Best Bet
  • (4.2) 67 reviews
  • Available Prices: $4,732–$14,552
  • Body Style: Sport Utility
  • Combined MPG: 21-23
  • Engine: 170-hp, 2.5-liter H-4 (regular gas)
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel Drive
  • Seats: 5
2009 Subaru Forester

Our Take on the Latest Model 2009 Subaru Forester

What We Don't Like

  • Some inconsistent dashboard materials
  • Turbo requires premium fuel
  • Small radio buttons
  • Slow-to-react automatic
  • No telescoping steering wheel in non-turbo models
  • Sizeable backseat floor hump

Notable Features

  • Redesigned for 2009
  • Regular or turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Standard AWD
  • High ground clearance
  • Manual or automatic
  • Styling moves toward SUV mainstream

2009 Subaru Forester Reviews

Cars.com Expert Reviews

In its first full redesign since the 2003 model year, the Subaru Forester has moved closer to the mainstream than some fans might have hoped it would. The old model's boxy charm has been toned down, and what's left is a compact SUV whose driving dynamics are on par with some of the nimbler players in this segment. A few Forester diehards may cry foul, but I suspect the changes will widen the car's appeal to the market in general. The SUV remains as practical as ever, but now boasts enough refinement to merit serious consideration from anyone shopping the latest Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

Trim levels include the 2.5X and 2.5X L.L.Bean, along with turbocharged 2.5XT and 2.5XT Limited versions; click here to see a side-by-side comparison with the 2008 model. Subaru's full-time all-wheel-drive system is standard. I drove a number of configurations both on- and off-road at a press event in Southern California.

Going & Stopping
Save a few tweaks to improve everyday drivability, the Forester's four-cylinder drivetrains carry over from last year. Here's how they compare:

Drivetrains Compared
Naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinderTurbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Availability2.5X, 2.5X L.L.Bean2.5XT, 2.5XT Limited
Horsepower (@ rpm)170 @ 6,000224 @ 5,200
Torque (@ rpm)170 @ 4,400226 @ 2,800
Transmission5-sp. manual or 4-sp. auto4-sp. auto
Source: Automaker data

Subaru expects the vast majority of buyers to pick the normally aspirated engine. It's a solid choice, mustering enough low-end torque to move the Forester smartly from a standstill. The five-speed manual is worth considering — it feels similar to the stick in the Impreza sedan, rowing with medium throws from one gear to the next. While it's a bit slushy in that sporty sedan, it feels reasonably precise in the Forester, given that it's an SUV. The clutch has a light touch and long take-up, and the engine revs freely when pressed for acceleration. Stay hard on the gas, and the drivetrain can get a bit loud, but it's never coarse or buzzy like some four-cylinders are. The stick shift includes an incline-assist feature to keep it from rolling backward when you release the brake on a hill.

A four-speed automatic is optional with the non-turbo four-cylinder. The turbo engine comes only with the automatic, and I spent several hours driving it on the interstate and some twisty mountain roads. The turbo spools up quickly and delivers commanding power, though there's still some noticeable lag under hard acceleration. The extra horsepower feels strongest in highway passing maneuvers, where the turbo colludes with the transmission to deliver excellent kickdown performance — when it finally happens. The problem is just how long that kickdown takes: The automatic's gears feel widely spaced, and it takes a determined prod on the gas pedal to induce a downshift from fourth gear. Short of that — and during most ordinary driving around town — the turbo doesn't feel decisively stronger than the regular engine, and it lacks the refined punch of a V-6 Toyota RAV4.

Though I spent the vast majority of my time driving the automatic in Normal mode, it's worth noting that it has a Sport mode with its own dedicated shifting program. Be sure to check that out before you discount the automatic as a whole. By holding gears into higher rpm, it should eliminate some of the downshifts entirely — though with a mileage penalty.

