In a major update, the 2009 Subaru Forester features a longer wheelbase and a modernized exterior design. And, for the first time, a navigation system is available. Unfortunately, our test vehicle was the low trim 2.5X Premium model, and navigation can only be had in the top trim 2.5XT Limited model. Likewise, the audio system in the 2.5X Premium is pretty lackluster, with only four speakers. Go up to the 2.5XT trim and you get a six speaker system with a six disc changer.
Although unimpressive on the cabin tech front, the car offers a good amount of usable interior space and very impressive fuel economy from its 2.5-liter engine. Handling isn't the best around, but Subaru's standard all-wheel-drive system provides extra grip in slippery conditions.
Test the tech: Road trip to a tree
In coming up with a test for the 2009 Subaru Forester, we were stumped because of the lack of cabin gadgets. So we took inspiration from the model name, and decided to look for one of those famous giant trees that you can drive through. The phenomenon of the drive-through tree started in 1881, when a tunnel was cut through the giant sequoia Wawona tree of Yosemite National Park. That particular tree has since fallen, so we set our course for Drive Thru Tree Park, a tourist attraction about 180 miles north of San Francisco.
We hooked up an MP3 player in the console, as the Forester provides few entertainment options.
A little maneuvering through the streets of San Francisco, aided by the Forester's hill start feature, and we were on the freeway headed north. We quickly found that the 170 horsepower produced by the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine wasn't enough to tear up the hills or pass other cars at speed. Dropping the five-speed manual transmission down to third gave us added oomph on the really serious hills, but we were pushing the redline at freeway speeds.
For entertainment, we hooked up an MP3 player to the car's auxiliary jack, in the console. Unfortunately, the four-speaker audio system did little for our music besides making it audible. On 40 mile-per-hour freeway curves, we couldn't push the Forester much above the recommended limit, as it felt a little wobbly.
After a good three hours of driving, we got to our exit. This highway seemed little-used, judging from the lack of traffic and the little rockfalls from the cliff side on our right. And it was one of these rockfalls that was to be our downfall, as we drove over what must have been a particularly pointy little rock. Over the next hundred yards or so of road we could feel the handling go strange, until we noticed the warning light on the speedometer indicating a flat.
Swapping tires went quickly enough, which was good, as the flies were buzzing in the 95-degree heat.
After pulling over, we saw that it was our right front tire. We jacked up the car, installed the temporary spare, and gave up on the tree. It was still some miles distant, and we decided that this was enough adventure for the day. It was time to find a repair shop. Although we didn't make it to the tree, we found one unexpected gem from the trip. Our average fuel economy for a drive spent mostly on the freeway at speeds over 60 mph came in at 28.5 mpg, an impressive figure for a car that could take a family on a road trip.
In the cabin
To get even a glimmer of cabin tech, you have to go up to the 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5XT trim, with its six-disc changer and six-speaker sound system. That car also adds a turbocharger to our 2.5X's naturally aspirated engine. At the top-level Limited trim, a navigation system becomes available, which we surmise is the same unit we previously saw in the 2008 Subaru WRX, a GPS with good resolution but no special features.