    Guess I don’t see why anyone would spend more than 15 minutes deciding between this or any of its contemporaries, they’re all pretty similar.

  • avatar

    We bought a 2009 forester X L.L.Bean version on April 5 and so far we like it alot. We traded in a 2003 Outback base and were pleasantly surprised how much more power the Forester has. We like the little boxer growl out the twin pipes too. Also like the looks inside and out and the extra seat height helps entry and exit. I don’t mind a little plastic on the dash as long as it doesn’t squeak and this one seems solid. The car is as quiet as the Outback and just as solid when the doors are closed. The Forester might be a little smaller inside than the outback but it’s close. The old Forester was just too small. The six speaker 6 Disc CD with XM is adequate but could be better. For some reason ours didn’t have the tuning knob for XM channels that was shown in the manual. That’s about all I have to complain about so far. The Forester does feel taller when you corner but that’s the price for the SUV tough guy looks. Gas mileage is about the same as the Outback. 27 MPG with 40% city, 60% highway combo. Overall, a good looking, solid ride and you can’t beat the reliability and resale value.

  • avatar

    I have been following the news of the 2009 Forester redesign since December as I had planned to consider a Subaru for my next car. I like the new design and the fact that there is more interior room especially in the rear. On may 3rd, I took delivery of my new Subaru, a Sage Green 2.5X with premium package. So far, I’m averaging 26 mpg and it’s only got 950 miles on it. Handles beautifully. Fit and finish is excellent. To me it looks much better that a Honda, Toyota, or whatever else. Subaru seems to have done their homework on this one. Our local dealer in Richmond VA can’t keep them on the floor. They are flying out of the showroom and I can understand why. I only regret that Subaru and L.L. Bean are parting company from their marketting deal. Pity.

  • avatar

    I like the looks of the 2009 Forester over the previous model, and also think it looks better than any of the competitors, but thats my personal preference.

    I drove the new Forester and liked the ride and handling, liked the interior and dash layout, loved the huge sunroof on the Premium Pkg, and the turning radius is great. The real clincher was that it is available with a 5-speed manual…I don’t like automatics…manuals are more fun, even if more work, but most of the competition quit offering it as an option.

    So this is a vehicle I can haul my Labrador Retrievers in, carry my bikes and kayak on the roof, pull a small utility trailer with, drive to the ski slopes after a fresh snow, and still get decent gas mileage.

    Is the Forester perfect? No, but it has all the features I want at a very competitive price.

  • avatar

    Sometimes I wonder if the writer really drove the car—or whether he looked at it with more than just a casual glance. The Forester is a nice package with lots of creative thinking that gives it some real advantages over the alternatives. I’m not familiar with the competition, but I know Subaru cars are typically driver’s cars, with a feel (and an aesthetic) that’s quite distinct from Toyotas and Hondas. That’s why I replaced my trusty ’96 Outback with the new Forester.

    The interior is light and airy—especially with the giant sunroof—and fabulously roomy, with lots of storage cubbies. And the well-controlled ride motions along with its very solid body structure give the Forester the feel of a much larger vehicle, though it’s relatively compact and has a shorter turning radius than last year. And it is quiet inside—much quieter than my ’96 Outback. The new model offers excellent outward visibility in all directions, besting the CRV and RAV4 significantly in the view through the rear glass, which is cut somewhat more deeply into the rear hatch.

    I especially like the simplicity of the controls and the well-placed display for the clock/mpg meter/outside temp gauge. Hell’s bells, I even like the way the thing looks, clean and simple, well-tailored and logical.

    Subaru has, I think, a winner. They have made the Forester conform better to the fickle and fashion-conscious US market without much sacrifice in the traditional Subaru virtues. According to another review, Forester will ascend grades that the CRV would not. It may not look like what we think a Subaru should look like. Subarus appear to evolve, while Toyotas, for example, change their clothing every six months. When what we became accustomed to gets replaced, we may feel like the rug has been pulled from under our feet. Time stands still for no one.

    The car business is fiercely competitive. It’s a minor miracle that little Subaru remains in the US market—but it’s a tribute to the strength of their engineering and some pretty smart decisions, as well as to those who remain loyal to a car whose character has remained largely intact through all the vicissitudes of the marketplace.

