The Detroit News's view

We’re not sure what to the call the 2001 Subaru Forester. The Japanese parent wants us to think of the all-wheel-drive Forester as a sport-utility vehicle, and portrays the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 as its principal rivals. We prefer to think of the Forester as a station wagon with a tall roof and great all-weather capability. Our fully loaded Forester S priced out at $25,412. If you’re thinking about a real SUV for that kind of money, check out the Ford Escape.

She: It always seems slightly strange to test an all-wheel-drive vehicle when the sun is shining and the temperature is in the 80s. But that was actually a really smart thing for us to do with the Forester because you appreciate what a great vehicle this is for a summer night. I’m talking particularly about that terrific, huge power sunroof that opens over the front and rear seats. Unfortunately, it comes bundled with those weird gold-accent wheels, but you also get side bags for the $1,000 package price. As part of our rigorous test procedures, we went out two nights in a row for frozen custard. I’m happy to report the Subaru is so responsive and easy to drive that you can steer with one hand while eating a vanilla cone – or a blue raspberry slush if you prefer – with the other.

He: Did you notice how these test drives keep revolving around food and eating? Maybe we should retitle this column Mirth and Girth.

She: Speak for yourself. Although I never thought I’d gain weight driving cars, my point is that you’re going to be able to live comfortably in the Forester, come summer or winter. It’s not so important what you label it, but what it can do for you. Although we noted plenty of weak points in this Japanese-built utility wagon, women in particular may be unhappy with the seating position, because it’s too much like a car as opposed to an SUV. We pulled up next to a Honda CR-V and found ourselves sitting noticeably lower than the occupants of the Honda, despite the fact the Forester is nearly the same overall height.

He: On the other hand, the low seating position means you get tons of headroom. And because the Forester is based on a car, not a truck, you can expect to get slightly better gas mileage – up to 26 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the Forester is pretty powerful. It makes 165 horsepower and, even with the optional automatic transmission, feels quite lively. Some folks will prefer a six-cylinder, however, and for that you’ll need to check out the competition – either an Escape or a Mazda Tribute or even a Suzuki Grand Vitara.

She: More gripes about the Forester, which we really did like. We both noticed that the three rear headrests block your vision. Your sight is also partially blocked by the reflection of the overhead console in the rear-view mirror. Subaru really needs to correct these two visibility issues. My other concern is that the headlamps didn’t cast quite enough light for my comfort level. Another odd thing I noticed is that the Forester’s engine seems oddly quiet – too quiet – while the vehicle has a bit too much road noise at highway speeds. It seems like we’re nit-picking a pretty good thing – and we are – but when you’re spending $25,000 you have a right to be fussy.

He: I don’t think there are going to be many complaints about the workmanship on the Subaru, but there may be some people who don’t care for the styling. Subaru revamped the exterior of the 2001 Forester and said it was aiming for a more sophisticated appearance. Our premium package option on the S model included monochromatic body styling and 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with that controversial gold paint. I think the outside of the Forester looks a little too plasticky.

She: Maybe we’re wrong about those gold wheels. I notice all the fall catalogs are showing lots of gold evening wear and gold nail polish. I study the models carefull and think they look like giant Oscar statuettes. But maybe Neiman-Marcus, Chanel and Subaru are right and I’m wrong. It just seems strange to see couture touches on a nice little Japanese station wagon that thinks it’s an off-road vehicle.

2001 Subaru Forester

Anita’s rating: Above average

Paul’s rating: Above average

Likes: Huge sunroof. Great all-weather traction. Easy to drive. Loads of headroom. Neat pockets for pen and cards in driver’s visor.

Dislikes: Rear visibility blocked by three rear headrests. Cupholders block access to heater. Doors sound tinny when you close them. Cheap-looking vanity mirrors. No six-cylinder option. You sit too low for comfort and security. More wagon than SUV.

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger utility wagon.

Price: Base, $22,895; as tested, $25,412 (incl. $495 destination charge).

Engine: 2.5-liter O-4; 165-hp; 166 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,126 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Japan.

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