2003 Subaru Forester
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The 2003 Subaru Forester looks sharper and is roomier and more refined than its predecessor, but could use more power for better highway performance.
The 2002 model was above-average in most respects. But the newest version, which went on sale this spring, is clearly better and a stronger competitor to rival sport-utilities such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute.
The Forester is more carlike than ever, now that it's built on the platform of the updated 2002 version of Subaru's Impreza sedan/station wagon. It has good ground clearance, but is designed mainly for on-road use. For one thing, its excellent all-wheel-drive system has no low-range gearing for rough off-road jaunts.
The styling doesn't just give the Forester a prettier face—it makes this sport-utility fractionally lower and more aerodynamic for lower wind noise. And the aluminum hood's front edges have been sculpted with "character lines" to help a driver better judge the body corners.
Also, the aluminum hood reduces weight far from the Forester's center of gravity to enhance handling. Roof rails and bumper beams also are aluminum for the same reason.
Easy To Maneuver
For 2003, the base X trim replaces the L trim and the new high-line SX replaces the S trim. The X lists at $20,545, while the SX starts at $22,895. The ultimate Forester is the SX with a Premium package, leather upholstery and automatic transmission. It goes for $25,445.
The XS adds automatic climate control, heated front seats, new 120-watt sound system, upgraded upholstery and rear disc brakes. It also has a new electronic brake distribution system for surer stops.
The Premium Package offered for the SX adds a big power sunroof, with leather upholstery offered as an option with the Premium Package-equipped trim.
A new keyless entry system does away with exterior passenger-side door and tailgate locks—although some might not consider that a plus.
Safety items include new front-seat head/chest side-impact airbags and "active" front-seat head restraints, along with a new dual-stage front-passenger airbag.
Average Highway Performance
A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, but a smooth $800 4-speed automatic transmission is offered for the two new trims.
The manual transmission has Subaru's Hill Holder clutch feature designed to prevent the Forester from rolling backwards when you release the brake pedal and keep the clutch depressed on a hill. But is there really anything new under the sun? The 1950s Studebaker also had such a "hill holder" feature.
Estimated fuel economy is pretty good: 21 mpg in the city and 26-27 on the highway.
The Forester sweeps through curves at speeds that would cause drivers of some compact sport-utilities to slow down. Steering is accurate and the easily modulated brakes are larger in front and provide short stops, although the pedal is soft and has a long throw. A supple all-independent suspension provides a nice ride.
A big tailgate makes it easy to reach the cargo area, which is wide but too high—putting tall outboard cargo against the rear windows. It can be enlarged by flipping forward the 60/40 split rear seatbacks.
Subaru offered only bare-bones cars with a bargain-basement image when it began selling cars here in the 1970s. The new Forester shows how far it has come.