Washington - Brilliant fields of yellow balsamroot and purple lupine punctuate the alpine meadows and foothills of the Cascades, gradually giving way to dense stands of red cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir as we climb toward the mile-high Washington Pass. It was sunny and warm this morning when we started our drive up the North Cascades Highway in a prototype 1998 Subaru Forester. But it's not long before the weather takes a nasty turn, and soon we're negotiating our way through the fog-enshrouded Okanogan National Forest in a cold drizzle that eventually changes to snow at higher altitudes. "They say you can see all the way to Canada from up here - on a clear day," muses Alex Fedorak, Subaru's genial senior manager of product public relations. Fedorak has warily agreed to serve as co-pilot and navigator on what is to be a 165-mile circuit in north central Washington - some of the most rugged and spectacularly scenic country in North America. Today, however, we can't see Canada. We can't even see the next ridge. Not through the wet snow and clinging mist that threaten to make driving conditions more treacherous than usual. This is no problem for the sturdy Forester, a boxy wagon/utility vehicle cut from the same passenger-car cloth as Toyota's sporty RAV4 and Honda's new CR-V. Because it shares its underpinnings, including permanent all-wheel-drive system, with the Outback series, the five-passenger Forester displays the same go-anywhere versatility and reassuring tractability of Subaru's popular wagons. Four-wheel antilock brakes, which are standard on all but the base model, provide an extra margin of security. We reach the pass (elevation: 5,477 feet) and are soon snaking our way along the winding Skagit River to Ross Dam. Even the cloud cover can't obscure the magnificent jade-colored Ross Lake. Despite the occasional slush and the sub-40-degree temperatures, Fedorak is laughing. "We were here a week ago, and it was in the 80s," he relates with a grin. "There were two guys in T-shirts, snow-surfing on trash-can lids." In this kind of weather, they might have preferred the Forester, a direct descendant of the nifty Streega concept vehicle that Subaru unveiled at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. It was also during the 1995 model year that Subaru of America convinced its Japanese parent, Fuji Heavy Industries, that in order to ignite interest in the brand in the U.S. it needed to focus on something special, a niche that would set it apart from the other Japanese brands and from the domestic Big Three. Subaru embraced all-wheel drive and created the Outback series as a means of distancing itself from the competition. Sales leapt 20 percent in 1996, and have kept pace so far this year in a relatively flat market. "We're fighting for shelf space, as our friends in the packaged-goods trade would say, and all-wheel drive has become a point of differentiation for us," observes Tim Mahoney, Subaru's di rector of marketing. "Affordability and active safety are key issues for us." The Forester, which goes on sale in July, should be attractively priced. Stickers will likely start below $20,000 for the base version, ranging up to $24,000 or so for the mid-level L and top-of-the-line S models. Like the RAV4 and CR-V, which evolved from passenger cars, the Forester sprang from the compact Impreza, which in turn was spun off the larger Legacy. In fact, the Forester meets all 1998 passenger-car safety, emissions and fuel-economy standards, and is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a small station wagon. In truth, it is much more. For one thing, the Forester has a much more comfortable and controlled ride than either of its two Japanese counterparts, thanks to a long-travel, all-independent suspension. The four-door also boasts 7.5 inches of ground clearance - more than the Outback - to help traverse rough roads and rocky terrain. Among its als, Forester has the largest and most powerful engine, a twin-cam 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder that delivers 165 horsepower and can be ordered with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It's the same engine that powers the Legacy GT, but in the Forester is even more gutsy and responsive. The all-wheel-drive system is permanently engaged, so there's no need to throw levers or shift gears. Fuel economy is not too shabby either, at 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 m.p.g. on the highway. Forester's profile and looks are deceptive. Although it has ample front-seat head, leg and shoulder room and the largest standard cargo volume in the class, it is around 10 inches shorter than an Outback wagon. A fairly compact 99.4-inch wheelbase and 175.2-inch overall length, coupled with variable-assist power steering and stabilizer bars, help enhance the vehicle's maneuverability. Despite the additional wheel travel, Forester is not that difficult to climb in and out of, although rear-seat passengers will find their accommodations a bit cramped. What it surrenders in rear leg and shoulder room, Forester more than compensates for in towing capacity - twice that of the Honda, at 2000 pounds. Forester is also nicely outfitted, with power windows and air conditioning included on its standard-equipment list, as well as numerous cupholders and storage compartments. Our well-endowed Forester S also featured power locks and mirrors, four-wheel power disc brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, a chrome grille and all sorts of goodies like dual vanity mirrors and special fabrics and trim. The smooth car-like ride and lush creature comforts were even more appreciated two days later on a four-hour, 225-mile early-morning jaunt through the Cascades to the Seattle airport. The Forester seemed truly at home here in logging country, although we never really tested its exceptional traction. That's not likely to sway prospective customers, who as a group rarely venture off road in their all-wheel-drive vehicles. More to the point, the ride was smooth and unruffled, and the visibility unsurpassed, thanks to the tall roof and generous windows. And, with the sun dispelling most of the clouds, we could even see Canada some 30 miles to the north. Doesn't that sound more civilized than the Outback? 1998 Subaru Forester versus Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V Wheelbase- Forester: 99.4 in. RAV4: 94.9 in. CR-V: 103.2 in. Overall length- Forester: 175.2 in. RAV4: 163.4 in. CR-V: 177.6 in. Width- Forester: 68.3 in. RAV4: 66.7 in. CR-V: 68.9 in. Height- Forester: 65.0 in. RAV4: 65.4 in. CR-V: 65.9 in. Curb weight- Forester: 3,040 lbs. RAV4: 2,789 lbs. CR-V: 3,153 lbs. Head room, f/r- Forester: 40.6/39.6 in. RAV4: 40.3/39.0 in. CR-V: 40.5/39.2 in. Leg room, f/r- Forester: 43.0/33.4 in. RAV4: 39.5/33.9 in. CR-V: 41.5/36.7 in. Shoulder room, f/r- Forester: 53.3/53.6 in. RAV4: 53.1/53.1 in. CR-V: 53.3/55.5 in. Cargo volume- Forester: 33.2 cu. ft. RAV4: 26.8 cu. ft. CR-V: 29.6 cu. ft. Towing capacity- Forester: 2000 lbs. RAV4: 1500 lbs. CR-V: 1000 lbs. Engine size/type- Forester: 2.5-liter HO-4 RAV4: 2.0-liter I-4 CR-V: 2.0-liter I-4 Output- Forester: 165 hp RAV4: 120 hp CR-V: 126 hp Transmission- Forester: 5-speed manual RAV4: 5-speed manual CR-V: 4-speed automatic EPA fuel economy- Forester: 21/27 mpg (preliminary) RAV4: 22/27 mpg CR-V: 22/25 mpg Base price- Forester: $19,500 (est.) RAV4: $17,638 CR-V: $19,400
|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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