Used Car Connoisseur: 2010 Subaru Forester a sturdy SUV

Subaru has earned a name for making evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes to its products. So it was when the third-generation Forester arrived in 2009. While there were changes to just about every facet, they were subtle to the eye. However, scratch a little deeper and everything from the engine and its fuel economy to the larger, stronger body was upgraded. The sum of the changes brought a significantly more refined crossover.

The Gen3 Forester rode on a longer wheelbase (up 90 millimetres to 2,615 mm), which upped the available cargo capacity to 872 litres with the seats up and 1,784 L with the seats flat in the sunroof-equipped XT model. One of the key upgrades was the new rear suspension. The previous struts ate into the usable space; the new double wishbone design was compact and opened up the floor. To prove the point, at the launch, Subaru loaded a large box (1,300 mm long, 970 mm wide and 700 mm tall) into the cargo area and closed the tailgate. The same box would not fit into the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. In a tongue-in-cheek comment, Subaru also proudly proclaimed the space allowed the owner to carry 4,590 granola bars.

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The new platform, which was based on the Impreza, brought better body rigidity. This cut the amount of body flex and the rattles/trim squeaks that typically come with it. Beyond that, the ride was quieter because of the increased insulation, isolation and the fact the windows now closed into a frame rather than onto a rubber seal.

The 2010 Forester was offered with two basic engines — a 170-horsepower 2.5-litre flat-four (it was also available in partial-zero emissions — PZEV — form) and the top-line 2.5L turbocharged flat-four. The latter brought WRX-like performance. With 224 hp and 226 pound-feet of torque at a suitably low 2,800 rpm, the difference between the engines was chalk and cheese. The base car was a tad lethargic taking around 10 seconds to run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour. The XT chopped that time to 6.9 seconds — the credit going to speed through the mid-range. The latter made it one of the sportiest crossovers around.

Remarkably, the fuel economy penalty for the additional performance was small. The base engine with an automatic transmission was rated at 10.4 litre per 100 kilometres in the city and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway. The turbocharged XT with the same transmission was rated at 11.0 and 8.4 L/100 km, respectively.

2010 Subaru Forester interior.

2010 Subaru Forester interior.
Handout, Subaru

As before, there are two versions of Subaru’s famed symmetrical all-wheel-drive (AWD) system available, each of which was layered with electronic traction and stability control systems. The AWD system tied to the five-speed manual transmission worked well, but paled in comparison to the system married to the four-speed automatic transmission. It locked its multi-plate clutch in the blink of an eye and, more importantly, it dealt with things in a proactive manner. Under normal circumstances, it sent 60% of the drive to the front wheels and 40% to the rear wheels. It also anticipated a loss of traction — nailing the gas saw the system close the clutch and split the power 50/50 before the wheels were allowed to spin. It was both fast and seamless in operation, which was, and remains, the hallmark of an advanced system.

The automatic transmission was one of the few disappointments — its four speeds lagged the five- and six-speed transmissions that were gaining favour at the time. The drawback was the gap between third and fourth gears was large enough the naturally-aspirated engine dropped out of its sweet spot, which blunted performance. Fortunately, the turbocharged engine masked this shortcoming.

As a result of the re-work, the Forester moved smartly from a potential customer’s “might-consider” list to the “let’s-test-it” list, which, for Subaru, was an enormous step in the right direction.

Credit the improved handling (the revised suspension worked wonders), more usable interior space and newfound refinement. In the end it all made the Forester, especially the XT models, a viable contender in the compact crossover market.

Mechanically, there has been very little reported to be wrong with the 2010 Forester. In fact there were only seven technical service bulletins, which is very low, and two minor recalls — one for the centre rear seat belt, the other has to do with a potential problem with dealer-installed puddle lights. The Forester also fared very well in crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) gave it five stars for front and side impacts for both front riders, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated it as good (its best rating) in front, side, rear and rollover type crashes.

The average asking price for the 2010 Forster seems to span a narrow range across the model range. In the used market, the Forester X carries an average price of around $18,000 with 79,000-kilometres on the odometer and rises to $19,500 for the Forester XT Limited with the same kilometrage.

Note: What became very evident was that lower kilometre models command considerably more than average money (an XT with 65,000 km selling for $24,000), while those with high mileage tended to be well below average ($8,999 with 317,000 km). As such the pricing listed here is very much a guideline.

About Graeme Fletcher