Sport/Utility of the Yesteryear
As mentioned, the Forester entered this battle as something of a favorite, what with it taking our SUOTY calipers just 12 months ago. But a year is a long time, and a lot can happen in that span--like an award-winner finishing fourth in a four-car comparison. (Before you start typing angry letters, berating us for getting it wrong, let us remind you that the 224-horse XT turbo played a huge factor in earning the Forester's crown.) This is not to say we no longer like, appreciate, and respect the Forester--far from it. Rather, in light of new and revised offerings, we simply like, appreciate, and respect it a bit less.

In May 2008's test, the Forester's 170 horsepower and 20/26-mpg fuel economy put it near the top of the class. In this 2010 shindig, however, those numbers place it dead last. Further, 2008's test vehicle, a 3308-pound 2.5X Premium, scrambled from 0 to 60 in 9.9 seconds, or a full tick ahead of the VUE. Fast forward 22 months, our 2010 tester--a 3311-pound 2.5X Premium--proved considerably quicker (9.3 seconds), but was nonetheless slower than all three of its foes. Whereas before the Subaru's four-speed automatic was competitive, now it seems conspicuously uncompetitive. "Four-speed auto?" questions editor at large Arthur St. Antoine. "C'mon, Subaru. Hyundai has a six-speed." With the XT's turbo, Subaru can get away with the four-speed, but with the X's naturally aspirated mill, it's no longer cutting it.

What is cutting it, though, are the Forester hallmarks that helped make it a SUOTY--2400-pound towing capacity, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 0.81g lateral acceleration, 34.4-foot turning circle, and $25,294 as-tested price--all tops in this field. That said, had we gotten a more appropriate Forester, a comparably equipped $26,690 2.5X Limited optioned with nav, premium audio, and satellite radio, the price would have been just under $30,000.

It's likely that for 2011 the Forester will undergo a significant freshening, adopting Subaru's new CVT in favor of the four-speed and a styling update inside and out. To be competitive again, it needs all of the above.