New Car Review: 2003 Subaru Forester 2.5 XS

PHOTO
Shown With Premium Package

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS



With its combination of SUV-like styling and ground clearance, 
all-wheel drive, and carlike ride and handling, the original Forester 
has been very successful for Subaru. But Subaru knows better than 
to sit on its laurels. The Forester was an early entry in the 
``crossover'' car-like SUV class, but it's far the only entry in that 
ultracompetitive class, and by now far from the newest. So, for 
2003, Subaru has a new Forester.
    
While philosophically the same as the original, combining the 
best features of a car and sport-utility into one vehicle in a manner 
Subaru calls ``Sport Utility Tough, Car Easy,'' the original Forester 
concept has been refined and expanded for the 2003 models. As the 
first-generation Forester was based on the then-current Impreza 
platform in 1997, the second generation is based on the latest 
Impreza, introduced for 2002. It's more rigid, lighter, has a revised 
suspension, and features a larger and more refined interior. Most 
obviously, the 2003 Forester has been restyled, with a bolder look. 
But more than looks are involved - all that glass area means 
increased visibility, for increased safety. Other structural 
enhancements increase passive safety, and, of course, the Subaru 
All-Wheel Driving System is found inside every 2003 Forester.
    
All-wheel drive is an integral part of Subaru's core technology, 
as is the horizontally-opposed ``boxer'' engine. The low, flat engine 
lowers the car's center of gravity for better handling and allows for 
a low hood line for improved visibility. Its inline mounting makes 
all-wheel drive easier than in a car with a transverse engine. And 
Subaru's all-wheel drive systems are simple, robust, and require no 
driver intervention. All 2003 Foresters have a 165-horsepower 2.5 
liter four-cylinder engine, with a choice of five-speed manual or 
four-speed automatic transmissions; those with the manual see the 
return of the ``hill-holder'' clutch. The standard ``X'' grade is 
comprehensively-equipped; the more upscale ``XS'' comes close to 
luxury, but not at a luxury SUV price.
    
I've been driving a new Forester XS for the past week. It's just 
like the original, only more so. The refinement of the interior and 
suspension gives it an upscale feeling, quiet and comfortable. The 
Subaru All-Wheel Driving System works, too. Even with an SUV-
like 7.5 inches of ground clearance, the new Forester feels and 
drives like a car on pavement or an improved dirt road.


APPEARANCE: The Forester's two-box shape has been updated 
with sleeker, more styled lines. In front, the latest upside-down 
trapezoid Subaru grille is flanked by large, bright, faired-in multi-
element headlights. The sides are heavily sculpted, with flared front 
wheel arches and blister-type rear fenders joined by lower cladding. 
At the rear, the triangular wraparound taillights are in the body, not 
the tailgate, and the tailgate makes a larger opening and has a much 
larger rear window. X and regular XS grades have textured gray 
bumpers and lower cladding; XS models with the Premium option 
package are monochromatic.


COMFORT: The most notable change to the `03 Forester is inside. 
Where the original was outfitted in the manner of a mid-range 
sedan, the new version has more upscale styling, with a two-tone 
color scheme and multiple textures and materials. But more than 
style is changed. Both front and rear seats have been redesigned for 
greater support and comfort. The driver sits higher than previously, 
and rear legroom has increased a bit. The motorcycle-inspired 
instrument panel is stylish and functional. There are plenty of 
storage areas around the cabin, including the instrument panel top 
box. There is room for real people in the back seat, and it is split 
60/40 for extra cargo capacity. The extra-large moonroof that is 
part of the Premium Package gives everyone inside a great view of 
any scenic wonders. The cargo floor is lower than that of a ``real'' 
SUV, for easy loading and unloading.


SAFETY: The 2003 Forester meets all passenger car safety 
standards, which are more stringent than those for trucks, including 
SUVs. It has a strong unibody structure with front and rear crumple 
zones and front side air bags. Antilock brakes are standard on all 
models; the XS has four-wheel discs. 


ROADABILITY: The second most notable change in the new 
Forester is in ride quality. The original was good, with the ride 
comfort of a compact sedan and the handling of an Impreza, but the 
new version is even better. Because of the boxer engine, and the 
chassis design, the Forester's center of gravity is very low even with 
7.5 inches of clearance. Combine that with the new platform's 
increased rigidity and the supple tuning of the rally-influenced fully-
independent long-travel suspension, and the Forester is much closer 
in handling ability to a sports sedan than a truck. The ride quality is 
closer to that of an upscale near-luxury car. All-wheel drive gets the 
power to the ground on pavement or dirt, come rain or shine.


PERFORMANCE: With its 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, the 
Forester won't be mistaken for a 22B STi WRX. Still, with 165 
horsepower at 5600 rpm and 166 lb-ft or torque at 4000, and about 
90 lbs less weight than the first generation Forester, the 2003 model 
is quicker than most other small SUVs and crossovers. The engine 
has plenty of torque available at low engine speeds for good 
performance around town, matched to the standard five-speed 
manual or available four-speed automatic transmissions. It's a little 
quicker with the manual, and the ``Hill-Holder'' clutch is back in 
manual-equipped Foresters. This is a great feature for people in hilly 
areas, and makes stopping on even a steep hill unintimidating.


CONCLUSIONS: Subaru has made its Forester crossover SUV 
even better for 2003.


SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Subaru Forester 2.5 XS

Base Price			$ 22,895
Price As Tested		        $ 24,420
Engine Type			16-valve single overhead cam 
                                  horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 150 cu. in.
Horsepower			165 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			166 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		99.4 in. / 175.2 in.
Curb Weight			n/a lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        n/a
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/60 HR16 Yokohama Geolander G900
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent struts with internal 
                                  rebound springs/ 
				  independent multilink struts with 
                                  internal rebound springs
Ground Clearance		7.5 inches
Drivetrain			front engine, all-wheel drive


PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec (manual)


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Package - includes: power moonroof,
 monotone body color					$ 1,000
Destination charge					$    525
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