Subaru. Myth or reality?
Forester MY2009 - test-review

© Toyota-Club.Net
May 2013 - Mar 2016

Forester 2.0XS, 2008 (MY2009), SH5 (S12), left hand drive, 2.0 NA, 4-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive A-AWD, VDC. The price at the time of purchase $37000.
Standard equipment - R16 alloy wheels, fabric seat upholstery, radio, cruise control, mono-xenon (low beam discharge lamp). Additional options - undershield of engine and transmission, parktronik sensors, winter tires - $4500. Full annual insurance - $1500+, since 2012 - $2000.
Area - capital district and suburban. Mileage for 2008-2013 - 110.000 km.


Progress of generations is visible at once: the first and second Forester looked just as lifted wagons but the the third looks like normal med-SUV. No aesthetics - roundly asian-style face taken from Impreza G12 is not combined with a conservative body. According to an old memory, it is somewhat unusual to see ordinary door with glass frames, although such a decision is objectively more practical in real life.

Most importantly, the designers was leashed, so they did not a harm to convenience and functionality of a vehicle - no hanging bumpers, no low roof, no observation slits instead of windows... And let this exterior did not attract additional buyers, but owners do not have to pay for a bright appearance with a cramped saloon and bad visibility disgusting.


Subaru copied interior of G12, although the overall picture does not cause rejection.

In the early years supplied fabric interior in two colors: a nice grey-beige "aurora platinum cloth" (second advantage - low-quality plastic is masked by light colors) and depressive-grim black.

With regard to materials... Yes, if do not be Mitsubishi - than Subaru would take a prize for most cheap and hard plastic. Forester escape the full failure only by silver inserts, intricate shapes and, if fitted, light-colored panels.

Assembling and fastening quality in this case is normal, at least, no new abnormal sounds in the cabin appeared (may be due to relatively decent asphalt - the body did not twist at regional uneven roads).

Seat upholstery is made, alas, not of velour but some "water-proof fabric". However, because as the standard of the worst upholstery we took Avensis 250, then Subaru "cloth" does not seem too bad.

But it is a disgraceful lack - absence of leather trim of steering wheel at low grades - plastic wheel is tactile repulsive. And individual note about the ignition key: rough plastic, rough machining of metal - even the keys of local trash-cars look better (in other versions Subaru stepped on - remote control buttons was moved from the key to the huge dangling trinket).


Driver . Forester S12 - the second or the third model in Subaru history, suitable for peoples of above average height and normal proportions. Finally, there is enough seat longitudinal adjustment stroke and the steering column is adjustable in two directions.

Front passenger . Seat cushion lays at the floor, the lift is not provided, so position is strange (like a small deck chairs) and uncomfortable.

Rear passengers . Rear seats have amphitheatre set with excellent space to soft front seat backs, backrests are tilt adjustable, the roof is high, the door opening is wide - seems nice. Unsuccessful internal door handles - instead handrails there are only pots in the arms placed closer to the elbow - so to close the door from inside is uncomfortable, and when driving passengers can hold on with roof handles only.


Road conditions was not affected by the designers and is excellent in all directions - large glass area, not too thick pillars, rather big mirrors.

The "melee" visibility is worse - front dimensions are not feels because of the roundness of inflated front - so the 8-channel parktronic would be relevant.


Decent size (even in comparison with Legacy wagon) - four-wheel set fits without problems, all small stuff goes to to the company of full-size spare wheel. Necessary protective pad on the rear bumper, of course, is offered as accessory.

The tailgate deserves a lot of unkind words - it closes normally for a while time after adjustment (standard procedure during warranty). But on just slightly uneven surface (and, especially, at frost weather) rear door with stiff rubber seals is so skewed that does not close at all.


Construction . Classical EJ204 - DOHC, timing belt, mono-VVT, multi-point injection - no remarkable features.

Experience . The "civilian" Subaru engines should not make any troubles until the age-related diseases. The oil is not burning, valve covers does not leak, no VVT not rattle, the fourth cylinder does not knock. The main service performing every 15000 km with intermediate oil change after 7000-9000 km. At each service - the air filter change. Every 30000 km - cleaning of throttle and intake covered with deposits due to damned EGR. The cold start is normal until -20-25, than closer to -30 surprises can occur.
Disputed topic - spark plugs replacement - in SH / S12 it is reasonable and faster to detach the mounts and jack up the engine.

