2009 Subaru Forester XT Review

Megan Benoit
by Megan Benoit

The Forester XT is living, breathing proof that Subaru has lost its way. The Toyota-fication of the brand has now reached its pinnacle in the redesigned Forester, and it stands tall (really, really tall) as the perfect example of how to alienate the hippies and hoons that bought Subaru after Subaru. To put it succinctly, driving the new Forester XT is like answering the door expecting Ed McMahon with a check for a million dollars and finding your mother-in-law standing there instead. At least the MIL eventually goes home. The Forester XT just hangs around and keeps disappointing.

The illusion starts at the exterior. See that hood scoop? You may think that like the WRX and Legacy GT, the hood scoop means performance and fun. Instead, all it means is "Turbo inside" and nothing more. But even with the lump on the hood, the new Forester is definitely more attractive than the old one (kudos to Subaru for bucking the trend, there), but it represents a sharp shift from "boxy tall wagon" to "SUV." Why is Subaru making SUVs? Beats me, ask Toyota.

Step on inside. See that hood scoop? Yes, that bulbous nostril encroaching upon your field of vision that mocks you mercilessly day after day that you should have purchased the WRX. The ridiculously low front seats give occupants a nice view of the dash, hood scoop, and little else. The driver seat is thankfully height adjustable. Not so for the passenger, who peers out the window like a five year old struggling to see the road ahead. The seat bottoms are too short as well, providing about as much thigh support as a barstool and leaving both driver and passenger looking for somewhere to prop their knees.

But boy, are the rear seats gloriously spacious. I found myself thinking could I could overlook the front seats' shortcomings for the rear leg room alone. Then the cold hard reality hit me that (A) I'm going to be riding in the front 99.995% of the time and (B) it is wicked hard to reach into the baby's car seat to retrieve a pacifier when it's a half mile back. Families with long-legged teens will love the stretch-out space and the trick reclining rear seats. The rear seemed much more comfortable than the front– but the driver doesn't sit in the rear. The interior looks nicer than the WRX; quite nearly as nice as the Legacy, actually.

Let's make no bones about it, the only reason anyone would look at the XT over the base model lies beneath that functional hood scoop: the turbocharged 2.5L YEEEHAWWWW factor. The new Forester, like the WRX, packs more low-end torque at the expense of the high end but unlike the WRX it feels oddly sluggish overall. Want to add insult to injury? Here are your four automatic gears. The base Forester comes with a manual option; not so the XT. In fact, it doesn't even warrant the five-speed automatic. By this point, I'm starting to wonder if Subaru doesn't just want to discourage their hoon-oriented customers– they actively want to crush their spirits.

The overall experience feels like the last two Matrix movies. You know how much fun it could be, yet it's a stunningly horrible disappointment through and through. The handling, absolutely atrocious even by SUV standards, betrays Subaru's integral brand image. The loosey-goosey steering wheel feels like the ‘91 Explorer my parents drove. Understeer makes cornering an exercise in unexpected surprises. This fact might make you a safer driver, but not by choice. The whole thing handles like a sack of cornmeal being hauled by sled dogs – it's all mush.

Except instead of sled dogs, it's being hauled by nearly the best powerplant Subaru has to offer. Straight line motivation is an excellent adventure but God help ye otherwise. I can only imagine that such a ridiculously soft suspension and mammoth ride height gives it a passable ride in the rough, but if you have off-roading in your plans, why buy one of these when you can get a bargain bin Jeep instead? There's precious little to set the XT apart from the rest of the crop. Sure, it's fast(er), but who cares when driving it sucks the very soul out of you? Piloting it is an exercise in irritation and you feel like you're actively fighting against the Forester just to keep it on the road.

If you're looking for a sporty, fast CUV with room for the family, go buy an Acura RDX. It may be more expensive, but you'll never regret it. I can't fathom why anyone would spend their hard-earned cash on a new Forester, unless you're in that small group of Subaru lovers that won't have anything but a Subaru, and you live in the snow belt and/or need the extra room over an Outback for camping with the family. However, like Subaru, you can do better than this.

Megan Benoit
Megan Benoit

I'm a computer security geek raised in Nebraska and recently transplanted to Atlanta. I like me some cars, got into car geekery a few years ago and haven't looked back since. I also volunteer at a local ferret shelter and participate in various charity and fund-raising events related to that.

