1998 Subaru Forester

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2001 Subaru Forester

This 2001 review is representative of model years 1998 to 2002.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

One of the best small sport-utility vehicles, but needs more highway spunk.
Pros:
  • Revised styling
  • New features
  • Car-like
  • Spacious
  • All-wheel drive
  • Rugged
Cons:
  • Average punch on highways
  • Notchy controls
  • Limited moonroof availability

The popular Subaru Forester might be considered as much of a hybrid vehicle as a compact sport utility because it's based on Subaru's tough Impreza auto/station wagon platform.

Car-derived hybrids are being given an increasingly warm reception by folks who don't want the choppy ride, bulk, mediocre handling and other drawbacks of bigger, truckish sport utilities.

Sharper Appearance
Like most sport utes, the rather bland looking 2001 Forester is no thing of beauty. But it looks a little sharper than its predecessor, with a revised front end that has a new chrome grille and bumper and multi-reflector headlights. At the rear are a new bumper and revised taillights.

New Moonroof
The Forester also gets a power moonroof—some call it a "sunroof"—for the first time. This Subaru was introduced in the summer of 1997 as a 1998 model, so it's about time it got that feature, which is loved by many vehicle buyers. The moonroof has internal retracting glass and is big enough to partially open over the rear seats—making it one of the largest on any sport ute.

And there's good attention to detail: The moonroof adds weight above the center of gravity, so Subaru gives a moonroof-equipped Forester a retuned suspension and wider rear track to ensure the same stability as a non-moonroof model.

New Side-Impact Airbags
But, alas, the moonroof comes only with the $23,895 S Premium Package model, which also has side-impact airbags up front—another Forester "first."

However, the drawback here is that those bags prevent you from getting a Forester with the $1,295 leather upholstery.

It all seems like two steps forward, one step back.

The entry Forester model is the L, which stickers at $20,295. The higher-line S has a $22,895 base price, with the Premium Package adding $1,000.

The S Premium Package model also has a monochromatic look instead of a contrasting lower body color. Without that package, the S has new, attractive Titanium Pearl lower side cladding.

New Features
The S returns with its predecessor's 4-wheel disc brakes, but has a new 6-disc in-dash CD changer, new keyless entry system, new variable intermittent windshield wipers—besides larger, body-color, foldable side-view mirrors. The S has newly designed 16-inch aluminum wheels, instead of the L model's 15-inch wheels. And it has a viscous limited-slip rear differential for even better traction.

Not that the L isn't well equipped. It has several standard items such as air conditioning, anti-lock brakes and AM/FM/cassette.

New L features include intermittent front/rear wipers, dual retractable front cupholders, digital ambient temperature gauge and height-adjustable shoulder belt anchors for all outboard occupant positions. There's also a new 60/40-split fold-down rear seat.

All Forester models have an in-glass antenna that replaces the old-style post antenna and provides a cleaner look. The antenna is laminated in the left rear quarter window and seems to deliver the same decent reception as the post antenna.

Popular options include an $800 electronic 4-speed automatic transmission and leather upholstery. The Forester with the automatic has a better all-wheel-drive system, which can anticipate and prevent wheel slippage before it occurs.

All-Wheel Drive
Both Forester all-wheel-drive systems are pretty good and call for no driver activation. However, no low-range gearing means the Forester isn't suited for rugged off-road use—despite its robustness and generous ground clearance. That's no major drawback, as most sport-ute owners don't go off road.

Easy Entry
The Forester's low floor makes it easy to get in and out, although lower rear-door openings hinder entry and exit if you're not slim. Front seats are supportive, and four tall adults comfortably fit—if a driver doesn't move his or her seat back too far. Fairly high seating, large glass area and high roof help provide superb visibility, as do big outside mirrors.

Subaru should be given credit for providing pretty big sound-system controls. But the notchy climate controls just aren't acceptable in today's competitive market. Too bad they don't work with the almost liquid smoothness of the Forester's turn-signal stalk.

Front cupholders are sturdy, but the same can't be said for the rear ones, which are awkwardly positioned near the floor.

Good Cargo Area
The hatch opens smoothly and well out of the way on hydraulic struts, and there's a convenient inside handle to help close it. The cargo area is reasonably large and flip-forward rear seatbacks fold flat to appreciably increase its size.

Fuel economy suffers partly because this is a full-time all-wheel-drive vehicle with increased driveline friction. Expect mpg figures in the low 20s in the city and in the mid-20s on the highway.

More Highway Zip Needed
The 2.5-liter 165-horsepower 4-cylinder has a Porsche-style opposed-piston design for compactness and low center of gravity. It gives the Forester more power than archrivals such as the 2000 Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

But, while acceleration is strong to 60 mph, it disappointingly becomes just average above that speed. And the tachometer shows a high 2900-rpm reading at 70 mph with the automatic transmission, although the Forester still feels like a relaxed highway cruiser.

While the automatic shifts efficiently, the standard 5-speed manual transmission enhances driving fun.

Car-like Road Manners
Steering is decent, and the ride is comfortable—although road expansion strips definitely can be felt despite the Forester's fully independent suspension system. Car-like handling makes the Forester fun to drive, but watch out for pronounced body lean during hard acceleration into fast traffic on curving highway on-ramps. Stopping distances are good, but the brake pedal feels spongy.

In all, the new Forester is an even better blend of car-like comfort and all-wheel-drive sport-ute—or hybrid-vehicle—versatility.

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BB04 - 9/23/2014 5:40:05 AM