1998 Subaru Forester Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Sue Mead Sue Mead Editor
December 31, 1998

Subaru of America is a car company on the move, and its all-new Forester is sure to move it even further down the road to success.

Internationally, this carmaker is well respected as a champion in the World Rally Cup races. In the United States, Subaru is respected as the manufacturer that now sells a lineup of all-wheel-drive models built for all-weather driving, recreational driving or performance driving. Record sales have been reported for the past two years, with Outback models the strongest sales leaders in its lineup.

Borrowing on this reputation and success, Subaru has successfully expanded its Outback line by creating what it calls the next "hybrid" of the world’s first sport-utility wagon: the Forester. A taller, stronger and more rugged-looking passenger car, the Forester is selling beyond Subaru of America’s wildest dreams and straining production runs.

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With fewer rounded surfaces than the Outback, the Forester is essentially like its predecessor but supported by a shorter wheelbase that’s closer to that of the smaller Impreza Outback Sport. And further pushing the distance from the traditional SUV world is Forester’s government passenger-car rating, a certification that means it must pass much tougher side-impact crash tests that trucks and SUVs don’t have to meet.

Yet the Forester comes with the boxy looks and styling of the SUV class. For instance, it has a taller greenhouse which aids with visibility while helping it stand apart from its siblings with ease. It stands apart in other ways, too. Compared to the mini-SUVs, Toyota’s RAV4 or Honda’s CR-V, the Forester possesses a more affordable list price, better ride and drive, beefier engine output from the 2.5-liter (165 hp) four-cylinder boxer engine and many of the carlike attributes the competition tries to build into its cars. Helping to underscore the hybrid title Subaru employs is Forester’s 2,000-pound towing capacity.

1998 Subaru Forester

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Equipped with Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system for seamless year-round traction interaction, Forester can truly run in the backcountry with a credible 7.5 inches of ground clearance, which tops the Outback’s numbers (7.3 inches) and rivals those of many compact SUVs. Under normal conditions, 90 percent of the traction is at the front wheels. Some 40 percent can go to the backside or any wheel that needs it when called upon. It does not, however, possess low-range capability for true grunt and growl offroad.

Subaru afficionados will find the interior controls similar and intuitive. While interior room belies the car’s outward appearance, there’s less rear cargo-carrying capacity than one would hope. A somewhat skimpy rear cargo area is offset by a 60-40 split-folding rear seat, a power accessory port, a power port and many cupholders.

The Forester's ride and drive were marked by excellent handling derived from its front-wheel independent suspension and trademark boxer engine that combine to give good traction and predictable performance with everyday steering and braking as well as with panic and avoidance maneuvering.

The Forester comes in three trim levels (Forester, Forester L, Forester S) and optional four-channel ABS, standard 15-inch wheels and optional 16-inch aluminum wheels (S model) and a four-speed automatic transmission on the L and S editions.

Prices range from $18,695 for a base model to $22,195, excluding the $495 delivery charge.

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