Subaru has been building 4-wheel-drive vehicles in the U.S. for almost 30 years, earning them a sterling reputation coupled with a loyal following. When the SUV craze began drawing market share away from conventional cars, Subaru suddenly found itself in the unenviable position of having no players in the "go anywhere" vehicle game it helped invent. Rather than spend precious resources to design an all-new vehicle, Subaru recruited the Impreza all-wheel drive platform as the base from which to build its new Forester SUV. In fact, the Forester really is more of an all-wheel drive station wagon than a bona fide off-road vehicle. To be fair, that description fits almost half of the vehicles in this class, but it's particularly noticeable in the Forester's case.
Unlike older truck-based SUVs, the Forester's all-wheel drive is permanently engaged, so there are no buttons to push or levers to pull. The system is simple and efficient, sending power to the wheels with the most traction. The Forester's all-wheel-drive system will differ depending on the type of transmission buyers choose. When equipped with the 5-speed manual, the Forester employs a viscous-coupling center differential built into the transaxle case. This design diverts power where it is needed once wheel slippage begins. Upgrading to the 4-speed automatic will get you an even better electronic system that optimizes power transfer before the slippage occurs.
While a competent vehicle in all situations, the Forester really shines brightest in everyday driving. The steering is tight and surprisingly responsive with good feedback from the road. The chassis dynamics are tuned so as to spare the driver that tipping feeling exhibited by so many SUVs, especially during hard cornering. Interior noise levels are low and the ride can best be described as car-like. Power from the "boxer" 4-cylinder engine is excellent (rated at 165-horsepower) and even with the automatic transmission, the engine still returns an EPA fuel rating of 22-mpg city and 27-mpg highway.
Safety is another strong selling point for Subaru and many of their vehiclesincluding the Forester-have scored extremely well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Traffic Safety's offset crash test. The Forester's frame is designed to meet safety standards developed for cars. Truck standardsand SUVs fall under this categoryare less stringent than their passenger car counterparts. In addition to its sturdy cage construction, the Forester comes equipped with three-point seatbelts for all-five passenger positions, front seatbelt force limiters, dual-front airbags and optional front-seat side-impact airbags.
Interior space is excellent, thanks to the tall roofline. The standard L model's equipment list is generous and the upscale S model is down right luxurious. Seats are firm and very comfortable for long trips. Rear seat legroom is adequate so long as the front passengers don't have the seats all the way back and cargo room is more than ample, especially with the rear seat folded. Most will find very little fault with the Forester's interior and that's commendable for an SUV; on the other hand, the exterior design may not fare as well. It's not that the Forester is an unattractive design, far from it. It's just thattry as they maySubaru can not hide the Forester's station wagon heritage. It does not look like a rugged SUV, not in the Jeep Cherokee/Ford Explorer sense of the term, but rather resembles something akin to the old Honda Civic all-wheel-drive wagon or Mitsubishi Expo.
Image aside, the Forester deserves to be on anyone's small SUV shopping list. Its combination of safety, reliability and proven all-wheel drive make it an excellent choice.