This past summer, I went looking for a car to replace my eleven year old Oldsmobile minivan. After a great deal of research, test drives and soul searching, I settled on a Subaru Forester.
I’ve had it for a month now and am pleased with the decision. It’s just the right size, and I’ve never had more fun driving.
First—and most importantly—it has ample room in the trunk for all of my golf equipment. As you can see from the side photo, it’s wide enough for a bag (and then some). Behind it, I stash my Sun Mountain pull cart, two shoe bags, a gym bag of extra clothes, a toolbox, a large first aid kit, and some other things. I could easily put a second bag in the cargo area, or up to four bags if I removed the pull cart (which is somewhat awkwardly shaped).
The rear seats also lay down flat, creating a very large flat bed. To keep all of the stuff from view, it has a neat cover that works a bit like a self-reeling window shade. Under the floor of the rear bed is a hidden storage area, set just above the spare tire.
The Subaru has a 4 cylinder “boxer” engine, also known as a horizontally opposed cylinder engine. This means that, rather than going up and down, or in a “V”, the cylinders move left and right. One nice side effect of this, Subaru points out, is that it keeps the center of gravity on the car low. The engine has 170 horsepower and I’m getting 24 – 26 MPG in mixed city-highway driving.
Like all Subarus, the Forester has a symmetrical all wheel drive. In normal driving conditions, the power is divided between the front and rear wheels on a 90-10 basis. When needed, it automatically redistributes power to the individual wheels—not just to the front or rear axles, as with some systems.
Subaru improves stability by keeping the car’s parts aligned along its longitude, while maintaining symmetry. There’s an exhaust system on either side of the center drive shaft, for example. The center of gravity not only is balanced side to side, but is placed in the center front to back. The heaviest parts—transmission, transfer case, differential and propeller shaft—are mounted inside the wheelbase.
The upshot of all of this technobabble is amazing handling. I’ve never driven a car that was so quick to respond—and yet felt so perfectly balanced. The independent four wheel drive system kicks in, not just in slippery conditions, but also on turns. I’ve enjoyed taking friends into an empty parking lot and showing off the turning radius. With the wheels all spinning at different rates, you can turn the Subaru so tightly that the passengers will get sick.
With the four wheel drive, I’m actually am looking forward to the first heavy snowfall. I want to be able to cruise along, looking smugly at the other buggies that slip and slide.
Although it’s just four cylinders, the Subaru Forester’s engine has more than enough power—and if it doesn’t, there’s also a “sport shift” where you can instantly bypass the automatic transmission and control the up-and-downshifting yourself. I had, for a moment, considered getting a turbo model, but the premium gas requirement tanked that for me.
Another nice aspect of the engine design: the battery, and all of the fluid tanks, etc. are accessible. In my minivan, I couldn’t give someone a jump start because the battery was behind a side panel (that also meant I had to take it in to get the battery replaced).
On the inside, the the car is practical, but not luxurious. The cockpit is spacious—a very large friend of mine commented on how much room there was. The leather seats are quite comfortable, and adjust adequately. The car also has a “climate control system”—just set a temperature and let the vehicle handle the rest.
The rear view mirror has a compass and dims automatically at night.
The “radio” actually is a mini computer with a touch screen that integrates a radio, CD and DVD player, speaker controls, GPS/Mapping system, and car monitoring. I can push a button and see my mileage, get turn-by-turn directions, find out when my next maintenance is due, see a calendar or calculator, and more. A port in a storage compartment lets me plug in my mp3 player and hear it over the car’s speakers.
But it’s missing a few touches that you would find in American cars. The passenger seat has only manual adjustments. The vanity mirrors don’t have a light, for example. The cup holders are laughable. The headlights don’t turn on and off automatically. I also miss the built-in air pump that I had in my minivan.
On the other hand, the Forester has the biggest moonroof – sunroof I have ever seen. It’s immense, capable of opening up over virtually the entire front and part of the rear seats.
The boys like their seats in the back. They’re leather, and either side of the bench reclines independently so they can take a nap on long trips. Between them is a wide folding arm rest (more than enough room for two arms), and a hidden storage compartment/snack-and-cup holder.
The only downside is that I feel guilty for not having bought American. Michigan depends heavily (too much, really) on the auto industry, and I have this feeling that I’ve let some of my neighbors down. I also won’t be able to park in some lots of places I occasionally need to go. Those “No Foreign Cars In This Lot” signs are not just there for show.
I guess I’ll get over the guilt.
In many ways, this Subaru is the sports car I didn’t get when I didn’t suffer a midlife crisis at age 40. It’s more fun than a Pete Dye course.