Among its peers, Subaru's Forester has always been the "character" among its compact sport/ute fellows. You know, funny and erudite and all that, but a bit eccentric in a suspiciously self-conscious sort of way. Styling? Frumpy. Make that, proudly frumpy. And forget about suggesting it should have a more refined engine note. In Subaruville, roarty is music to the ears. Had Hollywood ever made a movie of the Forester's life, bow-tied George Plimpton would've been perfect for the part.
And, of course, those other, less characterful little 'utes the Forester competes with have easily outsold it year after year.
But maybe for not much longer. The actor playing the role of the 2009 Forester could be George Clooney instead of George Plimpton. Trust me, you're going to give it a double take: It's bigger. It's better mannered. It's cloaked in an okay suit of sheetmetal. Thank heavens, it's still amusing and playful, but now it'll even catch the eye of the opposite sex in the room. Here's a Forester that's less Forest and a lot more Forest Hills.
The latest, third generation of Subaru's cult 'ute has dramatically pulled out its earplugs to its naysayers and made the changes that had to be made. Number one: It's bigger. More than enough to placate the knees of all those second-row tagalongs who've been complaining in the past (imagine -- a yawning 4.3 inches in added rear kneeroom). The wheelbase has been stretched too, but less so -- 3.6 inches -- while the overall length has been upped even less proportionately, gaining 3.0 inches. Here is the critical, numero uno talking point about the 2009 Forester -- its size.
Without a doubt, the majority of Forester shoppers are going to do a little jig when they see the greater capacity. But, oh boy, will there be dissenters among the traditional Foresteristas (I already know one) who are going to wail at the growth spurt. Subaru can happy-talk all it likes about better departure angles, greater ground clearance (now 8.7 inches for the normally aspirated version, 8.9 for the turbo), and even a five-inch-tighter turning circle. But some fraction of the hard-nut die hards are going to cross their arms and say no, no, no. In addition to its gained length and width (1.8 inches fatter), it's taller by a whopping 4.3 inches. Why? Many of the Forester forum-types are asking the same thing. Probably to keep its visual proportions 'ute-like instead of going all wagonish; inside, there's so much empty air above your head the FAA might have jurisdiction. Even with the gigantic (optional) retracting moonroof in the closed position, there's space for a nice aviary overhead. The downside of this could be a higher center of gravity despite the drivetrain's fractional lowering. Of note, all Foresters now have stability control, brake assist, and tip sensing to trigger the curtain bags, in addition the all the usual tricks like hill-hold for the manual-transmission cars and electronic brake force sensing.
On our test drive, I found myself appreciating all of these viewpoints: The greater length, stretched wheelbase, and new double A-arm rear suspension (rubber isolated) give the Forester an absolutely splendid (as well as quieter) ride. Even off road, the darn thing wafts you along like a glass of expensive champagne on butler-carried tray. But you do become aware of its puffed dimensions when you turn it. Its rotational inertia, or resistance to changing direction, is greater, if only by a hairsbreadth. True, the proverbial 99 out of 100 savvy drivers probably won't notice any difference at all. And the good news is that the Forester's always delightful steering feel is still a tiny rim-tug away.