If you can't see the all-new Forester for the trees - or the other sport-utes - don't be surprised. Japanese automaker Subaru is a relative latecomer to the hot sport-ute market with its 1998 Forester, which is based heavily on its popular Outback wagons. At our house, the compact four-door generated some controversy. Is it a glorified station wagon that's more at home in suburbia, or a true off-roader that will enhance your active lifestyle? Despite the $24,652 sticker on our loaded Forester S, this newcomer is still likely to find its way onto many sport-utility vehicle shoppers' lists. She: I never thought I'd say it, but size matters. He: Gee, now there's a surprise. She: What I mean is, if you want a sport-ute because you love the commanding position it gives you over other drivers, skip the Forester. He: So are we talking size or position? She: You're so vulgar. People ought to know the Forester feels like it barely makes it up over the shopping carts in the grocery store parking lot. This is no SUV, it's a station wagon. And if you think I'm just a crank, maybe you'll believe the EPA. That venerable federal agency classifies the Forester as a small station wagon. Take that, you SUV owner-wannabe! He: Wait a minute. I WAS a sport-ute owner. I also drove the Forester all over the mountains and woods in Washington state, and Phil and I just took one fishing up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The only place I really missed the extra bulk and taller seating position was crossing the Mackinac Bridge. Boy, was that spooky. She: The only reason why you didn't miss it is that you're over 6 feet tall. And you're not like most women. Security isn't your prime concern. You've already got built-in security with your height. But I'm digressing. My overall feeling with the Forester was that it's not a true SUV and it attempted to compensate for that with gimmicky optional gauges and such. He: That little $395 gauge cluster did look a little cartoonish and not all that useful. I've seen much simpler compasses. And the altimeter didn't seem all that practical once you're out of the mountains. She: Yeah, do you really need to know whether you're at sea level? And I felt myself totally obsessed over the barometer. It didn't have an arrow that indicated whether the pressure was going up or down, so I found myself constantly looking at the barometer and the skies anyway. I mean, is there a storm coming or isn't there? He: So what you're saying is the Forester turned you into a niche worrier. She: Because of the optional gauge package. He: I wonder if Blue Cross covers this condition. She: Well, my advice would be to go for what Subaru does best - station wagons. I would rather have a Legacy Outback wagon, which is 10 inches longer than the Forester. That seems like a better utility vehicle than the Forester. He: You're really getting the best of all worlds with the Forester. You get that great Subaru all-wheel-drive system, which goes nearly everywhere, and I'm talking about some pretty swampy, yucky stuff. You also get the terrific twin-cam 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which makes 165 horsepower and simply blows the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 into the weeds in terms of acceleration and towing capacity. My biggest complaint was the seats, which begin to feel extremely thin after the first 100 miles or so. But there we go again, talking about position. Or is that really size? She: There were some things I liked about the Forester. I like the convenience features like permanent all-wheel drive, which means you don't have to shift levers or gears. The top-of-the-line S version that we drove has some nice touches, like seat-back storage nets and a plastic rear storage tray that you can easily hose. However, I noticed that you guys left me 2 inches of sand from your fishing trip. It's kind of like the toilet; it esn't clean itself, you know. He: Yes, Erma. Actually, the tray was a nice little gimmick, but there isn't really a heck of a lot of storage space back there behind the rear seats. I shouldn't complain. When you flip the seats down, the Forester has more cargo capacity than the CR-V or the RAV4. But that's kind of like saying Shar-peis are uglier than pugs. It's all a matter of degrees. There. At least we're off that size kick. She: No, we're not. Let me flip around my logic. He: Since when did you ever use logic in any discussion with me? She: If you are intimidated by the sheer size and bulk of some SUVs, the Forester may be the one for you. It's got a lower center of gravity, so it doesn't feel so tippy and it's pretty easy to get into. But on the outside, it's got that classic, boxy SUV look that you find on the big boys like the Explorer. And, with a base sticker of under $19,000, the price looks attractive next to an Explorer - if you're just shopping price, not size. He: Honey, what I think you're really trying to say is, forget about size. It's price that really matters. 1998 Subaru Forester S Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle. Price: Base, $22,195; as tested, $24,652 (inc. $495 destination charge). What's new for '98: All-new model for '98 Standard equipment: Air conditioning, power windows, overhead console with clock, map lights and storage, all-independent suspension, speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering, power four-wheel disk brakes, 215/60R16 all-season radial tires, alloy wheels, fog lights, two-tone paint, chrome grille, roof rack, protective side cladding, tinted glass, rear defogger, stone-guard coating, front and rear cup holders, in-dash storage bins, AM-FM stereo cassette, 12-volt power accessory outlet, 12-volt cargo area outlet, tilt steering column, intermittent wipers, rear wiper/washer, center console with storage box, splash guards, rear bumper step pad, power door locks, power mirrors, cargo tray, floor mats, coat hooks, deluxe seat fabric, front seat-back pockets, cruise control, driver and passenger vanity mirrors. Safety features: Dual front air bags, antilock brakes (standard on L and S). Options on test vehicle: Automatic transmission ($800); keyless entry system ($225); CD player ($420); gauge package ($395); luggage cover ($122). EPA fuel economy: 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway. Engine: 2.5-liter O-4; 165-hp at 5600 rpm; 162 lb-ft torque at 4000 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Competitors: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Geo Tracker, Suzuki Sidekick. Specifications: Wheelbase, 99.4 inches; overall length, 175.2 inches; curb weight, 3040 pounds; legroom, 43.0 inches front/33.4 inches rear; headroom, 40.6 inches front/39.6 inches rear; shoulder room, 53.3 inches front/53.6 inches rear. 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Mi chigan*: $1,242 * Rates based on an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives three to 10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts. Where built: Yajima, Japan
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||April 16, 1998|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||March 6, 1998|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||December 7, 1997|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||November 27, 1997|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||October 12, 1997|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||September 5, 1997|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||July 16, 1997|
|Paul Dean||Los Angeles Times||June 20, 1997|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||May 28, 1997|
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