09-13 Subaru Forester XT – The start of an adventure vehicle

I’d been considering setting up an adventure vehicle to access the backcountry roads for ski touring. A 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5XT sat stored at our property for a year. It was my folks’ and then my younger brother’s until he got married and moved to the UK. It needed some work so they offered it to us. Finally the day came. Do we insure it? Or do we sell it?

Then it hit me… what’s better on the snow than a Subaru? All it needs is clearance for driving the winter forestry roads where I go.

Subaru is world renowned for their rally racing having won 47 World Rally Championship races. In Switzerland there’s a saying, “Subaru is the farmer’s Ferrari.” Which, when translated, means Subaru’s powerful AWD has a reputation for holding up on difficult terrain.

Subaru Rally

A mostly stock Subaru Forester took on the Sunraysia Safari Rally and nearly won. It lead the race up until the last 3 miles of day 3.


In 2009 the Subaru Forester XT won MotorTrend’s Sport/Utility vehicle of the year. MotorTrend wrote that the stock 8.9” clearance bested the stock Land Rover LR2, Toyota FT Cruiser, Ford Expedition, Honda Pilot, among others. Along with that, it has a surprising 63.0/30.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front/rear seats. And the AWD system impressed MotorTrend with its capability.

2009 MotorTrend SUV of the year

There are a few other things that make the 4 speed Subaru Forester XT an interesting vehicle for enthusiasts. For one, the WRX/STI parts swap right in to the Forester XT. And even without modifying anything the vehicle can be tuned to increase gas mileage, horse power and torque. But… given the opportunity with a new exhaust and a couple of mods it can easily make 300hp. Why stop there? With the WRX/STI parts you can tune it for 400hp. Yet mere mortals drive 400hp. So some people tune it to 500hp – all with bolt on parts.

While handy when you’re late for work – for the adventure vehicle that I require… this is well beyond my needs. And not only that… maybe the most important feature of any adventure vehicle is reliability. So while I like the idea of tuning it for more torque at the low end – I think 500 horses ripping through the forest may be a bit much.

But arguably its single best trait is its low centre of gravity. This is due to the boxer engine, which not only reduces vibration because of the horizontally opposed pistons, it spreads the weight of the engine lower in the engine bay. It’s the thing that makes a Subaru so stable at high speeds and in rally races. In fact, the Subaru Forester is the only SUV that was not required to add a “risk of rollover” warning label when it entered the market.

In an ideal world the wheels stay on the ground while cornering

There are other features that make this candidate stand out. The turning diameter is only 34.4 feet. That’s 10 feet less than the very capable four door wrangler and 2 feet more than the nimble 2 door Suzuki Jimny. That’s outstanding for a four door SUV and simply means you’ll find it easier to manoeuvre while on the trails..

It has a multi-plate transfer case that distributes power to the front and rear wheels – while non-traditional in that it is not a differential – over the years it has proven faithful. What’s most interesting is how it splits the power. Is sends power from 60/40 to 50/50 front to rear. In other words, the front and rear will always be fully engaged with a 10% variation depending on the terrain. For example, while driving uphill 50% of the power will be sent to the rear wheels and while going downhill 60% will be sent to the front. And what’s incredible with this model year is that no matter the situation both the front and rear wheels will have a minimum of 50% or 40% power. That’s essentially the same as what a locked centre diff does and along with the VDC explains why it handles so well in loose gravel hill tests.

Gravel hill test

Feel free to watch the climb on Youtube here.

The Subaru has a unibody. Manufacturers are moving towards unibody chassis – think Hummer EV and new Land Rover Defender. The Subaru frame has been thoroughly tested in rally races and by enthusiasts alike. It’s torsionally stiff and lighter than a body on frame chassis. But if plan to add recovery points or a winch, it’s best to first mount a solid steel front or rear plate to distribute the load evenly across both sides of the frame.

Reinforced Steel Plate on the front bumper

Now you’re good to add a winch and build something fun like this.

Having owned the 2010 Subaru Impreza I know first hand how it drives in the snow. It’s incredible. I’ve also owned the 1999 Nissan Pathfinder R50 and the Mercedes GLK350. Between these three the Subaru is by far the best on the snow. It would spring to life in the winter taking on a personality all of its own. This is really what they’re known for.

 

Then the question for my purposes is… will it lift?

The stock 8.9″ of ground clearance on the Subaru Forester 2.5XT is fine. But ideally I would like more ground clearance for driving logging roads in the winter. The last thing I’d want is to find myself high centered out in the back country.

Well fortunately the answer is yes. There are suspension spacers and suspension lifts available giving you anywhere from 0.5″ to 4″ of additional clearance.

Flatout Suspension makes an adjustable set with spacers for the Forester that will give it an additional 2 to 3 inches of suspension lift. Not only will this give you more clearance, it will also increase the articulation of your wheels. Excellent.

To put this in perspective check out the RTI score, which is a measure of wheel articulation for a given wheelbase length. These are articulation scores a few vehicles get:

Gladiator Rubicon: 623
TRD Pro: 492
Colorado ZR2: 489
TRD Off-Road: 468
Colorado Z71: 410

With a 2” suspension lift the Forester gets a score of 535. That’s pretty impressive. The higher the score the more your wheel can lift vertically while the others stay on the ground. Helpful as you navigate obstacles as you’ll have more traction to roll over lumpy terrain.

There’s another area for improved clearance. Increased wheel size. I’ve seen people fit 31″ tires on a Subaru Forester with a lift and some finagling.

31″ wheels with a lift and some finagling

I’ve chosen to go with 29″ wheels as that will give me an additional 1 inch of ground clearance and it fits without any modifications required. The stock wheels on my Subaru Forester are 27″

All-in-all together with the suspension lift this should give our Forester a combined ground clearance of between 11.9 inches to 12.9 inches. Plenty for my needs.

But speaking of needs there is a world of options that allow you to modify this vehicle as your needs require. This is where the community supporting Subaru stands out.

To list a few of the more notable mods.

  1. A rear automatic diff lock by Torq Masters is available
  2. Lo/Hi dual range conversion is available by All Drive Subaru
  3. Cobb tuning kit to increase the stock mileage and power

The list goes on…

In conclusion the 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5XT may be just the adventure vehicle I’ve been looking for – and the funny thing is that it was right in my own backyard, figuratively speaking (it was actually parked on the side). It’s affordable, capable, easy to work on, comfortable, reliable, light weight, decent fuel mileage, and fun. While I’ve taken it on gravel roads locally I’m most looking forward to exploring the backcountry this winter.

 

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