What's New for 1998
Subaru attacks the mini-SUV market head-on with the Forester, which actually constitutes an SUV body on an Impreza platform with a Legacy engine under the hood. The most carlike of the mini-utes, Forester is also the most powerful. Airbags remain the full power variety, despite new rules allowing lower deployment speeds.
What do you do when sport-utility buyers won't drive home in your all-wheel drive station wagon, which is dressed up like an SUV, because it's too "wagony" in appearance? If you're gutsy like Subaru, you put a taller, more squared-off body on your wagon chassis, and call it good. The new Forester is a Subaru parts bin exercise, and since the parts bin is rather small at Fuji Heavy Industries, which owns the upstart all-wheel drive automaker, the car is cobbled together from a mixture of Impreza and Legacy bits.
Based on the rally-proven Impreza platform, the Forester uses the same AWD system found in other Subaru models. The 2.5-liter boxer engine comes from the Legacy Outback and makes 165 horsepower in the Forester. This means the Forester has gobs more power than its primary competitors.
Also, thanks to its hunkered-down stance, low center of gravity, and car-based foundation, the Forester handles better than the Chevrolet Tracker, Honda CR-V, Suzuki Sidekick and Toyota RAV4. The trade-off is lower ground clearance and less capable off-road ability, but you weren't going to go too far off the beaten path anyway, were you? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)
Inside is room for four adults, with a rear center position marked off for a fifth rider in a pinch. Cargo space is equivalent to what you'd find in the RAV4 or Tracker, and storage room abounds.
Three Forester models are available: the base, the mid-level L and the high-end S. Air conditioning, roof rack, rear defogger, tachometer, power windows, tilt steering, rear wiper/washer and an 80-watt cassette stereo are standard on the base model. The L adds antilock brakes, power door locks, and cosmetic goodies. With a base price barely over $20,000, we believe the L will be Subaru's volume seller. The uplevel S gets a toothy chrome grille, alloy wheels, bigger tires, rear disc brakes, cruise control and upgraded interior trimmings. Remote keyless entry is optional on the L and S, while leather can be added to the S only. Options include CD player, alloy wheels, cruise control, trailer hitch and a variety of cosmetic upgrades.
While we are partial to the Impreza Outback Sport and Legacy Outback models, the Forester will attract buyers who want an inexpensive, functional all-wheel drive vehicle that looks like a truck and drives like a car. As long as Subaru can keep a lid on pricing, the Forester should pick right up where the Outback wagons leave off.