The Subaru Forester isn't a sport-utility vehicle in the traditional sense. In many ways, it's much better than the small SUVs that have been recently introduced. The reason for this is that there's more car coursing through Forester's unitbody than truck.
Subaru designed the Forester using technology gained by racing rally cars over unpaved roads throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. As a result, the Forester inspires confidence in slippery conditions in ways that traditional truck-based sport-utilities can never hope to do. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system constantly redirects power to whichever tires offer the best grip, providing precise control in all types of conditions. Its long, soft springs and stiff shocks allow lots of controlled wheel travel so handling balance isn't upset in bumpy corners. And its generous ground clearance allows it to tread places a sedan cannot go.
The rest of time, which is most of the time, the Forester drives like a car. It offers substantially better braking and cornering performance than a truck, making it easier to handle on winding roads or in emergency situations during the stop-and-go of the daily commute. Best of all, the Forester is fun to drive, a phrase that doesn't really apply to trucks. Forester is similar in size to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but offers superior performance and handling.
Launched as a totally new model line for 1998, the Forester is based on the Impreza platform, which is a shortened version of the Legacy. That's good because the Impreza boasts a rigid chassis and is used as the foundation for Subaru's rally cars, which have won the punishing World Rally Championship two years in a row.
All Foresters are powered by the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder boxer engine found in the Legacy Outback. Dropping the bigger Legacy's engine in the smaller, lighter Impreza platform results in good acceleration performance. Forester's 2.5-liter engine produces outstanding power for its size--165 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque--and does a fine job of propelling this 3,020-pound wagon.
By comparison, the 2.0-liter engine in the 2,789-pound 4-door 4WD RAV4 produces 127 horsepower and it feels like a small truck engine. Honda's 2.0-liter engine is smooth and responsive, but its 126 horsepower doesn't get the 3,153-pound all-wheel-drive CR-V off the dime very quickly when equipped with an automatic transmission.
With horizontally opposed pistons, Subaru's 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is just over half the length of a traditional inline-4. Because the engine is so much shorter, there's more room available for people and cargo. This boxer engine is also not nearly as tall, which permits a low hood line for excellent visibility out front and a low center of gravity for improved handling balance in corners.
All Subarus sold today are equipped with all-wheel drive and race and rally drivers say it's one of the best systems in the world, rivaled only by Porsche and Audi all-wheel-drive systems. The beauty of Subaru's all-wheel-drive system is that it works full time and operates seamlessly. It smoothly redirects power to whichever tire offers the best grip. About the size of a grapefruit, the transfer system takes up little space and adds little weight. It does not have a low-range set of gears, however, and is designed more for blasting through snow and mud than creeping up steep rocky faces. The RAV4 or the Jeep Wrangler are better suited for rock climbing, but the Forester is quite capable of carrying a trout fisherman to that remote stream or a backpacker to that distant trail head.
Because it isn't nearly as tall as a sport-utility, it's much easier to load a kayak, a set of skis and other car-top gear onto the roof of the Forester.
Forester is available with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. Automatic transmissions are often the best choice for V8- and V6-powered sport-utilites, but Subaru's manual gearbox shifts as easily as a 5-speed on a compact and it makes driving the Forester more fun and more efficient. Still, the $800 electronically controlled four-speed automatic matches well with the big 4-cylinder engine.
Three trim levels are available: Forester, L and S. All three are mechanically identical and the base Forester comes with a high level of standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows, fog lights, roof rack, rear window defogger, trailer harness connector, reclining front bucket seats with adjustable lumbar support, tilt steering, and an AM/FM/cassette stereo.
The L model adds antilock brakes (ABS), power locks and a cargo tray. The S model adds rear disc brakes, a chrome grille, big power mirrors, deluxe cloth interior, cruise control and vanity mirrors. The S model also comes with lower profile 215/60 H-speed-rated Yokohama Geolander 035 all-season tires mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels, while the other two models come with 205/70SR15 Bridgestone Dueler 684 all-season tires on 15-inch steel wheels.
