Pros: Small, peppy AWD car that is easy to drive. Pretty good gas mileage. Solid feel.
Cons: Headrest/restraint design and seat make driving quite uncomfortable, especially on long trips. BE WARNED.
Let me first tell you that this is my 5th Subaru and I have enthusiastically promoted these cars for years, most recently on this forum (2001 Subaru Outback at 40,000 Miles http://www.epinions.com/content_106201124484 ).
The 2007 Forester is a great little AWD vehicle. Peppy and easy to drive. Feels very sure-footed on any pavement. Good visibility. Relatively comfortable seats. Radio controls require more concentration to use than on full size Outback models. Enormous sun roof. Heated side view mirrors are no longer available but the heated seats are and highly recommended in cooler climates.
The Forester was redesigned in 2006 and no longer has the boxy look that it was known for. It was given an "Active Head Restraint" headrest system in 2007 which moves the headrest forward to protect and cushion the driver's head in case of a collision. Unfortunately, under normal driving conditions, the new head restraint system pushes your head into an unnatural and very uncomfortable position. Unless you enjoy your face aiming toward your crotch, you may not be able to find a comfortable position for the headrest or your head. The headrest pushes your head away from the back of the seat altogether. If you recline the seat back far enough to get the headrest out of the way, you will no longer have ANY back support causing back fatigue to set in.
I have had the car for less than a month and I find the headrest problem annoys me more every single day that I drive the car.
Although the dealer told me, "That's just the way it is", I'll be taking it back next week to see what they can do to fix the problem. I'll post updates after I find out what is going on with the headrest. This shouldn't be such a problem, but quite honestly, if they can't make those headrests significantly more comfortable, I'll be trading away this car at less than 1,000 miles.
ONE WEEK LATER:
I visited the dealer today and discovered that the headrest/"Active Head Restraint" problem is present on all of the current models. Of course, Subaru doesn't see it as a problem, but all of the salespeople I had sit in a Forester noticed the annoyance. The Impreza was the worst, Forester and Outback were similarly uncomfortable and the Tribeca in leather was most comfortable (or least uncomfortable) due to the extra padding in the headrest. The non-leather headrests have a small amount of padding covering a hard metal or plastic insert that contacts the crown of the head. I've heard from several owners of the '07 Forester that they also found the headrest uncomfortable, particularly on long rides.
I spoke with the dealer who informed me that even if the '05 (old style soft, padded and not angled into the back of your head) headrest would fit, it could not be ordered for the '07 model as it would be making the car less safe. I also spoke with Subaru America (corporate) and they are looking into the problem. Unless owners verbalize the problem to them, there is no chance of a fix. An angle-adjustable headrest would be better although there didn't seem to be a problem in the older model Foresters that had a soft padded flatter headrest.
The Subaru national customer hotline is 1-800-SUBARU3.
ONE MONTH LATER:
Well, I haven't traded it yet. We've put another thousand miles on the car and there are a few things that really bother me. The car is rather noisy on the inside when you are traveling faster than 50 miles per hour. So much so that you have to increase the volume of the radio to clearly hear it. Unlike previous Subaru models, the controls for the heater/AC, fan, and radio are awkward to reach, your arm extension to the steering wheel is not as comfortable as some other cars (you have to hold your arm higher or farther away to reach the wheel), there is no dedicated arm rest on the right side for the driver. An extension of the rear seat center cup holder masquerades as an arm rest but in reality, it is not functional as an arm rest if someone in the back seat is using it as a cupholder. Compared to my other cars with functional arm rests, I find my right arm tires driving the Forester. On older Subaru models, the arm rest left your right hand at the level of the heater/AC and radio controls; now you must take your eyes off the road, find the controls, and raise your arm considerably to use them. I find that there is a lack of sideways stability, especially on the right side of the driver's seat. This is compared with the older full side Outback and a recent model PT Cruiser which had great side stability and back support. One older gentleman I saw driving the same model told me on his recent travels between Florida and Connecticut that he found the right side of the passenger's seat was particularly uncomfortable, presumably due to a support issue caused by the involuntary hunched posture a person assumes to avoid the headrest.
