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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For The Forester makes a fine go-anywhere workhorse and is good both on- and off-road

Against It lacks the sex appeal of a genuine off-roader, particularly inside

Verdict The Forester's great drive and practicality are let down by its drab looks

Go for… GLS

Avoid… Turbo S

Subaru Forester 4x4
  • 1. The bonnet can chip very easily
  • 2. The clutch and transmission can judder noticeably
  • 3. The clutch and driveshaft can give up after 60,000 miles
  • 4. The boot is generous and has a wide opening
  • 5. The cabin is roomy and unpretentious
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Subaru Forester 4x4 full review with expert trade views

Although the Forester was considered a rival to the likes of the Land Rover Freelander, it isn't really a dedicated off-roader. Instead, think of it as a four-wheel drive estate car on raised suspension.

The overall impression is of a no-nonsense, hard-wearing workhorse. There's none of the funky styling on a Freelander or Honda CR-V, but there is (just) enough space front and rear to take a family, as well as a decent boot.

What's perhaps most impressive is the way the car drives, with a fine blend of ride and handling. It sits a little lower than dedicated off-roaders, so the body is well controlled through the bends.

Despite what we said above, the Forester is actually quite capable off-road, although the limited ground clearance means it won't get into the really deep stuff, like, say, a Freelander.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Very powerful 2.5 XS but just doesn't feel special. Stunning pace

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

If you can, buy a face-lifted car from April 2000 (W-plate) onwards, as both the drive and interior were improved.

Although the Forester was on sale for several years, the range never gave much choice. There were only ever two petrol engines, for instance, and three trim levels.

Both engines are Subaru's trademark flat-four units, with either 121bhp or, thanks to a turbocharger, 168bhp. The more powerful unit has enough performance to scare genuine hot hatches, but unless you really need that pace, you'll be happy with the less powerful - and cheaper - 121bhp engine.

Originally, this engine came only in GLS trim, with the option of an All Weather pack, which added luxuries such as air-con, a sunroof and side airbags. This would have added some £2000 to the basic price when the car was new, but the gap today is just a few hundred pounds on the used market, and we'd say that it's worth the extra.

From early 2001, GLS trim died, and the entry model was renamed the 2.0 AWD, but it remains our favourite model.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Excellent reliability proves Subaru’s strength

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

Used Foresters are now widely available and make sound buys, as they're generally a little cheaper than the equivalent Land Rover Freelander or Honda CR-V.

The 31mpg fuel economy of the basic car also looks good when the CR-V returns only 29.1mpg. And, don't think the Turbo will cost the earth to fuel - it returns an impressive 28.5mpg on the combined cycle. Such good fuel economy figures are important, as there was never a diesel version of the Forester.

The Turbo's big downfall is its group 17 insurance rating, but at least the group 11 and 12 ratings of the other models look a lot more reasonable, if still a little higher than their rivals'.

Servicing costs are also on the high side next to the CR-V's and Toyota RAV4's, but the real headache could be unscheduled maintenance. Warranty Direct says that average repair bills on Subarus are among the highest of all makes.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Very powerful 2.5 XS but just doesn't feel special. Stunning pace

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

Subaru justifiably has a reputation for making solid, reliable cars, and the Forester does nothing to damage that. This version finished in the top two in its class in the JD Power survey in 2002 and 2003.

There have been no recalls on this version of the car and most online owner reviews have been very positive. The only complaints that come up more than once are that the bonnet chips very easily and that the clutch and transmission can judder noticeably, especially when cold.

Warranty Direct confirms that the Forester is one of the most reliable cars on the company's fleet, but warns that the clutch and driveshaft can give up after 60,000 miles.

Warranty Direct also says that claim rates are very high on Subarus, but that's largely due to the high numbers of Imprezas on their fleet, which are prone to expensive failures after being driven too hard.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Excellent reliability proves Subaru’s strength

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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