2005 Subaru Forester

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2003 Subaru Forester

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

More stylish and refined, but has carryover drivetrain.
Pros:
  • Carlike
  • Roomy
  • Well-equipped
Cons:
  • Average highway acceleration
  • Narrow rear door openings
  • High cargo area

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.

Sharper Styling
The 1990s Subaru SVX sports car was the only Subaru that ever stood a chance of winning a beauty contest, but the Forester's new styling provides it with a more distinctive appearance. It has a larger, more pronounced grille, contoured headlights, flared front fenders, blister-type, rear quarter panels and large, triangular taillights.

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
Weight is down about 100 pounds to approximately 3,100 pounds, although the body structure is stronger. The wheelbase is unchanged at 99.4 inches, but the Forester is fractionally shorter overall at 175.2 inches. It thus remains easy to maneuver and park.

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.

Well-Equipped
The Forester always has had a good amount of standard equipment, so even the base X has air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, new AM/FM/CD weatherband stereo and folding rear seatbacks.

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
The compact 2.5-liter, 165-horsepower 4-cylinder engine has been carried over from the 2002 Forester. However, another 15 to 20 horsepower would be appreciated; the single-overhead-camshaft engine provides lively performance to 60 mph, but acceleration then becomes average.

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.

Good Handling
The engine has a Porsche-style opposed piston layout that lets it sit low in the chassis. The result is a lower center of gravity and unusually good handling for a sport-utility. Also contributing to handling is revised suspension tuning, larger 16-inch (versus 15-inch) standard wheels and a wider rear track.

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.

Functional Interior
The leather dresses up the functional interior, which is quiet except for some road noise. Improved front seats offer better lateral support when cornering. There’s decent room for four 6-footers, due in part to a slight increase in rear legroom and foot room. The floor is low, but narrow rear doorways hinder entry and exit. The rear pop-out cupholders look and feel flimsy.

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.

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BB06 - 4/17/2014 3:00:09 PM