What it Is
2009 Subaru Forester Preview – Detroit Auto Show: In a society ruled so strongly by visual appeal, it should come as little surprise that the current Subaru Forester hasn’t exactly shattered all sales records. It’s a respected, safe, and affordably-priced utility vehicle, but by no means is it a looker. To appease a greater percentage of the masses, Subaru is releasing the new and improved 2009 Forester featuring the familiar powertrains, though enhanced with an upgraded all-wheel-drive system, added conveniences such as a navigation system, and not surprisingly, a bolder look that will compete head-to-head with leading competitors from Honda and Toyota when it hits lots this Spring.
Why it Matters
Subaru sold only 187,000 vehicles in the U.S. last year, which company executives suggest represents the transition between old and updated models. To support that claim, it was noted that the redesigned Impreza, for example, enjoyed its best sales month ever this past December. But officials have set much loftier goals for Subaru, aiming for 200,000 U.S. sales this year and climbing to 800,000 by 2018. That’ll require new products, great marketing, and moving more than 44,600 Foresters, the number of units sold in 2007.
What’s Under the Hood
Power for the 2009 Subaru Forester comes from a choice of familiar engines. Base models utilize a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter Boxer, PZEV-rated four-cylinder that cranks out 170 lb.-ft. of torque. XT variants will continue to push 224 horses from a turbocharged four-banger boasting 226 lb.-ft. of torque. A five-speed manual transmission standard, with a four-speed automatic available as an option. The redesigned Forester also comes with an upgraded all-wheel-drive system as well as standard stability and traction systems, ABS, a new double-wishbone rear suspension, a stronger chassis dubbed the Subaru Dynamic Chassis Control Concept.
What it Looks Like
The 2009 Subaru Forester show is an attractive little trucklet, hewing a line somewhere between the current Tribeca and the previous generation car. In general, the new Forester loses any ties to wagon styling and adopts the presence of vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander. It’s bigger, too, with an extra three inches in length, 3.5 inches in wheelbase, and 4.5 inches in height. There’s a Tribeca-type grille flanked by widened Impreza headlights, the blunt nose of the previous car is softened by a slightly protruding bumper, but the overall profile retains an upright feel.
With greater exterior dimensions come increased head room and four inches of added rear leg room, a point backseat drivers will surely appreciate in the 2009 Forester. They’ll likely applaud the standard center armrest and reclining seat back, as well. Subaru promises an expanded cargo area and interior composed of higher-quality materials, though the floor model we prodded in Detroit played host to its share of hard bits. From a convenience front, shoppers may opt for a new navigation system, satellite radio capability, heated seats and mirrors, and input jacks for audio and MP3 devices.
What Subaru Says
With only four distinct models, any new Subaru is a big deal for the company, as the company’s marketing pros so clearly state: “The 2009 Forester, which arrives in Subaru dealerships this spring, builds upon its predecessor’s reputation as an icon of safety, dependability and versatility. The new-generation 2009 model projects a bolder, more SUV-like design and making a major leap in safety technology, comfort, refinement and driving dynamics.”
What We Think
The Forester has always appeared as a larger, boxier Outback, making it a funky wagon but not a true crossover. That style might’ve turned off a number of prospective buyers, especially when you consider the vehicle’s strengths, including its safety attributes, standard all-wheel drive, a low $20s starting price, and the available turbocharged engine. The enhancements for 2009, including a more SUV-like design and features including a navigation system, might be just what the Forester needs to grab added attention. At the very least, it should put that goal of 800,000 annual sales within closer reach.
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley