Even prior to this announcement, Subaru's freshly redesigned Forester sales were up 32 percent over last year. While the restyle has taken what was once a stridently different SUV into the waters of a gentler, softly styled tall wagon demographic, all of the Subie techno-prowess (horizontally opposed engine, low center of gravity, asymmetrical all-wheel drive) and rugged functionality remain. So maybe it's not a vehicle just for Martina Navratilova and earth-day supporters anymore, but Subaru seems to have carefully blended the funky last-gen attributes with styling and features (a wheelbase stretched by 3.6 inches) that can pull in a much broader customer base. Not to mention a base price some $1,200 cheaper than the outgoing model, starting at $19,995. The SUV for our times, indeed.
In selecting the winner for their award, Motor Trend's editorial staff wrung a collection of 13 new-for-'09 SUVs through exhaustive driving test on-road, off-road, and at the test track. While comparisons are inevitable in a test of this type, Motor Trend is careful to point out that SUV of the Year is not a comparison test. Rather, every vehicle is judged on three criteria: superiority (engineering, design, utilization of resources), significance (its impact on the market), and value (what buyers get for their money versus the competition). Subaru won the competition by unanimous decision.
Said MT Technical Director Frank Markus, "the current range of engines offer a good balance of high performance or reasonable fuel economy, and the upcoming diesel will greatly increase the Forester's efficiency." In a rapidly changing market, the big, thirsty SUVs of yesteryear are losing relevance as tidier vehicles like the Forester take their place. Markus underscores this point, stating "the Forester is well positioned to deliver the all-wheel-drive traction, square-back light-duty hauling capability and high-eye-point seating customers enjoy in a far more efficient package."
$19,995 for all-wheel drive, five-star NHTSA crash ratings, and the kind of efficiency and versatility Americans demand. Good job, Subaru, and good call, MT.--Colin Mathews