2002 Subaru Forester
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
The 2002 Subaru Forester isn't flamboyant like a Hummer. It's not brawny-looking like a Ford Escape. And it's not supercharged like a Nissan Xterra.
The mainstream-looking Forester still is one of the most sensible SUVs around.
Lots to like in Forester
Subaru's reputation for durable vehicles and for putting all-wheel drive on every one of its cars and SUVs as standard equipment are important factors.
So, too, is the Forester's strong showing in government and insurance industry crash tests.
And don't overlook the U.S. EPA's ranking of the Forester as one of the "cleanest" 2002 SUVs for emissions.
Nimble, right-sized vehicle
It looks equally at home in the church parking lot as it does at a ski lodge.
But no matter where it is, the Forester is easy to park, easy to maneuver and offers good visibility in all directions. Call it "reasonably sized."
Ground clearance, however, is an SUV-like 7.5 inches, thanks to a heavy-duty, raised, four-wheel independent suspension. As I rode in the Forester, I could look down a bit on small cars such as a Dodge Neon. But I didn't sit high enough to see around trucks and vans.
The Forester is for you.
Despite the off-road-ready ground clearance, the Forester is several inches shorter in overall height than competitors such as the Jeep Liberty and Honda CR-V.
Passengers get in and out of the Forester with an ease that's better than in many SUVs and, for that matter, some cars. At 5 feet 4 inches, I didn't climb up. I merely turned and sat down a bit onto the Forester's seats, which felt like thick sponges. All door openings were nice and wide.
Check out how high the Forester's one-piece tailgate rises. Even a 6-footer is unlikely to bump his or her head while loading items in the back.
Cargo space rivals that of some small SUVs such as the Escape, though it's not as much as in the Liberty and Toyota Highlander.
One engine choice
But the Forester offers only one four-cylinder powerplant.
Still there's no denying the Forester's very efficient fuel use. Offered with choice of manual or automatic transmission, Foresters are rated at 21 or 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
And this is for a vehicle that has full-time all-wheel drive that requires no shifting or buttons to be pushed by the driver.
The five-speed manual can feel a bit notchy, but the automatic transmission shifts most smoothly.
Outback's four cylinder
But frankly there were times when I wondered whether the performance I felt in the more-than-3,100-pound Forester was really coming from a mere naturally aspirated four cylinder.
The test Forester zipped from standstill to city traffic speeds eagerly. I scarcely started up and I was going 30 miles an hour.
On the interstate the Forester kept its momentum without fuss and didn't need a long, drawn-out time to pass others. The only time the vehicle felt sluggish was on a steep highway incline when another car cut me off and I had to let up on the accelerator and coast uphill. The Forester then took a bit to regain its speed.
The 165 horses and torque of 166 in the Forester are better than or equal to the performance of other small SUVs.
For example, the Honda CR-V's 2.4-liter four cylinder has maximum 160 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm. The Ford Escape's 2.0-liter four offers 130 horses and torque of 135, while the Jeep Liberty's 2.4-liter four puts out 150 horsepower and torque of 165.
All-wheel drive all the time
With the automatic transmission, the Forester uses an electronic variable transfer clutch that notes wheel slippage and transfers power to the wheels that can help out in low-traction conditions.
But it also automatically routes power to the rear wheels during acceleration, since vehicle weight typically transfers to the back during acceleration. During braking extra power is directed to the front wheels to manage the weight shift to the front of the Forester.
It sounds complicated, but I never noticed the system making such adjustments while I drove.
Foresters with manual transmissions have a slightly different all-wheel-drive system that uses a viscous-coupling center differential to split power equally between the front and rear wheels in normal driving.
When wheel slippage is detected, the fluid in the coupling, rather than electronics, helps control the shift of power to the wheels with traction.
Front and rear suspensions use MacPherson struts, and Foresters come with 15- or 16-inch tires.
Towing capacity is 2,000 pounds, which is less than the 3,500 of a Lexus RX 300 and maximum 5,000 pounds of the Liberty.
But rear-seat legroom of 33.4 inches is lacking and is more like what you'd expect to find in the back seat of a Volkswagen GTI.
Starting this year, new Foresters come with free roadside assistance for the first three years/36,000 miles, whichever comes first. The program also is offered on other Subarus.
In its fifth model year, the Forester is due for a redesign next year.