Classic CARmentary: 1999 Subaru Forester S

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

For me, driving the Forester was like coming home again.  My very first press event was the lead-in for the Forester and Impreza 2.5RS.  I thought highly of the Forester then, and clearly still did a year-and-a-half later. 

The one thing to which I can personally attest, though not mentioned in the article, is that the Forester had excellent brakes.  While driving south on U.S. 1 in Arlington, my gaze drifted over to Porsche of Arlington on my right.  Suddenly, my wife screamed “Look out!”  The left turn lane just beyond the dealership had backed up into my lane and I came within inches of hitting the stopped car in front of me.  Maybe automatic emergency braking isn’t so bad…

As for Subaru’s obsession with frameless door glass, which I mention below.  I asked about it one time at an auto show, and the Subaru representative said that it was for safety.  He then put his hand between the window and B-pillar and slammed the door shut.  The window gave a little bit to accommodate his now-trapped hand, but no injury.  Pretty cool.

I wrote the following review on January 18, 1999.

Subaru recently found itself in a bind – some customers found their successful Impreza and Legacy Outback wagons too much like Mom’s Vista Cruiser and were leaving the showrooms in search of more macho trucks. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em…

Introduced for 1998, the rugged-looking Forester joined the “hybrid” market – they look like trucks on the outside, but they’re cars underneath. Riding on a stretched version of the platform of the all-wheel drive Impreza, its squarish body and prominent grill, as well as other touches pulled from the Outback, gives the Forester a look that’s far less toy-like than its Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 competition. Only the frameless door glass, which Subaru seems partial to, seems out of place.

Subaru thankfully decided to equip all Foresters with the powerful 165 horsepower, 2.5 liter four cylinder from the larger Legacy. This gives the Forester a distinct advantage over the CR-V and RAV4, which are both saddled with smaller, less powerful engines. While a five-speed manual is standard, our tester had the smooth-shifting four-speed automatic. The 975-pound payload and 2000-pound trailer towing capacity should meet most needs.

With its short 99.4-inch wheelbase and 175.2-inch length, you can maneuver the Forester into parking spaces and narrow alleys that a Ford Expedition could only dream of. Subaru’s all-wheel drive system is on-road only, but in inclement weather, you’re thankful for it.

The main advantages of the Forester are its larger height, width, and cargo volume than both the Impreza and Legacy wagons. Entry and exit, as well as the ride and handling, are nearly the same as a car’s. However, you sit higher, and headroom is superior. A removable washable cargo tray is a nice touch, and storage areas abound.

To make the Forester safer than most SUVs, it is classified as a car, meaning that it has to meet stricter crash-test requirements than the CR-V and RAV4, which are both classified as trucks.

Even the optioned out S model with leather seats and all the power toys comes in well under $30,000. Looked at the price of an Explorer lately?

For more information contact 1-800-SUBARU-3


Type: Four-door Sport-Utility Vehicle
Engine: 165-horsepower, 2.5 liter inline-4
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 21 city/26 highway
Tested Price: $24,810