The last 2009 Subaru Forester we drove blew a tire, forcing us into making clichéd gay jokes. This time we took it to an off-road park and beat it like a rented mule.
Subaru is many things to many different kinds of people, but they've always stayed true to the cause of all-wheel-drive in sensible automobiles. Subie sells every one of their cars with it, and they get a lot of credibility because of that fact, but we decided to put that tradition to the test and take it to the brand spankin' new Rocks And Valleys off-road park in Harrison, Michigan even before its grand opening on May 16th. We gathered up a group of hardcore off-roaders from the Great Lakes 4x4 forums (let's call them vehicle extraction support) and headed out to take on all the challenges park manager Ron Price could throw at us.
Rocks and Valleys is a 200-acre park in the middle of Michigan's mitten carved out of a wild, forested area of dramatic elevation changes. It's been tailored to different types of rigs from your basic Wrangler all the way up to custom built rock crawlers. This is the point where you should be questioning our sanity. The Forester isn't exactly known as a berm-jumping, rock-crushing, all-terrain-vehicle. For all intents and purposes its just another tall wagon with all-wheel-drive. Yes, that's true, but for a tall wagon this thing kicks some major trail.
The Forester we had was a 2.5X, a mid-range model with a non-turbo four cylinder, but even on the steepest grades we were not for want of more power. In fact, we almost want to toss on some real off-road tires and see what it can really do, the thing was damn impressive. Out on the lumpy, bumpy trails the Forester soaked everything up and had us outpacing the bouncier Jeeps, lending us our first few points of credibility. Then we hit the technical stuff out in the forests, we had to fold in the mirrors at some points things were so tight, and again, the decent turning radius, torquey engine and well programmed all-wheel-drive kept us going.
Of course, what's off-roading if there isn't some mud involved, right? Rocks & Valleys happens to have a very nice mud hole way out back and we couldn't help but play in it. This was the part which had Subaru calling us later and asking what the heck we'd gotten up to with their car. The fun part of the mud hole was only having a vague notion of exactly where the deep end started. By deep end we mean five feet of muddy water. We'd be lying if we said this wasn't the best part of the whole day. There's something incredibly satisfying about completely covering a family wagon in powerfully stinky mud. Then we got stuck.
It was more a problem of not enough tire and not enough momentum than the fault of the car. It happens to the best. So we called in our tow vehicle, a Hemi-powered, externally-caged, Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ with top-loading axles and all-wheel steering. Yes, it's a beast, and it pulled us out just fine.
After that little snafu we were back at it, hitting the sandy hills after a couple more runs through the muck, just to show it who's boss. When we say hills we mean two-track trails running a hundred feet tall with 30 degree plus inclines over loose sand. Here's where some Dick Cepek's would have made things a lot more fun, as we ran out of tire before we ran out of power. It was pretty frustrating getting almost to the top, but not quite. Backing up when all you see is the flat earth looming in your rear window is weird.
Truthfully, we didn't expect the Subie to be as good as it was. We thought we'd be funny guys and go get the thing stuck and have it hang up on steep hills and then point and laugh at the wimpy soft-roader. We came out with a certain degree of respect, so did all the Jeep guys who were with us. We're thinking Subaru should offer "Mud Patina" as a delivery option.
As an aside, we'd like to give a big thanks to the folks at Rocks and Valleys for being so accommodating. Their grand opening is tomorrow and if you're an off-roader with a hankerin' for some new ground to tackle, check out the details at Rocks and Valleys.
Photo Credit: Alex Conley