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  • Robert_h Robert_h on Sep 21, 2010

    I recently purchased a 2010 Forester XT. It's no surprise, then, that I don't see eye-to-eye with this review. Let me defend (or am I merely rationalizing?) my choice. I honestly don't understand the complaints about visibility, because I find the view out the Forester to be excellent, a rare pleasure in an automotive landscape ruled by gigantic pillars, high beltlines, and gunslit windows. I ruled out the Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Murano- competitive models with excellent powertrains- because of their awful rearward visibility. In dense traffic & tight parking lots, my all-too-frequent driving environments, the Forester feels smaller than it is because I can see so well in every direction. The criticisms of handling? The suspension is compliant, and there's plenty of lean in hard turns. At least the suspension is well damped; it soaks up potholes and bumps without any funny business. By the standards of small SUVs, I think the handling is fine. For 'off-road' use, the Forester will do nicely in winter and on maintained forest roads. It has a reasonable amount of ground clearance, vital parts are tucked up high, and the all-wheel drive system is better than many. It can't compete with a real jeep on seriously rough stuff- not even close- but it's still a versatile vehicle. I have no complaints with the steering- nicely weighted, no slop, reasonable feedback. The 2009 redesign added a lot of usable room, while burdening the car with only 40 additional pounds. If that's bloat, then sign me up. And if the extra room makes it harder to retrieve dropped binkies, then at least the back door opens wide to create a gaping maw for easy baby-loading. I live in the mountain west, and turbos shine at altitude. The motor is optimized for low-rpm drivability- yay!. The four speed automatic is an anachronism, but (there's that word again) the motor is torquey enough to help compensate for the widely-spaced gear ratios. All in all, I strongly prefer the XT's powertrain to the conventional marriage of a normally-aspirated 4-cylinder to a five or six speed auto that's constantly hunting gears to make best use of power that's just not there (somewhere a Honda CRV's ears are burning). The vast majority of Foresters are sold with the normally aspirated engine, and the four speed auto isn't so great there. My complaints? The gauges look cheesy- really cheesy, like the graphics on a Panashiba stereo that sells for $50 at the flea market. As noted in earlier comments, an idiot light substitutes for a temperature gauge. At least the light has four possible values: blue, off, red, and blinking red... wait, is blinking better or worse than solid red? Better check the owner's manual- whoops, too late! Filling the vacancy where the temp gauge should be is a comically large fuel gauge marked in giant, 1/4 tank increments. After ponying up for the turbo, a boost gauge would've made me feel warm and fuzzy, but it's missing too. The center console and sun visors stand out for their cheap appearance, though they work pretty well. (On the upside, at night the center console is every-so-gently illuminated by an overhead LED: when I first noticed that I could see the stuff in my console, I credited the full moon.) Comfortwise, the front seats are ok but not the best- Megan's correct that the cushion is too short. The turbo motor is great, but a normally-aspirated six would work just as well, with fewer potential reliability concerns. As far as the RDX- Autotrader said that the nearest one for sale, new OR used, was 450 miles from my house. Apparently they're fairly rare in the wild. That was enough to rule out the Acura for me.

  • Jsand Jsand on Jun 16, 2013

    I too, disagree in the strongest terms. Yes, an Acura RDX will be more luxurious, but it lack 4" of ground clearance. The XT is the perfect blend of what i am looking for: excellent reliability, AWD (all the time), outstanding entry access and interior room (finally!), crazy quick 0-40 in 1st gear (faster than the RDX, RAV4 V6, X3-3.0, or EX35...), good high speed handling, outstanding exterior visability. Yes it has shortcomings, but it got me home through 600 miles of snowstorm in 10 hours, took my wife to work in a 20" snowfall blizzard, and get awesome mileage for the power. What is more, is that i got this car with the plan to upgrade/tune the engine, and COBB tuning products, hp and torque are significantly increased- no other light SUV manufacturer allows this with such minor investment. With slightly stickier street tires, the forester now out accelerates, out corners, and outruns the aforementioned, and still has the ground clearance and all other advantages, (even with a 4 speed xmission). All car choices are compromises. The 2010 XT has fewer outliers than most, however, and that is what i was looking for. I know, I drove all the cars mentioned here multiple times, the XT is my preference, though any of them would have been quite serviceable (except the RDX in 2wd- a 2wd SUV? Now that's what i would call losing one's way... BUT- plenty of people buy it. But more people buy the FXT)

  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
  • CEastwood From zero there is nowhere to go but up . BYD isn't sold in the U.S. and most Teslas are ugly azz 90s looking plain jane drone mobiles . I've only seen one Rivian on the road and it 's not looking good for them . I live out in the sticks of NW NJ and EVs just aren't practical here , but the local drag strip thrives in the warmer months with most cars making the trip from New York .
  • Lorenzo Aw, that's just the base price. Toyota dealers aren't in the same class as BMW/Porsche upsellers, and the Toyota base is more complete, but nobody will be driving that model off the lot at that price.