The turbo requires premium gas. Mileage with the regular and turbocharged engines rivals that of the four- and six-cylinder engines in various competitors, respectively. The premium-fuel requirement remains unusual for this segment, however.

AWD Gas Mileage Compared (city/highway, mpg)
Four-cylinder (rec. fuel)V-6 or turbocharged engine (rec. fuel)
Nissan Rogue21/26 (regular)n/a
Honda CR-V20/26 (regular)n/a
Subaru Forester20/26 (regular)19/24 (premium)
Toyota RAV420/25 (regular)19/26 (regular)
Mitsubishi Outlander20/25 (regular)17/24 (regular)
Hyundai Tucsonn/a*17/23 (regular)
Ford Escape19/24 (regular)17/22 (regular)
Mazda CX-7n/a16/22 (premium)
Saturn Vuen/a**3.5L: 15/22; 3.6L: 16/22 (both regular)
*AWD Tucson four-cylinder comes only with manual transmission.
**Saturn Vue four-cylinder available only with FWD.
Source: EPA, automaker data for 2008 models (except Forester) with automatic transmissions.

Last year's Forester could be had with the turbo and a stick shift, which proved more fun to drive than any SUV deserves to be. Alas, due to poor sales, Subaru pulled the plug on that combo this year.

Antilock brakes come with discs at all corners, an improvement over the disc/drum combination in some trim levels last year. The pedal delivers linear response and firm stopping control, and I found brake fade minimal even at the bottom of a three-mile offroad descent. ABS shows its face only when skids become imminent — a welcome change from some of the more trigger-happy systems out there.

Towing capacity is 2,400 pounds with either engine. That beats most four-cylinder SUVs, though some of the Forester's V-6 competitors can tow 3,000 pounds or more.

Ride & Handling
The original Forester was one of the first SUVs to adopt a four-wheel-independent suspension, and this year's model has a new double-wishbone rear setup. Several journalists on the media drive complained of excessive body roll — possibly the result of no rear stabilizer bar, which was standard on the outgoing model — but I think most drivers will find that the Forester's handling ranks among the sportier SUVs in its class. The chassis remains poised over curvy roads, and Subaru's all-wheel-drive system delivers unflappable grip accelerating out of a turn.

The steering system offers a quicker turning ratio this year. It delivers lively response, with reasonably crisp turn-in and more feedback about changing road conditions than you get in some sedans, let alone SUVs. Some SUVs accomplish this sporty feel by dialing back the power-steering assist so much that the steering wheel becomes too stiff at low speeds — the Mazda CX-7 springs to mind — but the Forester's steering is well below this threshold, and its 34.4-foot turning circle beats eight of its major competitors, some by more than 5 feet. Outstanding.

Subaru says it took extensive steps to address road and wind noise this time around, and indeed, highway noise now seems about average for a small SUV. It's not as quiet as a Honda CR-V, but it's a distinct improvement over the previous Forester.

Offroad Chops
The offroad portion of Subaru's press drive consisted of a lengthy course on California's Catalina Island, and I had a chance to tackle some fairly demolished dirt roads. I imagine a tiny fraction of Forester owners will take their SUVs to these lengths, but it performed well nonetheless, clawing up steep slopes and rutted pathways with well-controlled body motions. The wheels stayed well-connected to the dirt, allowing the nose or tail to swing wide only under the most sudden turns. (All deliberate, of course.)

SUV Styling
Where previous generations looked more like tall wagons than SUVs, this redesign moves the Forester a lot closer to what it purports to be. There are still some windswept lines here and there, so it's not yet in the territory of more upright SUVs like the Saturn Vue or Ford Escape, but for better or worse it will now blend in with the herd much more easily. The creased headlights and stacked bumper looked a bit busy to me, but they're attractive enough. The tail closes things off with a tidy, clean design.

Standard dual exhaust pipes add a sporty touch, as do the 17-inch alloy wheels that come on all but the base trim level. The doors have window frames now, which gives them a much sturdier feel when slammed than last year's frameless doors had.

