Rivaling the Kia Sportage, the Chevrolet Tracker and the Suzuki Grand Vitara, the Subara Forester was introduced in 1998 as a ‘hybrid' vehicle that blended the attributes of a passenger vehicle and a sport-utility vehicle. A lightweight, small crossover SUV, or arguably a station wagon, the Forester was based on the Subaru Impreza platform and drivetrain. Subaru took the subcompact Impreza station wagon and raised its roofline which added a few extra inches to both the body length and width to create the Forester. Interior dimensions grew only slightly over the Impreza as a result of the wheelbase being increased fractionally. The Forester is equipped with AWD, All Wheel Drive transmission, as are all Subaru models that are marketed in the US and other international markets since the early ‘90s.
Subaru had envisioned the 5 passenger Forester being a more ‘truck-like' SUV much like the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Trying to appeal to the SUV oriented market, Subaru advertising employed the slogan ‘SUV tough, Car Easy'. The Forester features associated with SUVs such as a large, boxy cargo area, and more ground clearance than other Subaru models. The Forester does employ a car-like unibody chassis instead of the body-on-frame construction that is associated with trucks and larger SUVs.
In India the Forester was sold as a Chevrolet along with other Chevrolet models sold there. However, since General Motors no longer holds ownership stake in Subaru's parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, sales in India of the Chevrolet-badged Forester have since ended. The Forester is produced at the Gunma Yajima Factory in Japan.
Going on sale were Base, L, and S models, each using Subaru's horizontally opposed, 165-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that was borrowed from the compact Legacy. Standard was a 5-speed manual transmission and optional was the 4-speed automatic. Power was sent automatically to the wheels with the most traction due to Forester's standard all-wheel-drive system that sensed wheel slip. Driver action was not needed. Compared to the Impreza wagon, ground clearance was elevated though Forester had no provision for low-range gearing, and was unimpressive when attempting serious off-road treks. The Forester featured 2000 pounds towing capacity.
Air conditioning and split folding rear seats were standard on the Forester, while L and S version added antilock braking. The Subaru S edition featured larger wheels and tires, a chrome grille, rear disc brakes, larger power mirrors and an upgraded interior.
For 1999 the Subaru Forester received modifications to quiet the engine, along with adding four pound-feet of torque. In an attempt to provide smoother, quicker shifts, transmission were revised. For this year new interior fabrics and colors were now available. L models received power side mirrors as standard. To improve crashworthiness, Foresters also gained structural modifications. In 1999 base-model Foresters could no longer receive the optional leather upholstery and remote keyless entry system.
For 2000 the Forester lineup was trimmed by Subaru, deleting the base-trimmed model while L and upscale S editions went on sale. The S model added a standard limited-slip differential while the Forester L received standard cruise control.
The following year the Forester received a slight facelift that included the addition of a new chrome grille, revised bumper and taillights and a reshaped bumper.
For 2002 the Subaru Forester received a standard retractable cargo-area cover along with two new option packages. The S Premium model was replaced by the OV Premium Package option. This new package included front side airbags, sunroof, and distinctive alloy wheels to the S. OV equipment plus leather upholstery was added to the new OK Package. For 2000, 2001 and 2002 the Forester was the winner of Australia's Best Recreational Four Wheel Drive.
A turbocharged Forester, the XT was introduced in 2003 alongside the naturally-aspirated XS. Similar to the turbo system of the Subaru Impreza WRX, the XT model features a 2.5L turbocharged engine. The engine in the Forester XT is most similar to the engine used in the US market Subaru Impreza WRX STi. This year's model Forester showcased weight-saving refinements that included an aluminum hood, hydro-formated front frame and perforated rails.
For 2004 and 2005 the Forester was Car and Driver magazine's Best Small SUV. For 2005 Subaru launched an STI variant of the Forester for the Japanese market. Sharing the same engine as the '05 Subaru Impreza WRX STI, the Forester STI featured a different tuning that generated 320 bhp. This year also featured the introduction of Subaru's AVCS system as a standard feature on all engines used in the Forester.
The Forester was updated to include a more upscale look for 2006. Only two models were produced for this year and they included the 2.5X which had a naturally-aspirated 2.5 L flat-4, 173hp and the 2.5 XT Limited, turbocharged 2.5 L flat-4 250 hp. The turbocharged engine that powered the Forest XT was awarded International Engine of the year in 2006. This engine is also used in the re-badged Saab 9-2X as well as the Subaru Impreza WRX.
In Australia three main models are available and these are the X which is naturally-aspirated with a 2.5 L flat-4 121 kW, the XS also naturally-aspirated 2.5 L flat-4, 121 kW, and the XT, turbocharged 2.5 L flat-4 169 kW. The XS and XT came with the option of having a ‘Luxury Pack' fitted, which allowed for leather seats and a sunroof. The XT model featured minor styling differences like the addition of a MOMO steering wheel as a standard feature. The X does not include curtain airbags, while both the XS and XT do.
Redesigned for the 2009 model year, the Subaru Forester was debuted in Japan on Christmas day 2007. The North American version was unveiled at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.By Jessica Donaldson