My wife has noticed that she has been developing short duration chest pains after driving the Forester which she feels is due to the hunched driving position she has developed because of the uncomfortable headrest. We even ended up at the local emergency room to rule out any serious medical problems. This has never happened before (or after) with our older Subaru Outbacks or Toyota Sienna. After trying to adjust the 8-way power adjustable seat for the past month, I have yet to discover a comfortable position that gives my back support without reclining the seat so far back (to move the $*@!# headrest away from my head) that the seat gives no support.
The steering is exquisitely sensitive, so much in fact that a slight steering wheel adjustment/overcorrection can jerk you across the road. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Forester was top rated in rollover resistance, because a slip of the steering wheel could put you in a spot you were not anticipating. I like tight, responsive steering, but this may be too much of a good thing. (Has anyone else noticed this?)
Our last full tank of regular gasoline averaged 23 miles per gallon, mostly around town.
I'm guessing that we will trade this car away soon. This in a family that also has a 20-year old Dodge truck and a 27-year old Triumph TR7. We usually keep cars a LONG time, but the new Forester was a mistake. We bought it so our daughter would have a smaller car she could easily control. Judging by her driving position in the car, it looks neither comfortable nor easy to control. For my wife and I, the Forester is not comfortable to drive for a long trip and is just plain annoying on shorter ones.
We'll start testing other cars shortly. At least we know what we DON'T want in a new car. Quite frankly, I am rather surprised that this is a Subaru. I've come to expect much more from them. This Forester is a disappointment. This model has gotten some excellent reviews from consumer magazines and automobile reviewers so your evaluation may be different from mine. I just cannot imagine driving this car for the next 7 years or 125,000 miles. I've had (and do have) vehicles that are a pleasure to drive. The Forester isn't one of them. The headrest comfort problem wasn't something that I noticed during the 10 minute test drive. It is something that became evident the longer I drove the car.
My current assessment is that the Subaru Forester is probably a 4 to 5-star automobile from a mechanical and stability perspective. But based solely MY comfort level (a 50-something year old who has driven many comfortable vehicles), I'm afraid this is not the car for me. Those who think this is terrific may simply not know what they are missing.
I originally gave this car only one star as it really was not at all what I would like to spend many hours a week driving. To me, it is only worth one star even though it is a well built Subaru, which typically has excellent mechanical reliability and handling characteristics. Considering that, I have increased my rating to two stars to more accurately reflect the quality of the vehicle.
A FEW DAYS LATER:
I visited my dealer today only to sadly discover that almost every '07 Subaru model has this asinine head restraint design, which I believe is every model except a WRX Sport version.
My '07 Forester hit 2,500 miles today. The annoying headrest/restraint is still very bothersome. It is not something you get used to. I've now heard from numerous owners with similar complaints. I think Subaru is going to have to do a major redesign on the headrests for the entire line or risk losing many sales. The discomfort with the headrest is not something that I noticed during a 10 minute test drive, but it became painfully obvious over the next few weeks, particularly on longer drives.
At the dealer, I tried swapping headrests from different models into my Forester. The smaller headrests on the back seats do not interchange with the front ones. Nothing helped until I started checking out previous models. The headrests from the '05 Foresters are a perfect match for the supports in the '07 seat. They interchange like a glove. And the '05 headrest is a flatter design that does not force the head forward. It was infinitely more comfortable.
Now I have to call Subaru to order (or exchange) headrests.
THE NEXT DAY:
I'm beginning to think that the average Japanese physique is just different from the typical American's. We are a few inches taller and those few inches render the headrest/restraint terribly annoying and uncomfortable.
I spoke to Dave at corporate Subaru Customer Service who sympathizes with our plight but doesn't seem able to arrange for us to get the new headrests. He thought the dealer could swap some off of a used 2005 beige upholstered model on their lot or we could go to a junkyard to find a set. Would you go to a junkyard for replacement readrests for your brand new Premium Edition $26,000 car? I want brand new headrests that haven't been kicking around a junkyard for the past year. He makes it sound like it is impossible to get these headrests. Aren't they sitting in a parts warehouse somewhere waiting to be ordered?
