Forester, simply Treemendous
Subaru SUV a Nice Ride
by Jim Bray
If a tree falls on a Forester and no ones around to see it, does it
still leave a dent?
Undoubtedly - and I apologize for the lengths to which Ill go to make
a bad joke.
Fortunately, Subarus Forester SUV is no joke; rather, its a very
nice vehicle to drive and is nimble enough that it may be able to avoid said
tree, as well as other road hazards such as snow and the like.
In fact, the Forester is my favorite Subaru to date. Ive driven a few
other models all, unfortunately - including this Forester - shackled with automatic
transmissions, and despite my leanings toward sporty offerings the Forester
left me really impressed.
As with all other Subarus, the Forester is equipped with full time all wheel
drive. This gives it a leg up over competitiors that only send torque to one
pair of wheels (whether front or rear) when their little onboard droids notice
the wheels are about to slip. It probably isnt a big deal a lot of the
time, but when push comes to shove via crummy road conditions, or even in some
highly spirited driving, its a nice feature to have.
Now in its second generation, the 2003 Subaru is a darn nice ride. The base
model 2.5X that I drove wasnt bristling with creature comforts, but it
had everything you really need - yet it isnt so Spartan you think youre
driving a fifteen year old economy car. And if you want more toys, you can
opt for the higher end model XS (see photo below), as well as various option
I might quibble about the Foresters claim to be an honest to goodness
Sport Utility Vehicle in the manner of the Toyota Rav4, Honda CRV and the like;
it feels more like a wagon than an SUV, but that actually works in its favor
as far as Im concerned.
And you still ride taller in the saddle than in a conventional small car.
In fact, when I went back to my wifes economy sedan after my time with
the Forester it seemed incredibly low in comparison.
Anyway, Subaru says the 2003 Forester is all new compared with its predecessor,
with a stronger chassis, and tweaked suspension and brakes. It now comes with
front passenger side air bags, too. And even my base model 2.5X had air conditioning,
power locks and windows, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry
and a pretty decent stereo that includes AM/FM/weather band and a single disc
The stereo is easy to use, with clearly labeled and well-placed controls,
and it sounds pretty good. Its no high end thunderer, but its more
than adequate for the task at hand. I did miss having audio controls on the
steering wheel, but at least the stereos head unit is well placed enough
that I didnt have to stretch excessively to reach it.
The new Foresters styling, at least in my opinion, has been improved
over the past model. While the earlier incarnation was by no means ugly, it
does look decidedly boxy compared with the new version.
The greenhouse is also very good, with excellent visibility all around, and
the handsome new rear hatch features a nice, big glass window fitted with a
handy intermittent wiper/washer (though I would have liked to see more settings
to the intermittent feature). This wiper/washer was a godsend on my test unit,
which wasnt equipped with mud flaps and therefore attracted dirt and
other crud onto the back window like it was going out of style.
The engine is Subaru's 2.5 liter single overhead cam horizontally opposed
four cylinder boxer engine rated at 165 horses @ 5600 rpm and 166
lb-ft of torque @ 4000 rpm. While this is the same unit and, I believe, the
same four speed automatic transmission that propels other Subaru models Ive
driven, on the relatively light Forester (which weighs some 400 pounds less
than the Baja reviewed elsewhere) it seems like
a better match and in fact the Forester car/SUV felt quite spry
Incidentally, since the Forester is marketed as an SUV you might like to know
when the anti-SUV crowd comes pounding on your door, brandishing protest signs
and torches, that the Forester meets Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards and
its EPA gas mileage rating, according to the company, is 21/27 miles per gallon
(city/highway), in either manual or automatic incarnations. That translates
into 11.2/8.0 (manual) and 11.0/8.2 (automatic) litres per 100 kilmetres in
Canada. I have no idea why the discrepancy between the transmissions in the
Canadian rating; perhaps it has something to do with the Canadian dollar
Inside, the Forester is well laid out, simple without being stark, and the
faux carbon fibre trim adds a nice high tech look. The fabric seats are comfortable
for all day driving, nicely bolstered on the sides for when you hit those inevitable
twisty bits on road or off. The drivers seat on my 2.5X didnt offer
power adjustments, but was adjustable through a wide range of positions, including
seat height, so it was easy to find the best driving position. Theres
also a good dead pedal foot rest that comes in handy when cornering.
The instrument panel is well laid out and easy to read and, as with other
Subarus, includes a thoughtful reminder of which side the fuel filler door
is on. This may sound like a little thing, and it is, but it comes in handy
when pulling into a gas station to fuel up.
The rear seat is comfortable for two, not quite as comfortable for three (as
with most vehicles in this size category), and it splits 60/40 and folds down.
There are three point belts for all three rear seat positions.
Naturally, theres more storage when the rear seat is folded down, but
even when its up you have decent room for most everyday use. Its
no Suburban, of course, but it doesnt pretend to be.
You also get 12 volt power outlets in the front console and the rear cargo
Subaru has also included some nice safety/convenience features such as auto
off headlights and fog lamps, variable intermittent front windshield wipers,
roof rails and a full size spare tire. There are power assisted disc brakes
all around, with four channel, four sensor ABS. Steering is speed sensitive
power assisted rack and pinion; the Forester handles very nicely, with good
steering feel through the wheel.
Other safety features include dual front airbags, side impact door beams,
front/rear crumple zones and active safety head rests up front.
As mentioned, driving the Forester is a pleasant experience. During my time
with it, I had the chance for normal city driving as well as a trip to the
mountains on roads that ranged from bare and dry to snow-covered and mixed
ice and snow. The four wheel drive came in really handy on the latter two types
of road, helping keep the Forester stable and serene - including one nearly
panic stop we made to avoid, and then rubberneck at, a gigantic elk that had
wandered across the road in front of us.
What else can I say, except to mention that the Forester so impressed my wife
that she has now put it near the top of her wish list for when the time comes
for us to start shopping for our next vehicle. Except that any Forester that
might take up residence in our garage will definitely sport the manual transmission.
And I have to admit that, while my personal tastes tend toward sportiness
and horsepower, the Forester is a vehicle with which I could easily live.
Incidentally, the Subaru Forester 2.5X as tested starts at about $20,845US
/ $28,000 Canadian. The top line 2.5SX Premium starts at about $24,000 US /