Subaru Stays True to Rugged Roots with 2010 Forester

January 2, 2010/Steve Tackett


We’ve always had a little trouble figuring out the Subaru Forester, but we seem to be the minority: Subaru’s tracking to sell a record number of this all-wheel-drive, compact car-sized tall wagon, proving the 2010 Forester has transcended its reputation for appealing mostly to granola-munching Vermonters, college professors and ski bums.
When Subaru totally redesigned the Forester last year, the turbocharged version quickly topped a Consumer Reports test of competing small crossovers, including the former champ, Toyota’s RAV4.
So ballooning sales numbers and two thumbs up from CR suggested we’d better take a look at the 2010 Forester. And yep, despite all that affirmation, we still don’t get it.
Not that there’s not plenty to like. The Forester is amiably styled and its straight-cut interior is as roomy and functional as an Amish barn.
Just about everything about the Forester — even the $29,148 leather-trimmed 2.5X Limited tester — is refreshingly basic, and we mean that in a good way. The Forester, like most Subarus, doesn’t come on with complicated controls and fiddly electronic features.
The Forester’s “get in and drive” factor is fantastic. Slide into the high-placed driver’s seat and there’s a big three-gauge cluster presenting you with large dials with unmistakable markings. You don’t have to search for the ancillaries like window buttons, the switch to adjust the side mirrors or the ventilation-system controls. And there’s no guessing about how it all works — it works exactly as you expect.
It’s when you get moving that it all gets a little weird.

subaru forester 2010

Your first slight prod of the gas pedal lurches the Forester forward in a spastic fit and it takes a while to adjust to the too-enthusiastic “tip in” of the pedal. We suspect the Subaru engineers did this on purpose to make their signature “boxer” opposed-cylinder engine (a handling-enhancing engine design shared with most Porsches, incidentally) feel artificially stronger than its 170-horsepower rating.
Last year’s totally new platform and chassis brought the inarguable benefits of a double-wishbone suspension at the rear (it helps account for the Forester’s delightfully unobstructed cargo area), the new suspension can’t quite overcome the squeamish body roll when you first cut the wheel, the unavoidable byproduct of the Forester’s high 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
Most buyers of compact crossovers don’t expect sports car handling, but how does Subaru explain the outdated 4-speed automatic transmission that’s standard for the top three of the Forester’s five trim levels? In the year 2010, 4-speed automatics are the rump roast of transmissions, the province only of the market’s least-expensive models — and certainly have no place in a vehicle pushing $30,000.
Want to know why the Forester drums up just 20 miles per gallon in the city and a disappointing 26 mpg on the highway? Look no further than the 4-speed automatic. Rude “kickdowns” are another unfortunate side effect.
But hey, there aren’t a lot of roomy, hatchback car-wagons with standard all-wheel-drive out there, and the Forester’s popularity demonstrates it’s a desirable configuration. In foul-weather areas, all-wheel-drive can deliver great peace of mind, while the Forester’s manageable size definitely is an asset for those who can do without the lumbering responses of SUVs or even some larger crossovers.
We appreciate the Forester’s refreshing basic-ness and that it still exudes a ton of legendary Subaru ruggedness. But we look at things like the 4-speed automatic and no-frills interior and wonder why that plainness can’t extend a little more to the surprisingly pricey Forester’s bottom line. The Forester’s bulldog tough and undeniably functional, but there’s a lot of good competition out there better priced. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters

Next New On Wheels (Bonus Wheels): 2010 Lexus RX 350

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger compact AWD crossover
BASE PRICE___________________ $25,995 (as tested: $29,148)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve horizontally opposed 4-cylinder
DISPLACEMENT_________________ 2.5-liter
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 170 at 6000 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 170 at 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE____________________ 103 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 179.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,360 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 16.9 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010

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