By Bob McHugh

Given the enormous popularity of sport-utility vehicles it was bound to happen – Subaru, a leader in paved-road four-wheel-drive systems, brought out a vehicle that didn’t mind getting its wheels dirty. The year was 1998, and the vehicle was called Forester.

I developed enormous respect for the Forester when I co-drove one to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, high above the Arctic Circle, a couple of years ago. It was the dead of winter, the most extreme cold that I’ve ever experienced and we had to drive across a frozen Arctic Ocean, on what’s called the Ice Highway, to reach our destination.

With its tall, boxy stance the Subaru Forester looks like an SUV and has the versatility of on SUV, yet on the road it behaves more like a car and in fact, it’s actually classified as a passenger vehicle. The bonus for consumers as that it also has to conform to the more stringent safety standards of a passenger car, unlike a conventional SUV.

Forester uses a slightly longer wheelbase version of the Subaru Impreza body platform and shares mechanical parts with the Subaru Legacy Outback. Giving us bonus number two – the 2.5 litre boxer engine.

In addition to good power and fuel efficiency, the Porsche style flat-four design gives the Forester a lower centre of gravity and brought a new level of performance and handling to the compact sport utility category. A category with a high rate of single-vehicle accidents, as they normally are an easier vehicle to roll.

Forester initially came in base ‘L’ and luxury ‘S’ trim-levels and a 4-speed automatic transmission is an option on both versions. Its fuel consumption rating is 11.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 L/100 km on the highway.

If you compare Forester to the segment leading Honda CR-V, you’ll find it’s lower and has more cargo space. However, the passenger quarters are more confined in Forester and rear seat legroom is not as good. A shorter wheelbase gives the Forester bigger overhangs front and rear – also not good, if you really intend taking it off-road.

A fat steering wheel adds to the sporty feel of the Forester and an overhead console with an eyeglasses’ holder is a nice feature. An attractive dash with an easy to read instrument panel has only one flaw, a pop-out cup-holder that blocks use of the heater/vent controls.

2001 Subaru Forester
2001 Subaru Forester
Click image to enlarge

A new premium trim level S Limited was introduced in ’99. Changes to the engine for the 2000 model year boosted low-end torque and a rear limited-slip differential was added to S and S Limited versions.

The ’98 Forester was recalled for a bumper infraction, if fitted with fog lamps. An extreme cold freeze-up problem in vehicles equipped with the anti-lock braking system was also the subject of a recall on the ’98 and ’99 Forester.

The Subaru Forester is one of the better offerings in the hot compact SUV segment. However, finding a good used one at a reasonable price may prove to be a challenge.


Current Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) May 2002:

Year Model Price today Price new
2001 Forester S $26,275 $31,795
2000 Forester S $23,225 $30,999
1999 Forester S $19,600 $30,795
1998 Forester S $16,900 $30,695

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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