While others develop sport-utes built off cars, Subaru has a pair of such hybrids in showrooms, the compact Outback built off the Legacy wagon and the subcompact Forester built off the Impreza wagon. We tested the '99 Forester, fairly attractive and certainly very practical in terms of offering all-wheel-drive for all-season motoring. Cute and cuddly, but Forester has two faults that need to be addressed as more rivals get into the small sport-ute market and consumers can be more selective. Forester is a tad narrow and confining. And whoever designed the seats should be told that foam and cloth make for a more enjoyable ride than granite. Standard features include dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch tires and a single overhead cam version of the old dual overhead cam 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which has the same 165 h.p. but boasts more low-end torque for quicker off-the-line response. The 4-cylinder is swift yet delivers 21 miles per gallon city/26 m.p.g. highway mileage with optional 4-speed automatic. Other noteworthy items include a rubber cargo-hold tray for carrying wet or soiled items, huge outside mirrors for optimum side-and-rear visibility, huge windshield for optimum down-the-road visibility, a hatchlid handle to help pull it down, folding rear seats to expand cargo capacity, covered mini bins in each door armrest to store items and a handy covered compartment in the dash top for storage. An eyeglass holder is in the overhead console. If you use the radio a lot with its teeny-tiny control buttons, you'll need glasses. The Forester S starts at $22,495. Air conditioning, power windows/locks/heated mirrors and cruise control are standard. Options included 4-speed automatic at $800; keyless entry at $225; and a premium sound system upgrade with CD player at $1,025. With a $495 freight charge, the test vehicle topped $24,000.
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