I'm a believer of the safety features after hitting a deer with the Forester at 65 mph on the freeway. I also love the way the Forester handles. But there were a few bugs that I wouldn't have expected given that the Legacy chassis had been out a while. First, the wheel bearings went out at 20K on two wheels. Then the oil seals went at 70K and 140K (just like our 95 Legacy). The head gasket went out at 140K When I complained about a manufacturer defect at 70K because of similar problems with our Legacy, Customer Service said it was coincidence and wouldn't negotiate a better rate on repairs, stating the warranty went out at 60K. If you buy a Subie, you better extend the warranty!
Fix the manufacturer defect on the seals and gaskets.
Apparently, Subaru needed to wait a bit longer before turning out the Forester. This was the first year they made them, and the bugs are still present. No way to fix a failing in the AWD; the wheels intermittently lock at low speeds (this was also a problem on the Legacy wagon) - even Sub experts can't fix it. Many other mechanical failings that disrupted trips. I've heard subsequent years are much improved and really wish I'd known more up front, since I've been very happy with past Subarus I've owned.
Interior room & features made this one of our favorite vehicles for functional use. We liked the rubber bumper on the L model so scratches were well hidden.
Seats are uncomfortable for long trips, and a rubberized back of the rear seats for cargo hauling would be helpful. Mechancial issues were the main reason why we canned the car -- spent on average $500/month in maintenance over the final year of owning the car.
In 1998 I was looking for something safe, reliable, small, but still enough room for all my stuff. The Forester has met all my expectations. The only problem was keeping the front end in line. Investing in a good set of tires and being careful not to run into curbs has solved the problem.
The Forester just plain looks good. Everything I need fits in it. Small enough to park anywhere. Enough power to drive interstate highways. The 4 wheel drive and low center of gravity keeps the car on the road.
I bought my Forester in college, and have put nearly 100,000 miles on it with few problems. Only recently (at 130,000 miles) have I had to have any major work done: new clutch and tranny. The AWD system works great in snow, lots of cargo room in back, and good clearance for offroad. It also rides more like a car as opposed to the Honda SUV's.
Tons of headroom in the front seats, good for people over 6' tall. Good traction in rain & snow, handles lots of cargo. Rear wiper is very handy.
Could definitely use more legroom in the back seats. Only one cupholder on the dashboard and it blocks the climate controls.