Variants. Positive - the existence of a petrol version that deliver a normal or even excessive thrust-weight ratio. In addition to EJ204 to the overseas market were supplied:
- EJ253 - older SOHC
- EJ255 - not so old turbocharged engine, which to was dedicated the famous billboard "2 times for a year - engine warranty replacement", and it seems overpower for capabilities of the chassis.
- EE20Z - rare boxer diesel, not aggregated with AT, which is just unacceptable for today's common rail diesel.
- EJ255 - another forced version for S-edition
- FB20B and FB25B - since MY2011 replaced the classic - a completely new engines with timing chain drive, dual-VVT* and phenomenal oil consumption**.
* - for local market "Dual AVCS" is absent not only on FB25, but also on FB20 - only intake variable valve timing, ** - about this and some other "features" of the new series see the main article

Engine Displacement, cm3 Bore x Stroke, mm Compression ratio Output, hp Torque, Nm Configuration Trans.
EJ204199492.0 x 75.010.2150 / 6000196 / 3200 DOHC VVT5-MT / 4-AT
EJ253245799.5 x 79.010.0172 / 6000229 / 4400 SOHC5-MT / 4-AT
EJ255245799.5 x 79.0 8.4230 / 5200320 / 2800 DOHC VVT Turbo5-MT / 4-AT
EJ255245799.5 x 79.0 8.4263 / 6000347 / 2800-4800DOHC VVT Turbo5-AT
FB20B199484.0 x 90.010.5150 / 6000198 / 4200 DOHC DVVT / VVT5-MT / 4-AT
FB25B249894.0 x 90.010.0172 / 5800235 / 4100 DOHC VVT5-MT / 4-AT
EE20Z199886.0 x 86.016.3150 / 3600350 / 1600-2400CRDi6-MT


Original japanese EJ204 was designed for "regular" (RON 91), but euro specification traditionally requires higher. In our case, no specific regional difficulties with the quality of gasoline and the climate, so the engine continuously use RON 95.

The appetite is a pleasant surprise. After the first year in the city cycle the trip computer showed 9.8 l / 100 km. Now it seems unbelievable, but it is enough to remember what happened in 2009 - the crisis drastically wiped out the city from the traffic, there was not yet dumb city mayor with mad initiatives, and the average speed was quite nice. The traffic jams returned gradually, and appeared a lot of man-made problems, so that in a purely urban consumption increase to 12 but in mixed cycle still about 10.


Construction . Classic 4-speed hydromechanical TZ1B# with "manual" and "sport" modes.
It seems archaic, but... Quality? The transmission is known as more than reliable and durable. Dynamics? Today, all 2.0-gasoline SUVs show similar poor dynamics - with CVT or with modern 6-AT. Fuel efficiency? The consumption is already slightly below the average for the class.
As for the "image"... "All is not gold that glitters". Look at global series of 6-speed GM Hydramatic 6T30..40 - it is not only the most inadequate, but also phenomenally fast damaging.

All-wheel drive - Active AWD type: basic front wheel drive with automatic connection of the rear wheels by hydro-mechanical multi-plate clutch installed in the transmission. No additional control - only the traditional first gear mode for the maximum clutch locking and traction control OFF.

Rear differential - free (as opposed to the first and second generations with LSD), difflock emulation by braking of slipping wheels.

Experience . No comments - mechanical parts and hydraulics must work all car lifecycle. Every 30000 km - replacement of becoming dark ATF, every 60000 km - oil in differentials. A-AWD - reliable: no weak bearings (as Toyota ATC), "solenoid C" and clutch plates not disturbed yet, and even seals leaks not so intensive as at GM Theta cars.

But there is a problem - propeller shaft intermediate mount bearing. The main problem - it is not supplied separate of propeller shaft ($600-1000), so have to drive until the rumble will not be unbearable at all speeds. Of course, in practice, propeller shaft can be disassembled and bearing replaced even in garage - but there is a question of balancing and joint condition after this procedure, but replacement by the specialists often is greater than half price of a new shaft.

Variants. For a long time S12 had three types of transmission:
- 5-MT - full-time four-wheel drive (center differential locking by viscous coupling), with dual-range transfer;
- 5-MT - the same, but without dual-range;
- 4-AT - Active AWD.
After the launch of the diesel version appeared
- 6-MT - full-time four-wheel drive (center differential locking by viscous coupling)
And just since MY2011 full-time four-wheel drive with automatic transmission was launched for single version S-edition
- 5-AT - VTD - full-time four-wheel drive (asymmetric center differential locking by electronically controlled hydromechanical clutch).


