Sales of the 2001 Forester started in the spring when a restyled version of this car-based SUV arrived. Forester is based on the subcompact Impreza passenger-car platform but comes with SUV styling.
Subaru created the first car-based, quasi SUV with the Legacy Outback, a station wagon modified to look like an SUV. The Forester is a bigger step in that it starts as a four-wheel-drive Impreza station wagon but comes with a taller, wider body and more ground clearance than a Ford Explorer to qualify as an SUV.
Along with a face-lift, the Forester S model adds a remote keyless entry system and an in-dash six-CD changer as standard features. A new optional Premium Package adds a monochrome exterior trim, a power moonroof, gold-accented 16-inch alloy wheels and side-impact airbags, which are mounted in the front seatbacks.
Both the base L and upscale S models are restyled, getting new front and rear bumpers, a mesh grille with chrome accents, multireflector headlights and clear-lens taillights. The S model adds titanium-color bumpers and lower body cladding and body-color mirrors.
Forester is a four-door SUV with a one-piece liftgate at the rear. The overall length of 176 inches makes it 2 inches shorter than a Honda CR-V and 3 inches longer than a Ford Escape.
Forester holds five people, and the split rear seat folds flat without removing the headrests to create 63 cubic feet of cargo room. The rear seatback also reclines. Both the base L and the S models add a three-point seat belt for the middle rear seat and a digital ambient temperature gauge as standard features. The interior has several handy storage bins, plus four cupholders. However, the two that slide out of the dashboard block the climate controls.
Under the Hood
Subaru uses horizontally opposed engines in which cylinders are arranged opposite each other instead of in a line or a V configuration. Forester has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 165 horsepower, which teams with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission.
The standard four-wheel-drive system is permanently engaged and apportions power among the four wheels as needed for traction. Subaru says 4WD and 7.5 inches of ground clearance give the Forester true go-anywhere capability.
Forester lacks the brawn and rugged character of truck-based SUVs but has impressive traction, sufficient room for a small family and none of the typical drawbacks of conventional sport utilities, such as poor fuel economy, a rough ride and excessive noise.
There are other good choices, including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, so it pays to shop.