Extensively revised for 2003, the second-generation Subaru Forester adds sports appeal and improved handling. The new Forester is roomier than before and comes with new features that move its image slightly upscale. Yet it still combines fuel efficiency, cargo room, safety, and the foul-weather advantages of all-wheel drive.
Introduced in the 1998 model year, the Forester mini-SUV soon became a household word. Subaru's answer to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 carved a niche and achieved respectable sales. The Forester looked more rugged than Subaru's Impreza sedan and less like a wagon than the Outback. It also boasted a relatively high ground clearance, respectable stowage space for gear and a four-wheel-drive system adopted from Subaru's world champion rally cars.
The five-passenger Forester is part of a mixed heritage. Although Subaru has sold the best-selling imported wagon in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, the brand has not been easily categorized. Buyers have traditionally gone to Subaru for reliability, but just as many nowadays are more interested in performance. The Forester attempts to combine the best of both worlds. It works well as a grocery getter, and excels as a backcountry runabout for family camping trips. It's more powerful than the small SUVs in its class and is backed by a legendary four-wheel-drive system. It's also great on gas and comfortable enough for cross country road trips.
Subaru Forester has undergone a headlamp-to-tailpipe upgrade for the 2003 model year. It was redesigned two years ago (for 2001) with a more streamlined look than its boxy predecessor.
In front, a large grille and contoured headlights cap a smooth bumper cover with integrated fog lights. A sculpted new aluminum hood improves sightlines for the driver, while reducing weight for improved handling.
The rear is significantly changed, with a unique hexagonal rear gate framed by triangular taillights and blister type rear quarter panels. The rear gate opening size is increased to aid with stowage of gear, and the effort it takes to close the gate has been reduced by 30 percent. Textured gray body cladding encases the lower third of base 2.5X versions. The cladding is a contrasting steel gray metallic on 2.5XS models, which come with larger gray metallic foldable, heated exterior mirrors. Bumpers have been designed to absorb impact up to 5 mph for reduced damage during parking lot dings.
Forester has a bevy of available factory-installed accessories that add to its versatility. A supporter of Tread Lightly! and the official vehicle of groups like the American Canoe Association, Gary Fisher Bicycle Components, and the Professional Ski Instructors of America, Subaru offers components for carrying bikes, skis, kayaks and canoes on top of standard roof rails. A trailer harness connector comes standard.
In both trim levels, the new Forester adds increased comfort and functionality. A high seating point and adjustable driver's seat are aimed at improving visibility, with improved front seat bolstering and additional for/aft adjustment that increases seat travel. The driver's seat has increased height adjustment and the range of the tilt-adjustable steering column has been improved, as well. Back seat passengers get more leg and head room, with no reduction of cargo volume.
Remote keyless entry is standard. Also new are a 100-watt weatherband AM/FM/CD stereo, a motorcycle-style instrument cluster (shared with the Impreza series), a passenger-side stowage compartment, dual visor vanity mirrors with lids, dual sunglasses storage compartments, illuminated window switches on all doors, a rear window deicer and a remote release fuel door. Wiper blades are now larger, as is the swipe area to improve visibility in inclement weather. The inside rear view mirror is larger for improved visibility to the rear. And the rear wiper now wipes the high-mount stop lamp to keep it clear and more visible in bad weather.
New passive safety features include active front seat head restraints and assist grips for all seating positions. A middle rear seat headrest tucks in for improved driver visibility. Three-point safety belts are standard for all five seats. Child-seat tether anchors are included.
Forester's cargo area is average at 32.0 cubic feet but expands to 63.1 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. Two 12-volt outlets are included, in the front cabin and the stowage area, and tie-downs for gear and groceries are standard. Additional stowage areas are provided in the center console. Power windows and locks are standard, as is a full-size spare tire.
The higher-end XS adds leather accents and a six-disc CD changer.
Not long ago, the notion of driving an SUV or crossover vehicle on a race track was preposterous or, at the very least, boring. But, today, with so much competition in this segment of the market, some manufacturers have taken to the racetrack to show their vehicle's sporty performance and handling characteristics in a safe environment. Such was the case with Subaru, wanting to assure our test drivers that its newest Forester model has improved performance that this Japanese manufacturer hopes will bump it up a class in its segment, and also align it more with other performance models such as the BMW X5 and the still-to-come Porsche Cayenne. Bumped up it is, but not in the league of these more sophisticated (and more costly) models.
Putting the Forester to the test at Talladega, a superspeedway outside Birmingham, Alabama, I approached the five-story banking with caution and excitement. Easing the Subaru Forester's throttle on to full power, I climbed to the top of the 33-degree grade and was quickly traveling at a speed of 100 mph. Level ground was a long way away and a sharp angle to my current path of travel, and looking down gave me a feeling of vertigo. However, the feedback that I got from this crossover SUV let me know that there was plenty of grip and good balance, and assured me that its speed and precarious perch were within reason in this controlled environment. It was quiet inside the Forester's cabin, which has a coefficient of drag improved by 10 percent, which means less wind noise and better fuel economy.
Next, I descended to the tarmac at the base of this famous raceway and navigated through a braking and lane-change exercise, a course set up to simulate emergency stopping and lane-change maneuvers.
The tires screeched as I slammed on the brakes and slid around sharp corners. The Forester maintained good directional stability, with little body roll (again a result of the placement of the engine) as I drove crisply through the snaking course. Four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock brakes with disc brakes in front and drum brakes in the rear are one of the Forester's primary safety features. Larger front brake rotors have been added to reduce stopping distances.
Here, I also found quick throttle response, as well as quick and easy gear shifts. Subaru's 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine delivers 165 horsepower at its peak, with an admirable 166 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Underneath the skin, Forester has a stronger, yet lighter, body structure, which helps reduce the weight of this year's model by almost 100 pounds. In theory, lighter is better because it results in better handling and shorter stopping distances. A rigid chassis is a key element to responsive handling and a quiet ride. Subaru also revised the suspension tuning for 2003.
Finally, I entered an area of the track where an obstacle course was set up with cement blocks to drive over. The Forester boasts an impressive 7.5-inches of ground clearance. Blocks of wood and other rough materials had been thrown down for us to drive on. The ride was surprisingly comfortable, a benefit of the Forester's upgraded suspension.
Following the track time, we took a 100-mile-long drive through the Talladega National Forest and the motorways surrounding the Birmingham area. Here, I found this crossover vehicle conjured up its passenger car roots and, thanks to its four-wheel independent suspension, gave a pleasant and responsive ride. Pluses were the all-new struts that help reduce noise, vibration, harshness, or NVH. Equal-length axle shafts help eliminate torque steer (when the steering pulls slightly to one side under power). Variable Gear Ratio rack-and-pinion steering means increased responsiveness, and a turning circle of 34.8 feet.
While offering sophisticated AWD and a bigger four-cylinder than most in the segment, the Forester also offers decent fuel economy; it gets 21 mpg in city driving, 27 mpg on the highway with the manual tra
The 2003 Subaru Forester has been greatly improved over last year's model, which was a capable, versatile vehicle. Neither the sexiest nor the most functional car on the dealer lot, the Forester matches Subaru engineering with the best features of the economy car, wagon, and SUV to make a vehicle that has the best of all worlds, but belongs to none. We appreciated the Premium Package with its leather interior trim and moonroof.
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$21,400 | 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$19,997 | 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$21,980 | 44,275 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$16,990 | 67,052 mi
2010 Subaru Forester$18,549 | 41,199 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