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SUVs/WAGONS: Subaru Forester

- Improved styling
- Reduced interior noise
- All-wheel drive
- Carlike handling

- Still not a great-looking machine
- No manual gearbox on turbo models
- Only four speeds on automatic
- Lots of silver plastic in the cabin

2009 Subaru Forester

2009 Subaru Forester

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Sport-utility vehicles and newfangled car-based crossovers are meant to haul people and cargo in a more stylish way than minivans. The excess of the SUV fad--think HUMMER and Escalade and Navigator and Excursion--has been neatly balanced all along by the Subaru Forester, a plucky four-cylinder wagon with a tall roof and an option for turbo power. The Forester makes all-wheel drive standard, which makes it a favorite in the Rocky Mountain states and the snowy Northeast--but buyers across the country can appreciate its 26-mpg highway fuel economy and sub-$20,000 base price. Motor Trend picked up on the smaller-is-better trend by naming the Forester its 2009 SUV of the year; anyone who's spent $100 on a fill-up can see why. Along the same lines, Honda's CR-V has more controversial styling and is a touch slower, but has an enviable repair record.

Other Choices: Honda CR-V

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