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1999 Subaru Forester S

By Tom Hagin

Subaru (10:29) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

	     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,495
	     Price As Tested                                    $ 24,810
	     Engine Type              SOHC 16-valve 2.5 Liter H4 w/SMFI*
	     Engine Size                                 150 cid/2457 cc
	     Horsepower                                   165 @ 5600 RPM
	     Torque (lb-ft)                               166 @ 4000 RPM
	     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.4"/68.3"/175.2"
	     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
	     Curb Weight                                     3209 pounds
	     Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
	     Tires  (F/R)                       215/60R16 94H 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.)                              0.40       


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
	        city/highway/average                            21/26/24          
	        0-60 MPH                                    10.0 seconds
	        Towing capacity                              2000 pounds
	     * Sequential multi-point  fuel injection

A hot market has developed in this country for small, fuel- efficient, car-based SUVs and the Subaru Forester is one of them. It's available in Base, L, and uplevel S models. This week we test a well-equipped Forester S.

OUTSIDE - It's tough to categorize Forester into any particular auto segment. It is not an SUV in the classic sense of the word, nor is it a station wagon. Subaru prefers to consider it a wagon with most of the attributes of an SUV and few of its drawbacks. The shape is boxy, like an SUV, but smaller and much lower to the ground, more like a car. Its corners are sharp and angled, while the roof pillars are thin and upright. Slight bulges built into its fender wells, along with an assembly that looks like a winch-mount on the front bumper, combine to give it a look that implies ruggedness. The hardware that makes up the roof rack and its rails look typically SUV. The simple swing-up rear hatch makes loading cargo easy. Forester S models like our test vehicle ride on five-spoke alloy wheels and large 215/60R16 mud-and-snow tires.

INSIDE - With its tall cabin, most drivers have a great view of the road. The seating position is low and headroom is ample, but our taller test drivers found front legroom a bit scarce, especially with passengers riding in the rear seat. The front bucket seats are supportive and nicely shaped. Some riders felt the upholstery padding was too firm, but it has a durable feel. The controls and gauges on the Forester are logically-placed, though we found that the steering wheel partially obscures the fog light switch and some audio controls. A handy feature is a rubber mat that is molded in the shape of the cargo area. We put it to test last winter when we tossed our grime-encrusted ski boots back there. After we got home, we simply removed the mat and hosed it off. Standard features on S models include power windows, mirrors and door locks, heated front seats, overhead console, windshield wiper de-icer, tilt steering, air conditioning, cruise control, tinted glass and an AM/FM/cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD - Subaru has always done things its own way and most auto shoppers know by now that Subaru uses a unique powertrain system in its vehicles. All have all-wheel drive, and all use engines with four horizontally-opposed cylinders. This design allows the engine to be mounted low in the engine bay, which gives the car a low center of gravity. The unit is also positioned forward in the bay, which allows the front axle shafts to be perfectly placed for less friction and lots of suspension travel. There are a few changes underhood this year. Instead of the dual overhead cam layout of the original Forester powerplant, the '99 version has a single cam atop each head. It displaces 2.5 liters, uses 16 valves and makes 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque, four more lb-ft than last year. New fuel injection systems and a new layout for the valves now makes the intake and exhaust systems more efficient. As before, a five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional. Both have been slightly revised. Also, the five-speed models now use a hydraulically-operated clutch system instead of a cable-operated system.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Forester rides on a modified version of the Subaru Impreza platform. It is of unit-body construction, like most cars these days, and features independent strut-type suspension front and rear. Coil springs, tube shocks and anti-roll bars make up the main suspension items. The focus has always been on increasing chassis stiffness, which gives engineers the opportunity to soften the suspension for a smoother, more consistent ride. Forester offers 7.5 inches of ground clearance, which allows for some mild off-road duties, but long overhangs on each end limits that wilderness prowess. Speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering is standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

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

OPTIONS - Automatic transmission: $800; premium sound package: $795; Keyless entry: $225.