The plus side to the Forester's inflation is that its extra capacity is tremendous -- 14.9 cubic feet of extra passenger room and 7.6 additional cargo cubes with the second row folded. And that tall roofline we were talking about? It'll be your best friend when Aunt Bessie offloads that armoire you always had your eye on. Personally, I think this is a very sweet spot in the titanic trade-off between dimensional hulk and useability. Inside, there are also plenty of nifty details, expected and unexpected, such as reclining rear seatbacks and a fold-forward portion of the rear seat bench that offers-up twin cupholders and a stow tray, standard on all but the base model.

Both the normally aspirated and turbo Foresters are propelled by evolutions or their current engines. The base-engined 2.5X, 2.5X Premium, and 2.5X L.L. Bean versions get a better-breathing intake tract, revised intake ports, modified cam timing, and twin mufflers -- all of which combine to broaden the torque band while bumping its peak by 4 lb-ft to 170. There's comparable tweaking under the gracefully scooped hoods of the 2.5XT and 2.5XT Limited turbo versions too, aimed at similar torque and efficiency broadening goals (a twin-scroll turbo design and extra intake air tumble at the intake port). The updates are even more subtle in the transmission department, little stuff like slightly better shift action for the manual, improved sport-shift reaction from the automatic, and a new-spec ATF to help cold-start fuel economy.

On the road, the broad-shoulder torque curves of both engines nicely balance the Forester's roughly 100 pound weight gain (which, by the way, is not a bad increase considering the dimensional upscaling). The four-speed automatic is an obvious anachronism -- and wouldn't it be nice if the turbo version could break its dependence on premium fuel (as Subaru has accomplished with its naturally-aspirated 3.6-liter H-6 engine)? Oh, yes. Still, in the face of quickly escalating fuel prices, Subaru is probably wise to avoid the ever-more-horsepower mania; in fact, in normally aspirated, automatic transmission form, mileage is unchanged, while only a single solitary mpg is sacrificed on the highway if you opt for the auto. Also unchanged are turbo version's numbers, though -- note to all you manual cog swappers out there -- the turbo/manual tranny pairing has been discontinued with this engine.

In a way, the 2009 version of Subaru's little rut crawler is the something-for-nothing-Forester. Bigger, but with equivalent mileage and performance. Significant new safety features at base prices lowered from $700 to $1200, depending on powertrain and trim. And perhaps best of all, smart new looks while retaining its unusual commitment to clear-headed functionality (note how the new side windowsill's flip up into the rear pillar is restrained to maintain outward vision). Good stuff. Smart stuff. And good reason indeed that we should finally cast off our Plimpton-esque image of the car. Welcome, Mr. Clooney.


2009 SUBARU FORESTER
Base price $20,645-$28,840
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door, SUV
Engines 2.5L/170-hp/170-lb-ft, SOHC, 16-valve, F-4; 2.5L/224-hp/226 lb-ft, turbocharged DOHC, 16-valve, F-4
Transmissions 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Curb weight 3250 lb - 3460 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 103.0 in
Length x width x height 179.5 x 70.1 x 65.9 in
0-60 mph 7.0-9.0 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 19-20 / 24-26 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.87-0.93 lb/mile
On sale in U.S. Spring 2008