  • avatar

    I just ordered the 09 Forester LL Bean, now called the Limited. I will be turning in my 06 leased 5 pass limited Tribeca.
    A bit smaller than the Tribeca, better gas mileage, and sportier. I don’t need a turbo, just a dependable car for all kinds of weather, and a steep driveway.
    The interior has the same appointments as my Tribeca, and I like it. Easier to keep clean than “fluffy”–
    Lots of room to haul family and gear. I plan on keeping this for the next 10 years.
    I will miss the Tribeca. I loved the odd look, and I love the drive. It has to be the best car I have ever driven. The only mistake I made is that I leased it instead of buying it. I didn’t even mind the premium gas–
    We can haul our kayaks, bikes and any gear we need. My mom fits comfortably in the back seat, with her walker in the cargo area.
    Practical, sporty, reliable, and climbs our hill like “Spiderman”…..

  • avatar

    If it is possible, Subaru seems to be attempting to be more conservative than Toyota. Bad choice.

    Subaru should leverage its excellent AWD powertrain and offer a bit more distinction in its interior styling. Nevertheless, this is a superb little utility wagon for those who just need a trouble-free all-season vehicle. Anyone looking for personality in a compact vehicle, get a GTI.

  • avatar

    I have been looking for a small, dependable 4 wheel drive with nice cargo space to replace my 1996 q45.
    I drove the rav4, nissan rogue,CX-7, and the new forester. The forester felt much better. The ride was softer and the visibility is great. It had an ok pick up but if you press on the accelerator while doing 15mph the engine would hesitate and the rpm would jump to redline without acceleration (just like pressing the gas while in neutral)
    The only thing I did not like about the forester was the auto transmission. But overall I liked it much more then the other small crossovers I drove.
    I plan on ordering the forester this week. Will get the limited (L.L. Bean discontinued). Maybe ill trade it in for the diesel when it comes out in 2010 (as per dealer).

  • avatar

    My wife and I have driven the new CRV, Rogue, Jetta Wagon, RAV4 and the Forester.

    I own a 06 Civic (really nice car!)and have owned other Hondas and Saabs in the past.

    The 09 Forester was superior, IMO to the cars mentioned above. The CRV was a huge disappointment in particular. It felt small, performance was so-so, and try sitting in the back seat with the low seat back and the headrests poking you in the back unless you adjust them every time. A well the rear visibility was not great. Honda missed the boat with this one.

    The Forester felt very composed driving it – we took our test drive in a rainstorm and never felt tentative or out of control in the Forester.

    My only complaint is that the middle seat in the back is cramped and if you get the version with the flip out tray, fairly uncomfortable.

    In any case looks like we’re getting the Subaru.

  • avatar

    An ’09 Forester 2.5X 5-speed MANUAL with Premium Package recently replaced my trusty (bumpy and loud) ’04 Scion Xb.

    I looked forever for a reasonably-sized wagon, hatch or small SUV available with a manual. There aren’t many contenders: Mazda3 (fun but cheap feeling and less attractive after the redesign), new Scion Xb (eeewww), VW Jetta TDI Sportwagon (sorry, I’m not a gambling man).

    I was reluctant to give the Subaru a chance because of the raised stance and AWD fuel penalty. Turns out its not so bad at all. With the manual transmission it ties or beats the Rav4 and CR-V on mpg. It handles better than both of those cars, looks and feels way more upscale, and is VERY quiet on the road. The GIANT sunroof sealed the deal. And that heavy duty suspension will soak up Southern California potholes all day long (they’re not getting fixed any time soon.)

    I LOVE this car. Spiritual successor to the Volvo 240 wagon. My only complaint is that I couldn’t get the leather interior with a manual transmission.

  • avatar

    We just got a ’10 Forester Premium, it compared much better than the RAV4 and CRV that we also considered. We live in a rural area and have to get out in bad weather to get to work and this car will do nicely. This is our first Subie and we really like it so far.

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Vulpine: And don’t forget, a lot of people who do have spares don’t know how to use them even if one is...
  • Vulpine: Obviously you have to choose based on your usage habits. Based on your description, the best choice is an...
  • Sjalabais: This is what really amazes me. How can waiting for a car for only three months be an insurmountable...
  • Sjalabais: What the lifted wagons do is basically going back to the ground clearance of cars of the 90s. Newer cars...
  • TonyJZX: there’s a reason for that – if you’re on a winner, why change it also helps preserve...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States