The Inside
The Forester's dash sits higher against the windshield than you'll find in many SUVs, which gives the cabin a more carlike feel and a lower perceived driving position. Thanks to the large side and rear windows, however, overall visibility remains excellent.

A height-adjustable driver's seat is standard, but the steering wheel in most models only tilts, and its adjustment range is limited. You have to upgrade to the turbocharged model to get a telescoping wheel, which allows drivers of varying sizes to position themselves a safe, comfortable distance from the steering wheel and its airbag. It's an unfortunate omission, seeing as both the CR-V and RAV4 have telescoping wheels across all trims.

Interior quality is good, if occasionally inconsistent. The materials vary: The upper dash panels have an upscale finish, but some of the plastics lining the glove compartment look grainy and cheap. If you like silver plastic, your day has come: The stuff has spread like foreclosures in Tampa. Here it adorns the center controls, dash, steering wheel, gearshift and doors. The steering wheel has a satisfying grip, but I found the blue-and-white gauges a bit tacky. Other controls, from the turn signals to the window switches, show sturdy construction, and overall fit and finish is respectable.

Roominess & Cargo
Front-seat legroom and headroom was fine for me (about 6 feet tall), even with the panoramic moonroof that comes on most trim levels. The seats have slight side bolsters that come in handy during spirited driving, and the seatbacks provided adequate back support during my several hours behind the wheel.

Thanks largely to a wheelbase that's 3.6 inches longer, backseat legroom has increased more than 4 inches over the previous Forester, and that's a lot when it comes to legroom. The doors open a few degrees wider, too, and I found the resulting backseat comfortably roomy. One caveat: A large floor hump crowds foot room. The CR-V and RAV4 have virtually flat floors.

A low lift-over height and wide opening make the cargo area's 33.5 cubic feet of volume easy to access. The 60/40-split rear seats fold flat in one simple step, extending volume to a maximum of 68.3 cubic feet. Those figures compare favorably with the segment, especially when you consider that each SUV that beats the Forester has a corresponding annoyance: The RAV4 has a cumbersome, sideways-opening rear door; the CR-V requires you to tumble the second-row seats forward and secure them in place; and the Outlander's tumbling seats are a pain in the neck to fold back into place. On the space-versus-impediments index, the Forester scores high.

Cargo Room Compared
Behind 2nd row (cu. ft.)Behind 1st row (cu. ft.)
Toyota RAV4*36.473.0
Mitsubishi Outlander*36.272.6
Honda CR-V35.772.9
Subaru Forester**33.568.3
Mazda CX-729.958.6
Ford Escape29.266.3
Saturn Vue29.256.4
Nissan Rogue28.957.9
Hyundai Tucson22.765.5
*RAV4 and Outlander without optional third rows.
**30.8 cubic feet/63.0 cubic feet in moonroof-equipped models.
Source: Automaker data for 2008 models (except Forester).

Safety & Reliability
In crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Forester earned the top score, Good, in front and side impacts. The SUV was awarded an IIHS Top Safety Pick designation. Because it was redesigned this year, reliability scores for the Forester are unavailable. The previous-generation Forester got top marks in this area: Consumer Reports awarded it good or excellent reliability ratings for six years running. While history among brands and models is often informative, cautious buyers will wait for results. Every car is different.

Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, with side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. The curtain airbags have tip sensors to deploy during a rollover. Active head restraints, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are also standard. All five seats have adequately high head restraints. Parents with young children should check out the child-seat provisions in the photos above.

Equipment & Pricing
Given that all-wheel drive is standard, the Forester packs impressive value. Subaru shaved some $1,200 off the sticker price for 2009, so the 2.5X now starts at $19,995 without the destination charge, including a temperature/gas mileage display, A/C, cruise control, a CD player with an MP3 auxiliary jack, power accessories and remote keyless entry — albeit with Subaru's dated, flimsy keyfob.

