Dogs love it! The 55-million-member American Automobile Association (AAA), along with other consumer publications and groups say the Subaru Forester is one of the most dog-friendly vehicles on the market.
What makes man’s best friend happy could do the same for you if you are in the market for one of the myriad of compact SUVs or CUVs on the market.
Fido loves the fact that it's so easy to get into and out of the big cargo area. The low floor, combined with a tall roof and plenty of move-around space and all-season capability are big factors in the dog vote, as is the ease with which the Forester can venture off the beaten path to some interesting places for a good run.
Practicality to the fore
That low load floor, spacious interior and all-season practicality works for two-legged animals as well. The Forester offers the same tall seating position, ground clearance and all-wheel-drive abilities as the more popular compact utes on the market but without looking like it is jacked up on stilts.
The lower centre of gravity, due to both that low floor and the horizontally-opposed and thus flat engine positioned down low, means the Forester also handles and feels more like a car than a box perched atop the suspension.
The Forester also looks more like a tall station wagon than an SUV or CUV.
It first appeared for the 1999 model year and that first-generation Forester was produced until 2003. The second generation ran from 1998 through 2003, and the second generation until 2008.
The current model came along for 2009 and will be replaced by a fourth generation for the 2014 model year.
The Forester has been a huge success for the Fuji Heavy Industries subsidiary, becoming one of the two pillars of the company’s success, alongside the Impeza, helped no doubt by a reputation for rock-solid reliabilty and incredible longevity, affordable price and standard all-wheel-drive.
Subaru owners are among the most loyal in the industry, often passing the car along to other family members when they buy a new one
No unnecessary frills
There is nothing terribly stylish about the Forester. It is a typical three box design without frills and that practicality is the draw. By maximizing internal space it offers a mid-size interior within a compact exterior.
The box-like shape reaps huge benefits in terms of packaging. All four doors are tall and they open wide, making for exceptional ease of entry and exit.
The tall seating position gives the driver a commanding view of the road, without needing a ladder to get in or out. That same tall position, combined the lots of glass and a low belt line mean great visibility in all directions.
The cargo area that appeals to pets is almost square – after all, boxes are the most efficient use of space. The giant cargo door is almost as wide as the cargo space allowing you to get really large objects inside.
There is a useful amount of hidden storage beneath the cargo floor and the rear seat- backs fold almost flat to provide even more space, with tie-down hooks to keep items and pets in place.
The cargo area has an impressive 949 litres of volume behind the rear seat and more than 1,900 with it folded down.
More fuel-efficient engine
In addition to a minor facelift, the Forester got a new engine last year, a dual overhead cam 2.5-litre boxer that produces the same power and slightly more torque than the outgoing engine, but sips fuel at a much lower rate. A turbocharged version is also available.
I averaged 9.0 litres/100 km during my test period with a non-turbo model – pretty impressive for a vehicle with this much capacity.
Unfortunately, when you order an automatic it is a four-speed, woefully put of date in this age of six, and eight speed automatics. The Forester is also available with a five-speed manual.
Performance could best be described as adequate in my tester with non-turbo engine and automatic transmission. The engine has a pleasant growl under acceleration but it doesn't exactly pin you to the seatback.
Once again Subaru knows its customers and those who demand more performance can opt for the turbo.
Handling and ride quality
Where the Forester does shine is in terms of ride quality. While it won't be mistaken for a sports car – you can get a BRZ if that is your wont – the low centre of gravity reduces the tendency to lean in the corners and the long-travel suspension soaks up major road blemishes with complete ease.
The Forester comes in a vast array of trim levels, augmented by various option packages. Standard equipment on all includes Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, power windows and locks, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt & telescope steering wheel, a USB port and iPod capability and height-adjustable front seats.
The Forester is based on the old Impreza platform, which helps explains its car-like driving dynamics. It is built in the same facility in Gunma, Japan that produces the new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-Z.