In a perfect consumer oriented world, the company would have apologized for the comfort problems and a new set of 2005 headrests in beige would arrive at my house the next day. NO CHARGE. After all, if other potential Subaru buyers recognize this as a deal breaker, this could prove to be a Subaru design nightmare (sort of like the front end of the Tribeca, but that's another thread and another designer who should be fired). Ideally, Subaru could offer EITHER type of headrest/restraint with new cars and everyone would be happy.
It's not over yet.
A WEEK LATER:
Dave at Subaru of America customer service returned my call with some additional information. He gave me the parts number for the headrests and mentioned that they are about $300 EACH from a local dealer. Perhaps a trip to a salvage yard IS a good idea. He said that Subaru cannot officially approve of such a substitution because of reduced safety considerations with an alternative head restraint/headrest. He also mentioned that additional headrest complaints have been coming in requiring attention in upper levels of the company.
I suspect some redesign will be forthcoming in future models. In the meantime, I'll have to pony up $600 or find a salvage yard if I want the replacement headrests.
My wife feels that as time goes on, she dislikes the seats more and more. She says the back support is not acceptable for long trips and is simply not comfortable. We will be looking at alternative vehicles next week.
I drove by a new Impreza today that had the passenger head restraint REMOVED, so I know I'm not imagining this problem.
DECEMBER 2007 UPDATE - We've had the Forester for 6 months now and it has has almost reached 10,000 miles. My wife is the primary driver and says that she has learned to live with the discomfort of the headrests. The car has been dependable, responsive and easy to drive. It's great in snow. The only problem is that the reverse sensor (beeps when you back up) became intermittent and stopped working altogether a few months ago. In light of everything, I'm increasing my rating to 3 stars. If it weren't for that darn headrest, it would be a slam dunk for 4 stars, perhaps more when compared to similar models in its class.
4/19/2008 UPDATE We're almost at 15,000 miles. The car is dependable, handles well and would be a keeper, except the SEAT (not just the headrest) seems to be getting less and less comfortable. My wife and daughter primarily drive the Forester. I find it more and more UNCOMFORTABLE every time I drive it, and I know that everything else about this car is very good. I've even thought that perhaps there is an aftermarket SEAT that could solve this problem. Obviously, Subaru isn't going to. The seat is terrible on longer rides.
3/13/2011 UPDATE We are now at about 65,000 miles. For a car that I thought we wouldn't keep, it has been dependable. My wife is the primary driver, so I don't mind that the seats are getting progressively more uncomfortable as the car gets older. If this car had comfortable seats, my review would be quite different. In spite of the "Not Recommended" rating I gave this car when it was new, I have to say that it has been dependable in every kind of weather. It's been terrific in rotten, icy, snowy winter conditions where other cars (even other AWD and 4WD cars) just gave up. So I am changing my recommendation to "Recommended" after all these years.
The car has gone through some wheel bearings, numerous brakes, and a few recalls that the company was very responsive with. The engine noise is sometimes more noticable than other times, as is road noise and vibrations from the tires. The service department can generally adjust or replace something to make it better. We did discover that the sheet metal skin of the car is very thin. We've received numerous dings as would be expected over 4 years, but we also sustained a dent when some kids were LEANING on the front fender. I was surprised how fragile these fenders are.
The Forester was redesigned several years ago and the new version has addressed many of my complaints. One complaint was that the light beige fabric get dirty.... real dungy dirty real quick and is difficult to keep clean. Next time, I'll get the leather... in a darker color. In fact, we may be buying one soon. But we're keeping this one.
11/18/2012 UPDATE: We now have over 85,000 miles on the Forester. My daughter drives it to school, work and home. It has been exceptionally dependable. There is one benefit to having thin sheet metal for the skin of the car. A body shop wanted a lot of money to fix the dent that occurred when someone LEANED on the side of the car. A "dent and ding" remover person was able to use a suction cup to pop out the dent and took out the most of the dings in the body of the car. It took about 45 minutes in my own driveway... and at a fraction of the cost.
We did also buy the new model of the Forester (our 6th Subaru)- it's been terrific. I'll write a report of that soon.