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The Subaru Forester debuted in the late 1990s as an option for consumers interested in the emerging segment of compact SUVs. Subaru, long known for offering its seamless all-wheel-drive (AWD) system on all its vehicles, brought out the Forester to compete against the small sport-utilities from other Japanese automakers. Essentially a tall station wagon with AWD, the Forester offered buyers the rugged style of a traditional SUV along with carlike ride and performance characteristics. Based on the rally-proven Impreza platform, the Forester uses the same AWD system found in other Subaru models.
Thanks to its car-based foundation, the Subaru Forester has historically handled better than the average SUV. The trade-off, at least with the first two generations of the car, was lower ground clearance and less off-road capability. However, those "negatives" were typically not concerns, as most buyers in this segment are looking for a vehicle that can handle inclement driving conditions, ski vacations and the occasional trip to the trailhead as opposed to hard-core off-road boulder-bashing.
A new Forester has recently debuted. It's roomier, less wagonlike and boasts a more upscale interior. New or used, the Forester offers buyers the strengths of easy maneuverability, sure-footed handling in slippery weather, solid build quality and different styling from the rest of the pack.
Used Subaru Forester Models
The current, third-generation Subaru Forester debuted for 2009. Bigger and roomier than the previous Forester, it essentially became a crossover SUV whereas before it was considered a tall wagon. Though powertrains were essentially unchanged, this Forester offered a more spacious and higher-quality cabin. Other than some trim level reorganization, this Forester hasn't changed much since.
The second-generation Subaru Forester was produced from 2003-'08. Although it didn't look much different from the previous version, improvements included more interior room, a stiffer body structure, a revised chassis and more standard feature content.
Performance for the second-generation Forester ranged from adequate to exciting. Most Foresters sold from 2003-'05 came with a 2.5-liter flat-4 engine good for 165 hp, while the '04 and '05 XT models featured a 210-hp turbocharged version of the same engine. This model was a hoot to drive, especially when fitted with the five-speed manual gearbox. From '06 and later, the standard Forester engine grew to 173 hp, while the XT swelled to 230 horses.
Originally, this Forester came in base 2.5X and upgraded XS trims, with the XT (later XT Limited) arriving for '04 and the XS L.L. Bean trim for '05. The latter was a bit fancier thanks to some extra features and special styling details. The XS was replaced a year later by the X Premium Package, followed for '07 by new models known as Sports X and Sports XT. Despite all these trim name changes and additions, the XT never wavered from being the more powerful and better equipped Forester.
In reviews, our editors praised this Subaru Forester for its peppy performance, classy cabin and sharp handling. Consumer comments were mostly favorable as well, with many owners noting the vehicle's comfortable seats, the sure-footed nature of the AWD system, generous stowage and large moonroof. Downsides to this model include sluggish response from the automatic transmission, more road noise than expected and a stiffer ride than more softly sprung competitors.
The first-generation Subaru Forester bowed in 1998. With SUV-like styling cues on its tall wagon body and the confidence-inspiring grip of its all-wheel drive, the original Forester was an instant hit. Performance from Subaru's 2.5-liter, 165-hp flat-4 was snappy for the time, and back then packed the most power one could get in a small SUV. Other strong points for the original Forester include comfortable seats, plenty of storage options, impressive crash test scores and composed handling that shamed its rivals of the day, including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
As this generation ran toward its end point (2002), it received improvements such as more torque for the engine and increased luxury appointments (including leather seating). The lack of major changes required to keep the first-generation Forester viable underscores the fact that Subaru got it right the first time. Add in an impressive reliability record, and a well-kept, lower-mileage Forester is a no-brainer choice in the compact SUV used vehicle segment.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new Subaru Forester page.