Compact SUV; Built in Japan
  • 4-door wagon
  • transverse front-engine/all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,600 – $5,300*

1998 Subaru Forester

2000 Subaru Forester

1998 Subaru Forester interior

2000 Subaru Forester

1998 Subaru Forester

  • Cargo room
  • Maneuverability
  • Ride
  • Visibility
  • Standard ABS (L, S)
  • Acceleration (automatic transmission)
  • Engine vibrations
  • Instruments/controls
  • Rear-seat room

Forester is a worthy competitor for the better-publicized CR-V and RAV4. Hybrids are supposed to drive like cars, perform on-road like SUVs, and look like trucks. This one does.


Subaru launched the Forester for 1998 as a “hybrid” vehicle, blending the attributes of a passenger car and a sport-utility vehicle. To create the Forester, Subaru took the subcompact Impreza station wagon, raised its roofline and added a few extra inches to the body length and width. Because wheelbase was increased only fractionally, interior dimensions grew only slightly over the Impreza. Subaru intended the resulting 5-passenger vehicle to be a “trucky” SUV in the spirit of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Legacy Outback and subcompact Outback Sport, in contrast, were basically just tall-built station wagons. Base, L, and S models went on sale. Each used Subaru’s horizontally opposed, 165-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, borrowed from the compact Legacy. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard, and 4-speed automatic optional.Forester’s standard all-wheel-drive system sensed wheel slip and automatically sent power to the wheels with the most traction. No driver action was needed. Although ground clearance was elevated compared to the Impreza wagon, Forester had no provision for low-range gearing and no talent for serious off-road treks. Towing capacity was 2000 pounds. Standard equipment included air conditioning and split folding rear seats. L and S versions added antilock braking. The S edition also included rear disc brakes, larger wheels and tires, a chrome grille, bigger power mirrors, and an upgraded interior. In addition to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, Forester rivals included the Chevrolet Tracker, Kia Sportage, and (in 1999) the Suzuki Grand Vitara.

Yearly Updates

1999 Forester
Revisions intended to quiet the Forester’s engine also added four pound-feet of torque. Transmissions were revised in an attempt to provide smoother, quicker shifts. New interior fabrics and colors were offered. Power side mirrors became standard on L models. Foresters also gained structural modifications intended to improve crashworthiness. Base-model Foresters could no longer get the optional leather upholstery and remote keyless entry system.
2000 Forester
Subaru trimmed the Forester lineup for 2000, dropping the base-trimmed model. That left L and upscale S editions on sale. The Forester L gained standard cruise control, while the S added a standard limited-slip differential.
2001 Forester
Forester got a minor facelift including a new chrome grille, reshaped headlights, and revised bumper and taillights for 2001.
2002 Forester
Forester got a standard retractable cargo-area cover and two new option packages for ’02. Replacing last year’s S Premium model was the OV Premium Package option. It added front side airbags, sunroof, and unique alloy wheels to the S. The new OK Package included the OV equipment plus leather upholstery.


transverse front-engine/all-wheel drive

Subaru’s flat (horizontally opposed) overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine made 165 horsepower. Either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic might be installed.

ohc H4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/150
Engine HP 165
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 162-166
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

Road Test

With all-wheel drive instead of 4-wheel drive, and built off a car rather than truck platform, Forester is not a true SUV. But any SUV owner who drives one will be immediately impressed by its blend of carlike manners and all-wheel-drive utility.

Subaru’s flat-4 has good low-rpm power and feels more lively with manual shift, but performs acceptably with the automatic transmission. That transmission shifts smoothly and kicks down promptly, but passing power that feels adequate with just a driver aboard feels subpar with a load of passengers and luggage. A Forester accelerated to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds–almost 2 seconds quicker than Honda’s CR-V. Gas mileage is a bonus, compared to truck-type SUVs. We averaged 17 mpg in one automatic-transmission Forester, and 20.9 mpg in a long-term trial.

Road and wind noise are constant highway companions, but to a lesser degree than in most other SUVs of any stripe. The engine is gruff when pushed hard, and the idle is lumpy with the air conditioning on. Handling isn’t as nimble as a car’s, but Forester is less ponderous than truck-based midsize SUVs and far more agile. Body lean is moderate in fast turns, and AWD provides reassuring grip. With a suspension tuned for the street and not the trail, Forester does not pitch or rock on uneven pavement, as do many true SUVs. Braking feels adequate, but pedal action is spongy. You can also expect a fair degree of nosedive in hard stops.

Forester looks like a small sport utility, but has the cabin space of a compact wagon. The driving position, while higher than in a traditional sedan, does not impart the “command-of-the-road” feeling of a true SUV. However, tall, thin roof pillars and a low cowl make for outstanding outward visibility to all directions. There’s no step-up to speak of, and the doors open wide. So, entry and exit are inviting–though rear openings are quite narrow at the bottom. Head room is generous all around. Front leg room is good, but rear-seaters are squeezed for knee clearance and foot space. Forester’s dashboard is well-designed, but some buttons hide behind the steering wheel and the radio controls are too small and low to operate easily while driving.


Model Tested: 2001 Subaru Forester S

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 4
Fuel Economy - 6
Ride Quality - 5
Steering/Handling - 5
Quietness - 5


Controls/Materials - 5
Room/Comfort Front - 5
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
Cargo Room - 7


Value - 7

Total: 52


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
99.4 175.2 68.3 65.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
64.6 15.9 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
40.6 39.6 43.0 33.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Forester 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 96
Injury 72
Theft 29

Trouble Spots

Engine mounts
Description: Due to the multitude of configurations (bolt holes, accessory attachment points, etc.), cylinder heads for 2.5L engines are extremely difficult to interchange, often making the simplest solution replacement of the engine. (1999-02)
Information stickers/paperwork
Description: Subaru warns that its vehicles should not be emissions tested on some dynamometers because of the potential for serious damage. (1998-2000)
Description: Windshield is easily chipped or scratched. (1998)
Transmission problems
Description: Flawed parking rod may allow vehicle to roll when placed in the Park. Rod must be replaced. (2001-03)

Recall History

1998-99 w/antilock braking
Description: In extremely cold weather, master-cylinder seals could fail; brake pedal might then go to the floor, increasing stopping distance.
Description: Defective transmission parking rod assemblies were installed on certain vehicles with automatic transmissions. The vehicle may not remain in “Park.” Dealer will inspect and replace all affected parts.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.