COAL – 2010 Subaru Forester – Green, It’s What Makes A Subaru, A $ubaru

The new company that I joined after leaving GM decided that my prior experience working in China was useful, so they proceeded to send me and the family back to Shanghai for what would be a second expat assignment for us.  After 3 short years back in Detroit we were about to move everything to China again, except our house and cars.  Our vehicles at the time were my faithful Ford Fusion and my wife’s 2007 Chevy Trailblazer, whose lease was conveniently expiring close to moving day. 

I don’t have much to say about that Trailblazer since I almost never drove it, but other than a superb 4.2L I-6 engine it was a pretty unremarkable vehicle.  In order to keep the lease miles down we used the Fusion for almost everything except wife’s commuting.  But oh boy was that engine sweet, and such a night and day difference from the roaring 4.3L V6 in my old Jimmy.

Anyway, we turned in the Trailblazer and parked the Fusion at my mother in law’s place as our house was going to be rented.  Three years in China passed quickly and we came back to the USA, our former house, and my Fusion which was now looking for a garage companion.  The Fusion was going to remain my car so the new addition would be for my wife.  She only had two requirements, AWD and heated seats for getting to work in those brutal Michigan winters.  I wasn’t keen on another lumbering SUV, looking for a more fuel-efficient crossover since her former Trailblazer was a real gas guzzler despite that silky engine.  

After extensive research I narrowed down a long list of candidates to just two, a Honda CRV or Subaru Forester.  I had a bias toward Honda (as readers of my previous COAL’s will know), but Subaru’s had a certain “cool” factor despite their dorky looks.  In another blog I described a Subaru Forester as the “gangly, awkward, nerdy <high school> kid with a lot of endearing qualities and a few quirky flaws. Very likable personality and strangely popular with the girls.”

It also didn’t hurt that Subaru’s advertising prominently featured love, puppies, and national parks.  Whatever it was, the vote was overwhelmingly for the Subaru (kids: Honda CRV – eew, everybody’s got one!)

So I picked out a 2 year old light green low mileage Forester X Premium (again, a midlevel trim as it has become my pattern) with the cold weather package, which included not only heated seats, but also heated outside mirrors and heated windshield wipers.  I gave it an extremely thorough test drive evaluation, having learned some hard lessons with the previous GMC Jimmy that I had.  I noted that the Forester drove quite well, with a very agreeable ride with none of the SUV shakes, decent power despite only a 4 speed automatic, and agile and solid handling.  The interior was spacious for its size and the huge greenhouse meant great visibility.  It seemed that Subaru had nailed all the basics of building an excellent crossover, and injected it with enough personality to attract hordes of enthusiastic and loyal followers.  There were, however, a few faults that I didn’t consider deal-breakers.  One was the terrible audio system with its AM transistor sound quality, which could be rectified but I never got around to it.  Another was the hair-trigger throttle response.  Subaru took a page from the malaise-era GM playbook and calibrated the throttle to “leap” off the line, making the car feel much more powerful than it actually was.   

But as long as my wife liked the car I was good with it.  I brought it home and it was an instant hit.  She loved the Forester, declaring it the best car she’s ever owned, wowed by the clean straightforward interior and expansive glass area providing panoramic views all around.  The Subaru AWD system was unstoppable in the snow, proving far superior to any AWD vehicle we’ve owned in the past or since.  The car’s longitudinal flat-four boxer engine afforded it a ridiculously small turning circle, making parking in tightest spots a breeze and allowing for u-turns on narrow two lane streets without the need to back up.  

Soon after the warranty expired, however, did the troubles start.  Loud rattles and a buzzing sound emanated from below the car, traced to a loose exhaust heat shield.  Soon the exhaust itself developed a major leak, spewing noxious gasses and a loud hissing sound on acceleration.  Then there were more mysterious banging noises from below.  I tried unsuccessfully to deal with these annoying rattles and buzzes myself, but unfortunately they mostly involved broken parts that needed replacement.  Trips to the dealership and 3 and 4 figure repair bills became a regular occurrence.  On a car only 6 years old I ended up having to replace the entire exhaust system including catalytic converter, differential seals, and various other driveline components.  Our first Japanese car was by far the costliest car to maintain that we’ve ever owned.  