Construction . Front - classic McPherson, rear - double wishbone, with self-leveling shock absorbers, installed on sub-frame. Subaru tried to make suspension more comfortable than at Forester S11, it is welcome, but... The first years of production the cars had inadequate rear shock absorbers, and then appears more successful modification (with increased rebound force), and than during restyling the suspension was made more stiff in general.

Experience . The main claim is to the absorbers - despite the accurate driving and good roads, three absorbers was replaced under warranty yet: two rear at 30000 km became absolutely out of order, some later one of the front leaked. New rear absorbers was of "upgraded" type, so that driveability improved noticeable. But without warranty replacement is so wasting (new original "self-levelizing" - $500 per each), that most owners install simple conventional struts. The second weak point - stabilizer bushes (average lifetime about 40000 rm). Third - wheel bearings, especially the rear (hub assembly $130), and sometimes they die in silence so something wrong can be found only by free-play of jacked wheel (in our case, the first bearing ran of order after 70000 km). "Racers" on rough roads can obtain quickly wear of rear suspension ball joint - are replaced with the upper arm ($200).


Construction . Basic grade 2.0 was equipped with electric power steering, and the rest with classical hydraulic.
Why Toyota's unreliable electric PS became a curse? Because the electric motor is installed at the top of the column and passes the appropriate torque for wheel rotating through the all steering mechanism, joints, splines and rack pinion. In Forester the motor is installed correctly - on the rack, so the steering shaft transmits relatively small "control" torque (but the rack unit is real expensive).

Experience . In our case no need to repair arose. But there are massive complaints of owners to steering rack knock (electric power). On the road it is difficult to notice, but feel good when turning the steering wheel sharply around zero point when car is parked and engine running. One reason is related to the mechanism, pushing the pinion to the rack. More lucky owners change the rack under warranty, but after warranty expired - while new original price is $2500 - all the knocks should not be considered as a defect. Moreover, their influence on vehicle control ability were not noted.


Construction . All disc brakes, ABS + VDC (stabilization system), "brake LSD" (emulation of difflock by slipping wheels braking).

Experience . No errors in the electronic parts was mentioned, the wear of the brake discs and pads below average (front pads replaced after 60000 km).


Construction . The most vicious of the possible solutions - non-closable central dashboard vents. Dual-zone climate? Display? - Forget it (before restyling). But controls, copied from S11 and G12, not so bad - especially semi-automatic separating auto modes for fan speed and airflow direction. By the way, because of the absence of such separation, standard Toyota climate control is totally unsuitable for use in an automatic mode.

Experience . No problems detected. Known generic defects - the evaporation of blower fan lubricant, which that is deposited as greasy film on the windshield.

Variants. Simple air conditioner of low grade is not bad, at least it switch is convenient to control by touch. After restyling top version obtain dual-zone climate control.


Construction. Two front airbags, two side airbags, two curtains - minimal modern set. No EuroNCAP test performed, NHTSA test - 5 stars.


Construction . There are at least half a dozen meter types for Forester S12 exist, but we got a controversial - with completely blue scales, and without temperature gauge.

It is complemented by a display in the center of the dashboard, which displays only hours, ambient temperature and the average fuel consumption - so it is not functional trip-computer.

Experience . No problems detected, but sooner or later we must expect the vagaries of fuel level gauge (the sensor in the tank). Sometimes workshops offer to change it not individually ($40) but assembly with the fuel pump ($500) - then it is easier to refuel each time "under the cap" and reset odometer.

Variants. There was combinations with different amount of "blue" decoration, successful "optitron" meters, after restyling more interesting version with display appeared.


Construction. Panasonic head unit with CD-changer, supported MP3, RDS, AUX, controlled from steering wheel, but - no USB ports, no SD slot, vintage VFD display. Therefore, the main advantage of audio unit - upper position and the lack of integration in the panel, that ask to replace it with a modern unit with audio-video-navigation.

Variants. After restyling was introduced new system with a small color display, rear view camera attached and USB-port.


Positive - adjustable seat heater, heated mirrors and windscreen wiper area. Cruise-control, non-adaptive, but works good at highways.
Negative - shameful lack of glovebox illumination, the plug instead of the mirror folding button (until the restyling), intense read lights of center console.


During the warranty period, the repair of small defects, adjustments, installation of accessories are performed by preliminary reservation for a reasonable time. Body repair requires a lot of moral stamina, especially long queues for primary inspection. Job quality - average, vigilant interim and final inspection required. Regular service price: small - $300+, medium - $600+, large - up to $1200.
Fortunately, Subaru is not Ssangyong, so spare parts and some duplicates are available at the market, and since old times few specialized unofficial workshops still works.


