Not many car press introductions are particularly memorable, but you have to hand it to Subaru for etching its new Forester's presentation onto the gray matter of its assembled scribes. The double-take came during the PowerPoint presentation when an image of a cow suddenly appeared on the screen, peering out from a current-generation Forester's cargo hold. Okay, maybe this isn't as indelible as Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, but for a Forester intro, it's up there.
The cow itself wasn't very big. Maybe it was a calf. But it was some kind of cow-based animal, and the Subaru P.R. boys found the picture rummaging through the Facebook pages of Forester aficionados. Their point (besides reminding us that you never know who's checking out your online stuff ) was to illustrate that people do peculiar things with Foresters and really like to share their adventures--including livestock transport--with the rest of us.
Our cow schlepper isn't alone, either. Thousands suffer from this Forester Fever, apparently, and when a new Forester comes out, they collectively hold their breath, like mission control when a shuttle countdown hits 10 seconds.
Buyers had good reason to let out a collective sigh of relief when images of the third-generation Forester began popping up on the Web. Although Subarus have never been the subject of one-car shows at the Museum of Modern Art, this one is handsome. Maybe class-leading handsome. But what's more important--and certainly would be to our cow friend--is that the new Forester is a lot bigger.
The epicenter of this bigness is its second-row knee room, 4.3 additional inches of it, enough to placate all those lanky-legged teenage tagalongs who've complained in the past. 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.
Without a doubt, the majority of Forester shoppers are going to do a jig when they see the greater capacity. But, boy, will there be dissenters among the Foresteristas--those guys I was mentioning with Subaru's Pleiades star cluster tattooed on their biceps. Despite happy talk about better departure angles, greater ground clearance (now 8.7 inches for the normally aspirated version, 8.9 for the turbo), and even a 5.0inch-tighter turning circle, the new Forester's questionable 4.3-inch height increase could offend the purists. "It's only for style [even with the optional mega-sunroof]," they snarl, just so it doesn't look like a station wagon. Perhaps.
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 her armoire. Inside, there are also plenty of nifty details, expected and unexpected, such as reclining rear seatbacks and a fold-forward portion of the rear bench that offers up twin cupholders and a stow tray (standard on all but the base model).
On our test drive, I found myself appreciating all these viewpoints: the greater length, stretched wheelbase, and new double A-arm rear suspension (rubber isolated) give the Forester a splendid (as well as quieter) ride. Even on dirt roads, the darn thing wafts you along like a butler-borne tray. For sure, it feels bigger, but the Forester's always delightful steering feel is still there.
Normally aspirated and turbo Foresters are propelled by evolutions of 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 four pound-feet 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 broadening goals (of note: a twin-scroll turbo design and greater intake make air tumble at the intake port). The updates are even subtler in the transmission department; with 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.
In a way, the 2009 version of Subaru's rut crawler is the something-for-nothing Forester--bigger, but with equivalent mileage and performance. Significant new safety features (stability control, brake assist, and tip sensing) at base prices lowered from $700 to $1200. And, perhaps best of all, smart new looks while retaining its unusual commitment to clear-headed functionality (note how the side windowsill's fashionable flip-up into the rear pillar is restrained to maintain outward vision). Good stuff. Smart stuff. Even to a cow.