The 2007 Subaru Forester doesn't look like your typical station wagon, a type of car associated more with practicality than fun. For one thing, the Subaru sports a prominent scoop on the hood. And that scoop feeds a turbocharger, a piece of equipment you wouldn't normally expect on the family station wagon.
The Forester isn't just another small Japanese wagon in a long line; its standard all-wheel-drive, high clearance, and peppy engine give it a character suitable to its name. Unfortunately, this rough-and-ready character shorts it on the tech side, as neither navigation nor Bluetooth cell phone integration are available. All you get for tech is an MP3 and WMA compatible stereo with decent sound.
The Forester's layout is classic small wagon, with four doors and a hatchback, although the roof is a bit higher than on most. The second-row seats fold down to maximize the cargo area, of which there is an abundance. As for its looks, the Subaru designers did some nice things with the front, and then went on vacation. The sides have wheel flares and strange indentations, possibly denoting an aerodynamic quality, while the back is just square. On the other hand, the front shows a really clean design, with a monolithic grille bookended by simple headlight casings. And the scoop on the hood suggests more than just a standard engine.
Test the tech: Off-road trail run
The agreements we sign with automakers to test out their cars forbid us from taking the cars on off-road excursions. But we got a chance to drive the Forester on an off-road trail at a separate event, the Western Automotive Journalists' Media Days. While the main focus of Media Days was track testing at Laguna Seca, there was a special off-road segment in the Hollister Hills.
The Forester was amongst a group of SUVs designated for a mild off-road trail. Other cars in the line-up included a Land Rover LR2 and a Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI. The guide car kept the pace pretty slow, probably because the car manufacturers didn't want their press cars scratched up. But the trail did have loose dirt, ruts, and small humps specifically designed to test the cars' clearance between the front and back wheels.
In the Forester, we felt wild and squirrely compared to all the lumbering SUVs around us. The five-speed manual transmission gave us control over our torque, although we didn't get above third gear on this slow course. The fact that the driver position in the Forester is lower to the ground than in the SUVs gave us confidence in negotiating the ruts in the road, as we had a better sense of our tire placement. The loose dirt areas weren't particularly challenging to the Forester.
The most interesting test was negotiating the humps. We approached the first one with some trepidation, because it looked like the car would bottom out once it was straddling the hump. But it went over without a problem, following right along with the bigger SUVs. We happily charged over the subsequent humps. Similarly, the car's front and rear angles were sufficient to pass over these humps, along with some dips on the trail.
This wasn't that challenging of a road, and the course planners had made sure all the cars could handle it. But we were surprised that the Forester showed more clearance than we would have expected. The car is very suitable to take on relatively flat off-road areas or dirt roads.
In the cabin
As a tech car, the Subaru Forester doesn't have a whole lot to offer. We've seen GPS in other Subarus, but it's not available in the Forester, which is too bad, because it's very useful to have along if you go exploring. Some GPS devices even have an off-road setting that records a breadcrumb trail of your route, letting you easily retrace your steps.