Reincarnation: Is The Subaru Forester The Modern-Day Volvo 240 Wagon?

June 16, 2014
2014 Subaru Forester: Volvo 240 Wagon, reincarnated?

2014 Subaru Forester: Volvo 240 Wagon, reincarnated?

Subaru and Volvo have, for decades, been on parallel paths, in some unlikely ways. Both industry outliers that found major success with safety, sensibility, and a somewhat offbeat sense of style, they've seemed like corporate cousins in some respects—even though there's absolutely no bloodline.

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Several of our editors have fond memories—or at least formative memories—of boxy Volvo 240-series wagons. Meanwhile, the current 2014 Subaru Forester is a confirmed success; it's pulled into the lead, among models in the brand's lineup—even ahead of the Outback—and while its sales still aren't close to those of the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, or Toyota RAV4, it's getting noticed by a crowd that wouldn't have considered Subaru in the past.

Having recently spent several months with a 2014 Subaru Forester XT, we then couldn't help but resist posing the question: Is the Forester the modern-day Volvo 240 Wagon?

Volvo 240 has been quite a movie car, in hindsight

The 240 Wagon—perhaps better known as the 245, the 240 GL, or the 240 DL for some of its time on the market, which spanned from the 1975 through 1994 model years—was Volvo's breakthrough model for sales beyond the narrow niche market it had already carved out in the 1970s. And much in the same way, it's the Forester that seems to be carving out broader appeal for Subaru beyond a narrow niche.

There are some aspects for which any comparison of these two simply doesn't hold. The Volvo 240 and 245 are, for instance, among the more prolific movie cars. The 240 sedan was always the car of professors, accountants, and those who were a little geeky or arty, and the 245 wagon was a way to show in an almost subversive way that you didn't give a hoot for muscle cars—which also, by the way, made them a great 'sleeper car,' paving the way for some ironic, go-fast V-8 conversions. As for the Forester, it's always been a bit more outdoorsy. 

Dimensionally, the comparison is interesting. While the 245 measures about 190 long and the Forester is just 181 inches long, both vehicles have a wheelbase of 104 inches, and the Forester's body is several inches taller (in addition to its extra ground clearance). One other key difference is weight; at about 3,300 pounds in base form, up to nearly 3,700 pounds in the XT form we tested, the 2014 Subaru Forester weighs 400-800 pounds more than that vintage Volvo wagon.

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Full confession: I've owned two 240 wagons over the years and have been sad to see them go. One of them was a 1975 245 that took me 2/3 of the way around Australia. I'm 6'-6” and can sleep in the back of a 240 wagon, by the way, slightly at an angle, while most crossovers just aren't long enough. I've also owned a couple of Subarus, although no Forester.

The Volvo 240, whether as a wagon or sedan, was always a slug in its base form. On the other hand, the base 170-hp Forester is quick enough. Furthermore, even if you get the 250-horsepower, turbocharged Forester XT, it's likely more fuel-efficient than the 240/245, which was rated 114 hp in its later years—and an EPA 18 mpg city, 25 highway at a time preceding several downward adjustments in how mpg ratings were figured.

There is one other minor point these two models have in common. Just as we would have liked more refinement in that Volvo wagon of the past ('agricultural' is right to describe it, in many respects), next to some of today's other models we'd appreciate just a bit more isolation of engine and road noise than the Forester provides.

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Both unapologetically quirky

Another common point: They're both quirky cars at times, if you look at some mechanical elements. Just like the Forester XT's arrangement that's a CVT sometimes, a six-speed sometimes, and an eight-speed other times (in Sport Sharp), the Volvo has a problematic electronic overdrive system (instead of a true fourth gear for the automatic transmission) that's engaged with an extra button. Arguably, the Forester has lost some of its quirkiness since the 2008 model year, when the model's frameless doors went away. Although the standout horizontally opposed engine layout remains on all of Subaru's vehicles.

Forgiving would be one of the best ways to sum the 240, which is part of what made it such a great first car for so many drivers—and for those who didn't want to deal with some of the fussy details about driving. It was easy to drive, maintain, and repair, as well as very safe. And it was surprisingly tough for the rough, washboard gravel roads that to this day, are quite typical in Sweden. In this respect, the same holds for the Forester (although we've yet to prove the bit about maintenance and repairs).

Of course, Volvo never did have a true follow-up to the 240. Yes, there was the 850, the V70 and, more appropriately, perhaps, the XC70; they all went toward providing some of the same toughness—but they were never as refreshingly straightforward as the original 240—and full circle, the straightforwardness and lack of pretense is one of the reasons we like the Forester.

So has Subaru replaced Volvo in the American psyche? Nah. There's a place for both. Hear us, Volvo?


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