2007 Subaru Forester
The 2007 Subaru Forester doesn't look like your typical station wagon, a type of car associated more with practicality than fun. For one thing, the Subaru sports a prominent scoop on the hood. And that scoop feeds a turbocharger, a piece of equipment you wouldn't normally expect on the family station wagon.
The Forester isn't just another small Japanese wagon in a long line; its standard all-wheel-drive, high clearance, and peppy engine give it a character suitable to its name. Unfortunately, this rough-and-ready character shorts it on the tech side, as neither navigation nor Bluetooth cell phone integration are available. All you get for tech is an MP3 and WMA compatible stereo with decent sound.
The Forester's layout is classic small wagon, with four doors and a hatchback, although the roof is a bit higher than on most. The second-row seats fold down to maximize the cargo area, of which there is an abundance. As for its looks, the Subaru designers did some nice things with the front, and then went on vacation. The sides have wheel flares and strange indentations, possibly denoting an aerodynamic quality, while the back is just square. On the other hand, the front shows a really clean design, with a monolithic grille bookended by simple headlight casings. And the scoop on the hood suggests more than just a standard engine.
Test the tech: Off-road trail run
The agreements we sign with automakers to test out their cars forbid us from taking the cars on off-road excursions. But we got a chance to drive the Forester on an off-road trail at a separate event, the Western Automotive Journalists' Media Days. While the main focus of Media Days was track testing at Laguna Seca, there was a special off-road segment in the Hollister Hills.
The Forester was amongst a group of SUVs designated for a mild off-road trail. Other cars in the line-up included a Land Rover LR2 and a Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI. The guide car kept the pace pretty slow, probably because the car manufacturers didn't want their press cars scratched up. But the trail did have loose dirt, ruts, and small humps specifically designed to test the cars' clearance between the front and back wheels.
In the Forester, we felt wild and squirrely compared to all the lumbering SUVs around us. The five-speed manual transmission gave us control over our torque, although we didn't get above third gear on this slow course. The fact that the driver position in the Forester is lower to the ground than in the SUVs gave us confidence in negotiating the ruts in the road, as we had a better sense of our tire placement. The loose dirt areas weren't particularly challenging to the Forester.
The most interesting test was negotiating the humps. We approached the first one with some trepidation, because it looked like the car would bottom out once it was straddling the hump. But it went over without a problem, following right along with the bigger SUVs. We happily charged over the subsequent humps. Similarly, the car's front and rear angles were sufficient to pass over these humps, along with some dips on the trail.
This wasn't that challenging of a road, and the course planners had made sure all the cars could handle it. But we were surprised that the Forester showed more clearance than we would have expected. The car is very suitable to take on relatively flat off-road areas or dirt roads.
In the cabin
As a tech car, the Subaru Forester doesn't have a whole lot to offer. We've seen GPS in other Subarus, but it's not available in the Forester, which is too bad, because it's very useful to have along if you go exploring. Some GPS devices even have an off-road setting that records a breadcrumb trail of your route, letting you easily retrace your steps.
The only real tech feature in the cabin of the Forester was the stereo, a premium model at the Sports 2.5 XT trim level. This stereo pumps 155 watts through seven speakers, with tweeters in the A pillars, midrange speakers in each door, and a subwoofer in the cargo area. This configuration sounds pretty good. It's not sublime, nor does it put out really strong bass, but it offers adequate audio quality, with decent sound separation.
The head unit has an attractive faceplate with a simple, single-line green and black radio display. It has a six-disc in-dash changer that plays MP3 and WMA CDs, with pretty straightforward music navigation. You turn the right-hand tuning knob to choose a folder, and choose tracks with the Seek buttons. Unfortunately, this folder selection mode means you can't access tracks at the root directory of a CD.
Pushing the display button lets you cycle through artist, track, and album name for MP3 and WMA tracks. One nitpick we had with this system--whenever a new track started playing, the screen would go back to its default track number display. You can't just leave it on artist or track name.
We like how the auxiliary audio input jack and a 12-volt outlet are hidden behind a panel where you might expect to find an ashtray. It's very accessible, although there is no particularly convenient place to put an MP3 player. The stereo also has Sirius satellite radio capability, with a dedicated category button to the right of the radio display.
Under the hood
The mechanics of the Forester provide a more interesting tech story. First, the car gets a turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter four cylinder engine. This engine puts out 224 horsepower and an impressive 226 lb-ft of torque at 3,600rpm. But with the car's standard all-wheel-drive, you're going to have a hard time making the tires spin. This engine really throws the car forward, much more than you would expect for a wagon of this size.
We weren't very impressed by the car's five-speed manual transmission--it felt a little loose, and we think the car could benefit from a sixth gear for freeway driving. The suspension also seemed too soft, and the steering was very light.
But when we ran the car down the Tunitas Creek Road, a windy, ill-paved mountain lane going from Highway 35 down to Highway 1 on the peninsula below San Francisco, the Forester felt right at home. That soft suspension we noticed on the freeway adapted well to the Tunitas Creek Road's bumps and grinds, giving us a much more comfortable ride than we would get from a car with a more rigidly tuned suspension. Although the light steering gave us some concern down this stretch, the all-wheel-drive gave us confidence in pushing the car hard around the turns.
The Forester gets about what we would expect for a larger displacement four-cylinder engine, with an EPA rated 20mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway. In our mixed city, mountain, and freeway driving we stayed pretty close to the 20mpg mark. You would have to do some careful driving to do much better than that. The Forester isn't spectacular on emissions, earning only the minimal LEV II rating from California's Air Resources Board.
Our 2007 Subaru Forester was a Sports 2.5 XT model, which has a base price of $25,995. We added the Popular Equipment Group 2, which includes a cargo holder and all weather floor mats, for $170, and Sirius satellite radio for $445. The total, with a $625 destination charge, comes out to $27,235.
This car didn't impress us much from a tech perspective, but we liked its sheer practicality. It really felt like it could go just about anywhere, and we can see why the Forester is popular among campers. The car also doesn't have a lot of competition, as there aren't many all-wheel-drive wagons on the market. That said, we would definitely like to see a navigation option in the Forester, although we can see how cell phone integration isn't a must-have for the car.