The last-generation Subaru Forester existed as a mix of crossover SUV and station wagon geared toward smaller families and active couples.
Flexible cargo space, plenty of at-hand storage and a five-passenger configuration made it an ideal “any road, any time” hauler that felt less like an SUV and more like a car.
A hit with thousands of Canadians, it was on sale from 2003 to 2008 until being replaced in 2009 by a new version.
All last-gen Forester models got a 2.5-litre flat-four ‘boxer’ engine with around 170 horsepower. A five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission were available.
The rarer Forester 2.5XT got a de-tuned version of the Subaru WRX STI’s boxer turbo engine, which generated 210 horsepower before 2006 and 235 horsepower after.
Note that the turbocharged Forester 2.5XT requires pricier premium fuel and will cost more to insure.
Either engine powers all four wheels through Subaru’s Symmetrical All Wheel Drive (AWD) system, which provides automatic, decision-free maximization of traction on any surface.
A total of 1,376 litres of cargo space was available with the rear seats folded, and the Forester could also tow more than 2,000 pounds as required.
What Owners Like
Owners typically report good fuel mileage with non-turbocharged Forester models, and also tend to appreciate high safety ratings, driving confidence in any weather, as well as all-around flexibility.
What Owners Hate
Common complaints centre around rear-seat legroom and a noisy highway ride. Other owners wish for more style and expressiveness from the Forester’s cabin, which is sometimes characterized as “barren” or “sparse.”
An almost insignificant number of problems were found in owner’s forums, though a check for proper operation of all interior features is recommended. Pay particular attention to the climate control system and air conditioning.
Models with manual transmissions should be scrutinized for any signs of clutch or synchronizer wear, which could be evidenced by slippage or grinding during gearshifts.
If you’re unsure, ask a mechanic for help in ensuring the former owner isn’t trying to pass off an expensive clutch replacement.
By keeping things simple with proven and effective drivetrain hardware and a solid platform, the Forester has earned a reputation as a well-liked machine. Shoppers in the used crossover wagon market are advised to include it on their list of test-drives.