Review: 2002 SUBARU FORESTER S

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SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 23,695

Price As Tested $ 26,241

Engine Type SOHC 16-valve 2.5 Liter H-4 w/SMFI*

Engine Size 150 cid/2457 cc

Horsepower 165 @ 5600 RPM

Torque (lb-ft) 166 @ 4000 RPM

Wheelbase/Width/Length 99.4"/79.3"/175.6"

Transmission Four-speed automatic

Curb Weight 3289 pounds

Fuel Capacity 15.9 gallons

Tires (F/R) P215/60R16 all-season

Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)

Drive Train Front-engine/all-wheel-drive

Vehicle Type Five-passenger/five-door

Domestic Content N/A

Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.41

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon

city/highway/average 22/27/25

0-60 MPH 10.0 seconds

1/4 (E.T.) 18.0 seconds @ 77.5 mph

Top-speed 107 mph * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

The Subaru Forester was introduced in 1998 and underwent a slight restyle last year. And while most mini-SUVs straddle the line between car and truck in terms of style and purpose, Forester is biased more toward the car side of the market.

Available as the entry-level L, uplevel S and as our tester for the week, the S with the Premium Package, Forester is holding its own in a crowded field, many of which compete using price only.

OUTSIDE - Forester is purposely built tall. More car-based than others in the mini-SUV category, it is easy to step inside because it's low to the ground, and the tall roof line gives lots of headroom. More closely akin to the station wagon than it is to the SUV, Forester's two-box shape is enhanced with integrated fender bulges and a two-tone paint scheme, which is now offered in Graystone Metallic instead of Titanium Pearl paint. The lower body cladding wraps the entire vehicle, and features a slightly ribbed set of curves about knee high. The nose is relatively upright, trimmed in chrome and backed with a honeycomb pattern, while two oversize fog lamps are protected by brush guards. Standard roof rails quickly accept the plethora of outdoor sports equipment carriers, while five-spoke alloy wheels are perfectly matched to Forester's overall appearance.

INSIDE - Because Forester is classified by Subaru as a passenger car, the first thing noticeable is the fact that there's no commanding view like that of a tall SUV. There is, however, a driver's side height adjuster that can elevate shorter drivers to a more advantageous position. The gauges are easy to read and simple to use, although the steering wheel partially obscures some controls. Comfortable, supportive front bucket seats have built-in seat heaters on S models, and are covered in leather when the Premium Package is ordered. A power moonroof, side-impact airbags and special wheels and paint are also part of the package, and we appreciated the auto-dimming rearview mirror, which is a stand-alone option. Rear seating is fine for two across, and the ability to recline the rear seatback is a worthwhile feature. However, short rear doors make climbing into the rear seat a squeeze and rear seat knee room is tight for taller passengers.

ON THE ROAD - Subaru is one of the few car makers that use a unique engine design for its vehicles. The 2.5-liter four cylinder under Forester's hood uses horizontally-opposed cylinders, which means they protrude from the sides of the engine core rather than straight upward or in a "Vee" like so many others. Subaru claims this gives the car a lower center of gravity. Its 165 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque provides plenty of power to help Forester move out quickly. It wasn't long ago when vehicles in this class barely cracked the 100 horsepower threshold. Mated to this engine was a four-speed automatic transmission and continuous all-wheel drive, which gave outstanding made road-grip. Road tenacity is further enhanced by a limited-slip rear differential.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - This is where the Forester shines. MacPherson strut-type suspension is used both front and rear, while special liquid-filled bushings are used up front in a strategic location to smooth vibrations. Stabilizer bars are also used at both ends and along with grippy, oversized all-season tires, it handles confidently, even approaching sporty. Its low underbelly keeps it from venturing too far off the road, although on-road snow and ice is no problem. No input is needed from the driver to engage the all-wheel drive system, and there's no penalty in fuel economy by using this system. The rack-and-pinion steering system features an engine-speed sensitive variable assist system that gives more road feel at highway speeds, yet makes turning the wheel easier while parking. Braking is handled by four-wheel discs in the case of Forester S models, and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard on all models.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact door beams, daytime running headlamps and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - Auto-dimming inside rearview mirror w/compass, $183; center armrest console, $96; custom tailpipe cover, $42.

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