The Subaru Forester has been on the market for a decade now, carefully straddling the line between wagon and mini-SUV, but with the same underpinnings and basic wagon-like layout.

That's all starting to change for 2009. Thanks to its new platform underneath and larger dimensions overall, the Forester is getting closer to real SUV proportions. Now, the wagon/ute sits 3.3 inches higher, offers nearly an inch more ground clearance (now 8.9), 2.9 inches more length overall, and a 3.6-inch-longer wheelbase, at 103.0. That length puts it in direct competition with the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Hyundai Tucson. The Impreza has always served as the Forester's foundation; the next-gen Impreza now provides the all-new platform, which includes a control-arm rear suspension on a dedicated subframe. This setup replaces the previous-gen's rear struts, a change that improves ride and handling (as does the vehicle's wider track), and creates a flat load floor that helps increase cargo volume.

Two revised engines are available: a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter boxer four, backed by a five-speed manual with Incline Start Assist or a four-speed automatic, or a 224-horsepower turbocharged engine (shared with the WRX) that comes only with the automatic. The normally aspirated engine loses three horses compared with its predecessor, but gains four pound-feet (both peak at the same rpm as before). The turbo four has had no changes to its power, but its new intake and redesigned turbocharger and intercooler help make peak horsepower and torque accessible at lower rpm. To improve handling, Subaru mounted the engine lower in the chassis, lowering the center of gravity. Additionally, it's likely the Forester will have a third engine choice.

Subaru recently introduced a new diesel engine in Europe, its first ever and first boxer diesel available in a passenger car. It went on sale earlier this year, powering the Legacy and Outback. Multiple sources at Subaru have stated the company is interested in getting the 2.0-liter DOHC four here in the next two years. The diesel puts out an estimated 148 horses at 3600 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 1800 rpm, with an estimated fuel economy of 49 mpg on the highway. Emissions are handled by a standard EGR system, particulate filter, and an oxidation catalytic converter, making the engine currently emissions compliant for Europe. (Testing has yet to be conducted for the U.S. market, but a urea-injection selective reduction catalyst is likely to be required here to meet the 2010 regs.) The diesel ups the Outback 2.5 XT's towing capacity from 2700 pounds to 3700--it could do the same for the Forester's current 2400-pound towing capacity.

Symmetrical AWD, four-wheel ABS with brake assist, side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor, and VDC stability and traction control are all included in the base price. Options include nav, retractable rear center tray, heated front seats/mirrors, and XM or Sirius.

Its new styling, dimensions, and ground clearance certainly make the Forester more competitive with smaller crossovers like the CR-V, Tucson, and Escape. It will also lure new-to-Subaru buyers who may want something smaller than the Tribeca, and want a vehicle with more character than other crossovers on the road.