2009 Subaru Forester XT Review
By Kevin Miller
Living in the Pacific Northwest, it seems like every other house has a Subaru Outback or Forester parked outside. Subaru vehicles and my family go way back. More than a decade ago my brother and I drove his AWD Legacy sedan from Seattle to New Jersey over four days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That journey across a frozen part of the continent exposed me to the beauty of Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Since then, my mother-in-law has upgraded her ’82 Subaru 4×4 wagon for a modern Outback, and my mother traded her Saab 900 turbo for a 2002 Outback H6 3.0 L. L.Bean Edition.
With that history, I eagerly anticipated my week in the 2009 Subaru Forster XT. The new-for-2009 Forester has a much more modern shape than the angular vehicle it replaces, and has grown up by gaining more space, becoming more of a crossover than just a tall wagon.
Last summer Autosavant’s Chris Haak had the opportunity to review a 2009 Subaru Forester X Premium equipped with a 170 HP 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. He found power to be merely adequate, with a too-soft suspension and handling that wallows. The Forester XT adds a turbocharger to that 2.5 liter four, for a rating of 224 HP and 226 lb-ft torque, and gains a functional hood scoop and dual exhaust. While the extra 54 HP do help to move the Forester off the line more quickly, the engine seems to be better suited to performance off the line than performance when the car is already traveling 50 or 60 MPH.
The biggest down-side to the Forester XT is that the turbocharged engine is mated only to a four-speed automatic transmission- no manual transmission is available. While the slushbox did an adequate job of getting the power from the engine to the tires, a more-modern gearbox with more ratios could deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The Forester XT is rated 19/24 MPG (21 combined), though I managed to get just 20.4 MPG during my nearly 400 miles spent with the vehicle; I needed to refill the tank with premium fuel after just 275 miles.
Climbing into the driver’s seat (which was upholstered with a sturdy-looking yet comfortable cloth), I was impressed with the view out. I found that visibility out of the Forester was probably the best of any vehicle I’ve reviewed for Autosavant. Each of the pillars was relatively thin, and all of the windows were large. There is also a huge sunroof that extends over the back seat, offering nearly convertible-like upward visibility. That excellent visibility combined with the Forester’s tight turning radius made it easy to drive and park, from my very first time behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, the otherwise-comfortable front seat was made less so by the fact that the backrest rake adjustment has very wide spacing between its adjustment detents, meaning that it was either too-upright or too-reclined. During the course of my week with the Forester XT, I was fiddling with the seat trying to make myself comfortable, without success.
Other than the not-quite-comfortable seat, though, the interior was nicely designed, with controls easy to read and logically placed. Though there was a lot of hard plastic on the dash top, console, and doors, it had a nice, tightly-grained look and was assembled with tight gaps and a stylish shape. At the top-center of the dash is a display which shows time, exterior temperature, and average fuel economy. Gauges were large and easy to read, though the fuel gauge was perhaps a bit too large, and there was no engine temperature gauge at all (a blue-or-red colored idiot lamp was used instead), nor was there a boost gauge for the turbo. The oversized-sunroof let in a lot of light when the sun was out, and it was easy for sun to wash out the display of the audio system, making it impossible to read.
The center console had an armrest which slides forward to adjust for shorter drivers, and beneath that armrest is a good-sized storage compartment with a DC power outlet and an AUX input jack. Just in front of that compartment are two cup-holders, though they are essentially square, and every cup or can I put in them moved around a bit.
Living with the Forester XT for a week, I had the opportunity to use it as a family hauler. My family includes two girls; one who is nearly four years old, and one who is nearly four months old. While the infant’s Graco Snug Ride seat and base fit easily behind the passenger seat, the preschooler’s Graco Comfort Sport convertible seat proved difficult to install in the Forester, because the shape of the rear seat’s bottom cushion prevented the carseat from sitting flat on the bottom cushion. I was only able to securely install the seat by retracting it’s rear fold-out “leg” and cinching it tightly with the LATCH and upper tether straps. The lower LATCH points are hidden behind hook-and-loop-secured flaps, which makes them easy to access. The rear seats had plenty of legroom, and can also recline, or fold flat in a 60/40 split configuration.
Behind the rear seat, the luggage compartment was quite spacious. It held my equipment cases with plenty of room to spare, and also featured grocery bag hooks to prevent bags from sliding around the back. The optional Luggage Compartment cover fit nicely and was easy to use.
My nearly-four-year-old daughter had a difficult time opening the Forester’s back doors from the outside because of the amount of force required to operate the handle. She also had a tough time climbing into the Forester because it lacked running boards, and there was nothing she could grab as a handle for climbing in. Sill surfaces were hard plastic, which became slippery for her wet shoes during my wet week with the Forester. Also, when the back doors were opened in the rain, I found that a small amount of water dripped onto the rear seat cushions.
Also slippery for wet shoes, and much more dangerously, were the metal-look accelerator and brake pedals, with small rubber nubs for traction. On two separate occasions during my week driving the Forester XT, my foot slipped off of the accelerator when I was accelerating. Each time was an unnerving experience, and I was cautious for the remainder of my week to not let it happen again.
A heavy snow started falling shortly after the Forester was dropped off, and during my commute there was snow accumulating rapidly on the interstate and side streets. As expected, the Subaru handled the snow with aplomb. On its standard 225/55R17 all-season tires, the Forester didn’t have any trouble dealing with the slushy and slippery roads. As snow built up on the windshield, the wipers started to chatter. Both of the Outback wagons in our family have a heating element embedded in the windshield to prevent that chattering; it would have been a welcome feature in the Forester.
The Topaz Gold Metallic model I tested had a base price of $26,195 and very few options; just a $166 Luggage Compartment Cover, $78 Rear Bumper Cover, $132 Splash Guard Kit, and $453 XM Satellite Radio; the rest of the car was bone stock. Even so, the Forester XT is respectably equipped, with standard equipment including 17” alloy wheels, front fog lamps, panoramic power moonroof, AM/FM/6-disc CD changer with auxiliary input, telescopic steering column, adjustable front armrest, steering wheel mounted audio controls, all wheel drive, and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). With the options included above plus $665 destination charge, the MSRP is $27,689.
While the bulk of this review makes it sound like I found a lot of faults with the Forester XT, it really is a thoughtfully-designed, well-assembled SUV. To its credit, the Forster drives and handles very much like a car, with none of the jostling, easily-upset traditional-SUV-suspension I experienced in the Kia Sorrento or the Jeep Compass. The Forester’s interior is spacious, ergonomically configured, and is well-assembled from nice-looking materials. Its turbocharged, horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine puts it a step ahead of its four-cylinder competition in terms of performance. I enjoyed driving the Forester XT for a week, and would recommend it without hesitation. While there are a lot of vehicles in this class, the Forester XT is comfortable, fun, spacious, and easy to drive; the same cannot be said about much of its competition.
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