New Car Review

1998 SUBARU FORESTER S

by Tom Hagin

subaru

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,195
Price As Tested                                    $ 23,790
Engine Type                DOHC 4-valve 2.5 Liter F4 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                 150 cid/2457 cc
Horsepower                                   165 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               162 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.4"/68.3"/175.2"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3147 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      215/60R16
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                            21/26/24
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
Cargo capacity                                  64.6 cu.ft.
Towing capacity                                 2000 pounds
     * Multi-point fuel injection

Subaru, that quirky car maker that introduced us to small, affordable all-wheel-drive wagons and sedans, continues to gain momentum. Coinciding with the continuing popularity of SUVs, the company has created an all-new model called Forester, and it's ready to compete with the several mini-SUVs available from its Asian rivals.

Forester comes in three trim levels: Base, L and the upscale S model, which we test this week.

OUTSIDE - Forester borrows heavily from both the Legacy and Impreza Outback models. The body has been raised up on the suspension by over an inch, but where the Outback models achieved this with separate body spacers, Forester's extra height has been built into the chassis. The shape is both squared-off and rounded, given the upright grille and "tallish" cabin. Most sharp corners have been smoothed, while bulging fender flares sweep into integrated mudguards to give it a more rugged off-road appearance. A set of mesh-covered fog lamps flank a plastic brush guard that has been molded into the front bumper, further evidence of Forester's off-road intentions. Forester S models come standard with five-spoke alloy wheels mated to beefy 215/60R16 Yokohama-brand tires.

INSIDE - Forester feels and drives more like a tall station wagon than an SUV. The seating position is low but outside visibility is good. With its tall roof, headroom is abundant, but legroom in the rear is tight. Because its full-sized spare tire is tucked cleanly beneath the raised rear floor instead of hanging off the rear door, rear vision can become blocked when the cargo area has been loaded with "stuff." The gauges are legible and in the right spots, and a host of standard features make its interior very hospitable. Cubby holes abound, and the rear seats fold flat so long items can be hauled inside. Our S model came with air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, along with a washable plastic tray lining the rear so muddy boots won't be a clean-up hassle. Also standard is a roof rack, AM/FM/cassette, multi- adjust driver's seat, overhead console and cruise control.

ON THE ROAD - Subaru is one of a few automakers that continues to use a horizontally opposed engine, like that of the Volkswagen Beetles and busses of yesteryear. Over the years, however, Subaru power was best described as merely adequate. Fortunately, technology has found its way into the little unit, as it now uses dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, electronic fuel injection and a computerized engine management system. Its 2.5 liter four cylinder engine puts out 165 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to push the little SUV along in a hurry. It feels lively off the line, thanks to the torque ratings of which 95 percent is available at a low 2800 rpm. Its 0-60 mph time is better than that of the competition, though it could use a bit more zip in the mid-rpm range, from around 55 to 75 mph. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while our test car was equipped with an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Forester uses MacPherson strut suspension and anti-roll bars both front and rear, along with coil springs and variable assist power rack and pinion steering. It handles well, with minimal body roll, thanks to its low center of gravity and wide tires. To control its all-wheel-drive system, an electronically-controlled hydraulic clutch-pack determines how much power is sent to which axle. Around town, when things are dry and grippy, 90 percent of the engine's power is sent to the front and 10 percent to the rear. When the going get slippery, however, a 50/50 split is possible, with the split varying as necessary. Sensors detect if a wheel is slipping, and send power to where it's needed. Many other factors are measured by the car's computer, but the transition is seamless and almost undetectable, so there is no second-guessing by the driver. Braking is by four-wheel disc brakes (S models) with a four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS, and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Automatic transmission: $800; Cold Weather package (includes heated seats and outside mirrors): $300.

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