Dynamics - Powertrain

Note - appearance of mid-SUVs with a modern diesel engines made it clear that all cars with standard 2.0 atmo gasoline engines had, have, and will have poor (and equal poor) dynamics ever.

According to the dynamics Forester corresponds to modern C-class cars with atmo 1.6...1.8.

In urban cycle the potential is sufficient, and sometime allows to escape from the traffic of mass small cars. On the highway - better just no try active driving and aggressive overtakings.

New engine with functional supports allows to test the theory of balance... In the 2000s Toyota launched several series of engines with critically low idling rpm (for meager efficiency improving), but in practice it turned in disgusting and incurable vibrations. EJ204 has the same 650±50 rpm, but vibrations on the body are minimal.

Transmission operates normally and smoothly enough (for 4-speed). Another dispute - about gear ratios - the press often criticized AT for long gears. In fact, the gear ratios corresponds to the classical Toyota 4AT ratios, but with shorter main gear, so that even with larger wheels diameter selection of ratios can be considered correct. The first gear allows to crawl surely, at fourth - 100-110 km/h reached at rather quiet-comfortable rpm (even though the 5-speed MT Legacy had 100 km/h at 3000+ rpm). Switching to the so-called "sport" mode makes a slight effect - at least on the highway.

Comfort / Suspension / Steering

Note again - in our case the behavior of the chassis fully satisfied the owner, but old school "subaru-maniacs" should be disappointed.

According to the their standards suspension is considered too soft, but for the others - normal: driver feels small unevens, but medium and large are damping rather smooth (special thanks for normal tyre profile). The car holds straight good, insensitive to the ruts, but in turns sometimes appear the notorious "looseness" and diagonal swinging. The best-known generic defect of early years - stern side jump when cornering on uneven surface - this effect was met before shock absorbers replacement. At low speed steering is excellent. Easy steering is good for parking modes, and "ignoble" feeling of electric power assist is smoothed.


No special remarks - presents, brakes, no fails. ABS sometimes intervenes too early in winter, VDC almost invisible. May be firmer brake pedal with a smaller stroke will be more pleasant.

Off-road capability

Forester rightly considered as a benchmark for all modern SUVs. What provides maximum possibilities in this class? Ground clearance, good geometry, successful scheme of 4WD, the engine with good torque at low rpm, hydromechanical transmission, long-travel suspension (well, plus adequate tyres). Forester not only combines all these conditions, but exceeds the competitors.
- One of the biggest clearances among SUVs.
- Worthy angles, unpainted plastic trim at the bottom perimeter. Enough flat bottom, within the wheel base the transmission sump is vulnerable, but in this case it is covered by an additional steel shield.
- The most enduring of the non-full-time 4WD types, more effective than all electromechanical couplings. And even more effective than some full-time 4WD with viscous coupling at center differential (CA2 #, MCU1 #), or with a free center differential (U4 #). Difflock emulation, of course, is not real mechanical difflock, but still useful in certain limits (the weakest - by Toyota, much better - by Hyundai/Kia)..
- EJ204 looks normal among other 2.0 natural aspirated engines. Diesel engines are also not optimal because of the "explosive" nature of modern high-power engines with Common-Rail - even with automatic transmission the wheels at low rpm are still, but during gradual acceleration torque jump and sharp slippage occurs.
- Durable classic AT - much better than CVT or DSG.
- Good articulation allows to maintain contact with the surface when the other stiff suspensions (koreans, RAV4, VAG) has hung out wheel.

But need to understand, that Forester is leader of segment, not absolute. Because at the same price can be purchased real SUV (such as L200), and on the other hand - heavy SUV with serious possibilities living in the european premium segment.


Why Subaru? Of course, not for the advertising husk, which begins with the words "legendary" - but only as a utilitarian vehicle for each day with known quality level. But most importantly, in our case, the owner has a rich experience of maintenance and repair various models of Subaru, and understanding that archaic/proved solutions of S12 guaranteed the absence of critical problems in close future.

At the beginning of the 2010s in SUV segment of rus-market the situation became very sad. "Normal" car price rose above psychological barrier of $ 33.0k and swiftly raced further. No ideal models appeared, the search for compromise became difficult. But $41600 for Forester S12 2.0 4-AT in 2012/13 season... Subaru pricing always seems as light madness.