One trip to the dealer was an absolute disaster.  The Forester was recalled for brake line corrosion and so I dutifully brought it in for a repair, this time at no cost.  When the repair was completed, I drove the car off the lot and less than 1000 feet later felt a violent vibration, strong pull to the left (towards oncoming traffic), followed by a smell of burning rubber.  Stopping in the middle of the road, I discovered that the left front wheel had come completely off and was now lodged deep inside the wheel well.  There were no lug nuts on the wheel; apparently the service technician forgot to put them on.  I walked back to the service department, coming in hot.

The Impreza loaner after the wheel came off on the Forester

They found the lug nuts at the hoist where the car was serviced, and after a profuse apology from the service manager and a promise that the offending technician would be disciplined (or fired…) I was set up with a loaner Impreza while my car got a whole new front strut assembly, control arms, wheel, tire, brakes, steering tie rod ends, etc. etc., all at no charge of course.  That took a couple of days and when I went to pick up the Subaru I found it had been washed, waxed and detailed to pristine condition.  

After that brake line fiasco and thousands upon thousands of dollars in mid-life repairs, the Forester was finally ready to go to work.  My wife took a job at Ford so I reluctantly gave her my Fusion as she didn’t want to be seen driving a Japanese competitor in to work.  The Forester became my car which, after all of that investment, was finally running well.  When son #1 got his license, we decided that he would drive the Forester to school and activities.  Getting home from school would mean climbing a steep (for Michigan) hill which could be treacherous in winter without 4wd.  My wife would get a new Ford product, taking advantage of her employee discount, and I would get my beloved Fusion back.  That story will be the subject of a future COAL, but suffice to say it didn’t work out that way.

A fender bender in a parking lot caused our fragile Subaru to lose out out badly to a Jeep Grand Cherokee (Grand Cherokee $0: Forester $3500).  My wife took the Subaru back after the repairs were completed.  It broke her heart to see “the best car she’s ever owned” busted up like that, so she resigned herself to parking in the far corner of employee lot and enduring a long cold walk into the office.  A year later, she leased a Ford Escape and son #2 took over the Forester while in high school and later took it to college with him.  During one of his visits home, I evaluated the condition of the car and tallied up a long list of issues that needed attention.  Given the shaky reliability of this car over the years, I decided it was time to retire the 11 year old Forester for good.


Subaru’s still had that puppy dog appeal in 2021, for as soon as my ad for the Forester went live, my phone started to ring.  Compounded by the global chip crisis/car shortage, desperate buyers were willing to pay cash, sight unseen, for this car.  Since there were some significant cosmetic blemishes as well as an A/C that only worked intermittently, I did not take any offers without buyers first test driving the car in person.  So it was on a first come, first serve basis that I lined up the test drive appointments, and I would accept the first reasonable offer.  In the end, I sold the car in 2 days and got full list price.   

The Subaru was with us for a total of 9 years, the second longest time in our fleet after the Fusion.  I’m still trying to figure out why our Forester was so well-liked despite the expensive repair bills.  Maybe it was the unique throbbing hum of the flat-four boxer engine.  Or perhaps the hair trigger throttle response reminded you of an eager puppy dog about to leap into your lap.  Or the boxy, bolt-upright styling reminded you of that likable 13 year old neighbor kid in the throes of a growth spurt.  Whatever it was, it cast its charm spell on us like it did millions of other fanatically loyal Subaru owners.   So when it came time to replace our Forester, a new one was at the top of our consideration list.  The 2021 Forester was as popular as ever and much more advanced than our 2010 model, but my left brain took over in this case.  I wasn’t about to take any more chances on a car whose predecessor we had spent so much money on repairs through the years.  We got a Honda CRV instead.