Subaru Forester Has Labor Pains

January 14, 2008

Everybody knows the quandary posed by the questions, "If a tree falls in the forest, but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well, Subaru just introduced its 2009 Forester in Detroit, and it was like nobody was there.

The reveal couldn't have been more awkward, as the problem-plagued presentation left the crossover draped on the stage as uninspired PowerPoint text with photos played on the monitors. Only after the presentation was over did the car cover come off … the audience yawned. Following this unfortunate first impression, things didn't get much better. The look of new Forester reminded us of the a lowered Suzuki XL-7. Not exactly inspiring. The squared-off design of the outgoing Forester is gone, replaced by smoother but less original lines. At least the XT models get the still-funky WRX-style hood scoop.

Overall, the 2008 Forester follows the trend we've seen other CUVs … they're getting bigger. Wheelbase is up 3.5 inches, and track is 1.8 inches wider. Seating remains at five. Overall length is about 3 inches longer.

While its looks aren't terribly exciting to our eyes, we are looking forward to our first drive. Engineers mounted Subaru's flat-four lower in the chassis, giving the crossover a lower center of gravity for improved handling and stability. The naturally-aspirated version of the 2.5-liter boxer produce 170 horsepower, while the turbo crank out 224 horses. Both are said to produce more low- and mid-range torque than the previous 2.5-liter engine. Of course, all-wheel drive is standard, and with 8.9-inches of ground clearance, the Forrester is capable of light off roading.

We're not quite sure what the new Forester says about Toyota's influence on Subaru. Will Toyota leave Subaru to its own devices, or imbue the brand with the capabilities to become more than a niche player? (Keep in mind that several Toyota nameplates sell more vehicles per year than the entire Subaru franchise moves in the same period.) This is something that we'll look into throughout 2008.

Keep up with all of our coverage from the 2008 North American International Auto Show here.

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