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If we’ve learned anything at all over the last 65 million years, it’s that a good idea, evolutionally speaking, seems to stick around even through hard times. Giant meteor strike? Overpopulation? Whatever you credit with the dinosaurs’ extinction, it seems that some of our dino-pals survived by evolving into smaller, lighter versions of themselves and in many cases grew wings and took to the air. In a landscape littered with dinosaur-sized SUVs that seem to be dying before they leave the showroom floor, the Subaru Forester is a vehicle for those who truly need a foul-weather people hauler but would rather not drive a gas-guzzling environment slayer. For the SUV to survive it must evolve, smarten up and take flight, and Subaru has given it well-needed wings in the 2009 Forester.

Over the decades, Subaru and its quirky automotive line-up has been called nerdy and left-leaning by its detractors and embraced almost fanatically by its most ardent supporters. Long ago the brand was little known outside the northeastern snow-belt and was seen by most as the preferred vehicle of corduroy jacketed intellectuals and the well heeled L. L Bean set. In the early 1990’s, the little Japanese brand that could expanded its growing legion by adding a series of powerful yet economical turbocharged engines to its line, culminating with its BMW-beating STi sport sedans and wagons.

Subaru has always bucked the latest automotive trends and stuck with what it knows best -- economic, solidly designed, out-of-the-box engineering. From its standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive to its industry exclusive (except for super-car maker Porsche) Boxer Engine, Subaru is in a class by itself. Meanwhile, the entire automotive world is playing catch-up in a time of rising fuel prices and a new push for greener cars and high quality real-world usefulness.

The 2009 Subaru Forester is the third iteration of the popular Forester line that arrived on our shores in 1998. Their loyal clientele wanted something with a higher roofline for maximum cargo capacity and a truck-like seating position, but also wanted nothing to do with the bloated SUV trend. So Subaru designed the Forester with a car-like structure unlike their utilitarian and roll-over prone truck-based competitors. The Forester, armed with a low center of gravity and light weight, had car-like handling coupled with off-road capability. Soon after, the title “crossover vehicle” was coined and we now we find ourselves, automotive speaking, back where Subaru said we should have been since the beginning.

With that oversimplified history lesson completed, let’s talk about the latest and possibly greatest Forester ever. Fully redesigned for 2009 and available in multiple trim levels, from the fuel sipping yet well-equipped 2.5X base model to the hot-rod turbocharged and leather lined 2.5XT Limited upgrade, the 2009 Subaru Forester may very well be the best real world people-hauler that money can buy. So well built is the Forester that it received a five star crash test rating when compared to cars in its weight class, not the lower SUV/truck standard. Even the stateside Lafayette, Indiana factory where the Forester is built is green, with the manufacturing process achieving zero-landfill status. Translation? The plant and its entire operation add zero to local landfills and as much material as possible is reused and recycled in keeping with Subaru’s earth-first policies.

Driving the Forester is not unlike driving a high quality wagon from BMW or Mercedes Benz but without that uncomfortable feeling that everyone you pass thinks you’re some kind of poseur. The Forester says “I could pay more but I’m smart enough not to.” It’s kind of like the automotive equivalent to glasses making you look smarter, but these glasses actually help you “see” better.

The feel when piloting the Forrester is one of quality and smart engineering and it never seems under-powered while merging into highway traffic of maneuvering through heavy city gridlock. Being a car guy, I would have rather had the sweet 224-hp intercooled, turbocharged 6-speed hot-rod 2.5XT model to tool around in, but for the majority of drivers, the normally aspirated 2.5 liter 170 horsepower boxer engine is more than enough thanks to its great pulling power. With an average city/highway mileage of 20/27 MPG, the Forester ain’t no Smart Car but it also has enough room for your entire family and most of your gear. I’d even say that the Forester could use a name change at this point given its natural habitat – any suburb, USA. I vote for calling it the Subaru Suburban. I’m sure the General Motors legal department would have a problem with that, but then again, it’s only one screenwriter/automotive journalist’s humble opinion.

With its 2009 Forester, Subaru has raised the bar and set the stage for a re-thinking of what one really needs in an SUV. Subaru is on such a roll that Toyota has enlisted their parent company, Fuji Heavy industries, to collaborate with them on green products and co-produce a new line of economical sport sedans and coupes.

Imagine that, Toyota, the inventors of the Hybrid and Prius think they can learn a thing or two about evolving from another car company – and that company is the original champion of green-leaning car culture, Subaru.

See you on the big screen,

Matthew Goodman

2009 Subaru Forester: m.s.r.p $19,995 - $28,195 / Issue 105 - September 8666
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