One of the first things we noticed about the Forester is that the seating height is comparable to that of a sedan. It doesn't offer that master-of-the-universe driving position that many sport-utility buyers prefer. We don't see this as a negative--expensive sports sedans do not have high seating positions, either, and we like them just fine.
The driver's seat is comfortable and offers a myriad of adjustments. Visibility out front is excellent, a benefit of a low hood and large windshield. All switchgear is easily operated and instruments are straightforward.
There's plenty of headroom front and rear with comfortable seating for four. When the split folding rear seats are down, the Forester offers 64.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That's slightly more than the RAV4, slightly less than the CR-V and nearly 80 percent of what a Ford Explorer offers. It's easy to load cargo into the back of the Forester; the rear gate lifts out of the way and a rubber cargo mat protects the interior.
Subaru's interior trim is as good or better than what's found in the Toyota RAV4 with softer, warmer interior fabrics, though it lacks the design elegance and refinement of the Honda CR-V. The radio controls are on the small side and the windshield wiper motor seems a bit noisy.
We drove the Subaru Forester up and down gravel roads on the western slopes of Washington state's Cascade Mountains, then we spent a week in one around Annapolis, Maryland.
Crisp throttle response and competent handling make the Forester fun to drive. There's more low-rpm torque available for passing and better steering response in transient maneuvers than what's available in the RAV4 and CR-V.
Our Forester S was equipped with the four-speed automatic, which we found to be responsive and a good match for the engine. We have also driven Foresters with the 5-speed manual gearbox, which shifts smoothly and makes the car more fun to drive. The pedal arrangement is such that the Forester can be driven like a sports sedan and this makes it more enjoyable on mountain roads and dirt trails.
Winding gravel roads are the perfect environment for the Forester. The all-wheel-drive system offers predictable handling when sliding around corners yet the suspension offers sufficient damping to soften harsh vibration and big bumps. Subaru's four-wheel MacPherson strut suspension uses soft springs, stiff shocks and relatively long suspension travel to achieve this balance.
The Forester also shines when the sun doesn't, with superb traction and balance on slippery pavement. This is among the best cars on the road in a real downpour.
The Subaru Forester offers excellent dirt road and winter weather performance. On dry paved roads, it offers performance and handling comparable to a sporty compact sedan and is dynamically superior to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Its off-road capability approaches that of the Ford Explorer and other sport-utility vehicles, yet it inspires much more driver confidence on tricky mountain roads with superior braking and handling performance. Comfortable seating for four and commodious cargo capacity make it an attractive alternative to a truck-based SUV. We highly recommend the Forester.
Build and price your dream Subaru Forester in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2013 Subaru Forester$23,786 | 30,743 mi
2012 Subaru Forester$20,800 | 46,957 mi
2012 Subaru Forester$22,377 | 30,911 mi
2012 Subaru Forester$23,500 | 13,887 mi
2012 Subaru Forester$24,488 | 29,126 mi
2011 Subaru Forester$19,480 | 44,275 mi
2011 Subaru Forester$19,997 | 31,093 mi
2011 Subaru Forester$20,377 | 42,277 mi
2011 SUBARU FORESTER$20,995 | 40,923 mi
2011 Subaru Forester$21,967 | 54,027 mi
2011 Subaru Forester$21,983 | 37,823 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$15,988 | 82,311 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$16,960 | 65,216 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$16,975 | 78,970 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$16,990 | 67,052 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$18,600 | 77,884 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$18,700 | 64,798 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$19,488 | 35,017 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$20,000 | 55,602 mi
2009 Subaru Forester$11,595 | 107,594 mi
2009 Subaru Forester$13,499 | 82,365 mi
2009 Subaru Forester$15,985 | 84,161 mi
2009 Subaru Forester$17,400 | 58,125 mi
2009 Subaru Forester$17,988 | 28,302 mi
2007 Subaru Forester$6,995 | 136,400 mi
2007 Subaru Forester$10,375 | 136,618 mi
2007 Subaru Forester$10,950 | 110,438 mi
2006 Subaru Forester$8,595 | 141,483 mi