The latest version arrived here in 2008 and moved further towards an SUV shape in style.
Ewan Kennedy reviews the used Subaru Forester 1997-2011: its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when buying it.
Subaru’s popular Forester is well regarded for build quality and high resale value. It began its life in 1997 as an offshoot of the Impreza sedan and hatch, but over the years morphed into a medium SUV in style.
It has useful ground clearance so can tackle tougher than average conditions in the bush and on the beach. Foresters suspension has longer travel than Impreza’s and more rugged specs and semi-off-road tyres are used. The latter may have been replaced by normal car tyres at some time during the Forester’s life, so check for this if you’re considering doing some semi-serious work.
The early model Subaru Forester's overhangs front and rear are substantial, a legacy of it being adapted from a car, this is generally what will stop the car if you get over ambitious. Ride comfort is good in normal on-road driving and the long travel suspension copes well with rough dirt and corrugated roads.
Handling is reasonable for a vehicle in this class. Forester is inclined to move its tail out if pushed too hard at corners so shouldn’t be driven as though it’s a car. Generous interior room is a real advantage of the squared-off styling. The front seats have plenty of legroom, width and headroom. The rear seat can take three people without too much of a hassle, though it’s better if they are kids, not adults.
Entry and exit to the back seat is easy, partly because of the taller than average styling but chiefly because you don’t have to climb up into the seats as you do in an off-road 4WD. There's a good luggage area and practicality is further improved by the Forester having a lot of storage areas scattered throughout the vehicle. These include a good-sized glovebox, a sunglasses holder above the rear vision mirror and multiple drink holders.
Subaru Forester first reached Australia in August 1997 and was joined by the Forester GT in September 1998. The latter is a fun little hotshot powered by a detuned WRX engine. Forester GT was renamed Forester XT in the second-generation as insurance companies don’t like the terms ‘GT’ or ‘turbo’ and were having palpitations at finding both in one vehicle’s name. The Forester GT and XT are performance off-roaders, though certainly not to the same extent as the WRX with which they share some genes.
August 2003 saw the introduction of the second-generation Subaru Forester. It features a bit more style than the original series, particularly around the multi-faceted tail but, yet again, function takes preference over fashion. The latest version arrived here in 2008 and moved further towards an SUV shape in style. Power for the standard Forester models comes from a 2.0-litre flat-four motor.
Upmarket variants received a 2.5-litre motor from 2002 and that larger capacity was continued into all Foresters since then, with improvements in consumption and emissions introduced in several stages. The extra capacity of the 2.5 goes into generating more torque rather than going for pure power - very much in the conservative way of thinking that’s so appealing to many Australian drivers.
Manual gearboxes are mated to a two-speed transfer case, but the automatic versions only have a single-range. Subaru considers the torque multiplication through the converter largely replaces the need for a low ratio on the auto. Servicing and spare parts are generally reasonably priced though we have heard isolated complaints about high prices on some less common spares.
The Forester is fairly straightforward in its layout, though it does take its own direction in using a flat engine layout. A good amateur mechanic should have no trouble doing most jobs. It’s always wise to have a workshop manual at your elbow before beginning work. And we suggest you leave the safety-related items to experts. Insurance is moderate in all standard Foresters but, as mentioned, can be expensive on the turbocharged GT and XT. Be sure to check on premium prices before getting too deeply into negotiations to buy the vehicle as young and/or inexperienced drivers may find the premiums are budget busters.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Check under a Subaru Forester in case it has been used seriously in off-road conditions. The front and rear bumpers and their mountings are likely to be the first areas to suffer. Also check the door sills, the protection under mechanical components and the lower parts of the underbody. Look over the complete body for signs of crash repairs. The easiest to spot are generally poorly matching paint colours and slight ripples in the panels.
Subaru interiors are usually put together neatly and built to last. It’s still wise to look at the condition of the seats and carpets in case the car has been knocked about, particularly in off-road use. Older engines often have that typical flat-four ‘dak-dak’ beat when they get a lot of kilometres on the clock. If it seems too bad the engine may be approaching overhaul time.
Newer ones are more refined. Be wary of a Forester GT or XT that has too much turbo whine or turbo lag that's excessive. On a turbocharged model, check the clutch isn't slipping - this usually shows up on fast upwards gearchanges. Subaru deliberately make the clutch a sacrificial component so that it fails first in order to protect other transmission parts, so a slow clutch may be a sign of hard driving.
Expect to pay from $2000 to $4000 for a 1997 Subaru Forester GX; $4000 to $8000 for a 1998 GT; $9000 to $14,000 for a 2005 Forester X; $13,000 to $18,000 for a 2007 XS; $16,000 to $23,000 for a 2009 X; $18,000 to $25,000 for a 2008 XS Premium; $22,000 to $30,000 for a 2010 2.0D; and $29,000 to $40,000 for a 2010 XT Premium.
CAR BUYING TIP
Station wagons tend to lead harder lives in their cabins than passenger cars, check the interior early in your inspection rather than launching straight into viewing the exterior and under the bonnet.