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Used Subaru Forester review: 1997-2013

Ewan Kennedy reviews the Subaru Forester as a used buy.

Subaru Forester has long been a favourite with Australians. We appreciate the no-nonsense attitude of the Japanese company that has an emphasis on engineering and doesn’t let frills and styling stand in the way of practicality.

When the Forester was introduced in 1997 it was closely related to the Subaru Impreza hatch and had its antecedents in the original Subaru station wagons. Over the years the Forester became a medium SUV in style, a wise move as by the early 2000s small and midsize SUVs were becoming extremely popular in Australia.

It has useful ground clearance so can tackle tougher than average conditions in the bush and on the beach. Forester’s 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The latter may have been replaced by normal car tyres at some time during the Forester’s life, so check for this if you’re considering doing some semi-serious work.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, the ones that look like station wagons rather than SUVs, have long overhangs front and rear are substantial, a legacy of being adapted from a car.

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, but keep in mind the Forester is a crossover SUV, not a low-slung car so don’t hammer it too hard at bends.

Good 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 children, rather than 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 numerous storage areas throughout the vehicle. 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 slightly detuned Subaru WRX engine.

Forester GT was renamed Forester XT in the second-generation model in an attempt to fool the insurance companies into thinking it’s not a GT. The Forester GT and XT are performance off-roaders, though certainly not to the same extent as the WRX.

While on the subject of insurance companies, premiums are generally moderate for the standard Foresters. But be sure to check on prices on the GT and XT. All the more so if you’re classed as a young or inexperienced driver.

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.


Older engines often have that typical flat-four ‘dak-dak’ beat when they get a lot of kilometres on them. If it seems too bad the engine may be approaching overhaul time. Newer ones are more refined, but it’s still wise to have them checked out. Be wary of a Forester GT or XT that has too much turbo whine or excessive turbo lag.

On a turbocharged model, check the clutch isn't slipping - this usually shows up on fast upchanges. Subaru deliberately make the clutch a sacrificial component so that it fails first to protect other transmission parts. Meaning a slow clutch is likely to be a sign of hard driving.

Check underneath in case the Forester has been seriously used 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.

Carefully look at the condition of the seats, carpets and boot in case the Forester has been knocked about, particularly in off-road use. Lots of sand in the carpet may mean it’s spent time on the beach. 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.


High-performance versions of any car range are often, though not always, driven more harshly. All the more reason to have a full professional inspection before buying...


Year Price From Price To
2013 $9,400 $25,080
2012 $9,200 $23,100
2011 $7,500 $21,450
2010 $7,100 $15,950
2009 $6,500 $14,520
2008 $5,700 $12,100
2007 $4,400 $10,450
2006 $3,000 $9,240
2005 $2,600 $6,600
2004 $2,200 $5,390
2003 $2,000 $4,730
2002 $2,200 $4,620
2001 $2,100 $4,730
2000 $2,100 $4,950
1999 $2,400 $4,510
1998 $2,400 $4,400
1997 $2,400 $4,400

View all Subaru Forester pricing and specifications

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Range and Specs

GX 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,400 – 4,070 1997 Subaru Forester 1997 GX Pricing and Specs
RX Limited 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,600 – 4,400 1997 Subaru Forester 1997 RX Limited Pricing and Specs