An automatic transmission costs $1,200 — a bit much, considering the Escape's automatic costs $1,000 and the last Forester's automatic was $800. The Premium Package adds alloy wheels, a panoramic moonroof and more for $2,500. An automatic comes standard on the 2.5X L.L.Bean ($25,995), which includes heated leather seats, automatic climate control and a power driver's seat. Turbo models start at $26,195 and top out close to $30,000. A navigation system is optional with either drivetrain.

Forester in the Market
The previous Forester was a Cars.com Best Bet on the strength of its versatility, reliability and safety credentials, but I've always had to footnote my recommendation of it with a warning about its sparse interior and noisy cabin.

This time around, the Forester's refinement has turned into a relative asset. The cabin isn't as classy as those of some of the overachievers in this segment, but overall quality has improved to a point where excuses no longer need to be made. Its cargo-area execution and driving dynamics remain as good as ever, as do the Forester's go-anywhere capabilities.

Perhaps Subaru's last hurdle is the Forester's image as a quirky car for quirky people. The latest model does a lot to overcome this, and it's time mainstream shoppers gave it a look.

Send Kelsey an email 


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Consumer Reviews

(4.2)

Average based on 67 reviews

Write a Review

A Disappointment.

by TJH from MO on November 12, 2017

I was so impressed with my 2001 Subaru Forester I passed it down to my son and bought a 2009 Forester. The 2001 Forester had 230,000 miles on it and had never had to have any major repairs, only gener... Read Full Review

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5 Trims Available

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Wondering which configuration is right for you?
Our 2009 Subaru Forester trim comparison will help you decide.
 

Subaru Forester Articles

2009 Subaru Forester Safety Ratings

Crash-Test Reports

IIHS Ratings

Based on Subaru Forester 2.5X

Head Restraints and Seats
G
Moderate overlap front
G
Roof Strength
G
Side
G

IIHS Ratings

Based on Subaru Forester 2.5X

G Good
A Acceptable
M Marginal
P Poor

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
G
Overall Rear
G
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
G

Moderate overlap front

Chest
G
Head/Neck
G
Left Leg/Foot
G
Overall Front
G
Restraints
G
Right Leg/Foot
G
Structure/safety cage
G

Other

Roof Strength
G

Side

Driver Head Protection
G
Driver Head and Neck
G
Driver Pelvis/Leg
A
Driver Torso
G
Overall Side
G
Rear Passenger Head Protection
G
Rear Passenger Head and Neck
G
Rear Passenger Pelvis/Leg
G
Rear Passenger Torso
G
Structure/safety cage
A
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers. IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests. IIHS also evaluates seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts.

NHTSA Ratings

Based on Subaru Forester 2.5X

Overall Rollover Rating

NHTSA Ratings

Based on Subaru Forester 2.5X

Overall Rollover Rating
Driver's
Passenger's
Side Barrier Rating Driver
Side Barrier Rating Passenger Rear Seat
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. NHTSA provides vehicle safety information such as front- and side-crash ratings and rollover ratings. Vehicles are rated using a star rating system from 1-5 stars, with 5 being the highest.

Recalls

There are currently 10 recalls for this car.


Safety defects and recalls are relatively common. Stay informed and know what to do ahead of time.

Safety defects and recalls explained

Service & Repair

Estimated Service & Repair cost: $4,100 per year.

Save on maintenance costs and do your own repairs.

Warranty Coverage

Bumper-to-Bumper

36mo/36,000mi

Powertrain

60mo/60,000mi

Roadside Assistance Coverage

36mo/36,000mi

What you should get in your warranty can be confusing. Make sure you are informed.

Learn More About Warranties

Warranties Explained

Bumper-to-Bumper

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

Powertrain

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

Roadside Assistance

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

Free Scheduled Maintenance

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

Other Years