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1999 Subaru Forester REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Travels off-road like a car.

Pro: Handles like a car. Accelerates like a car. Rides like a car.

What’s New: Forester's engine makes more torque and the automatic transmission has been improved. L and S models have longer lists of standard equipment and two new colors are available.

Review: What do you do when sport-utility buyers won't drive home in your all-wheel drive station wagon, which is dressed up like an SUV, because it looks too 'wagony'? If you're gutsy like Subaru, you put a taller, more squared-off body on your wagon chassis, and call it good. The new Forester is a Subaru parts bin exercise, and since the parts bin is rather small at Fuji Heavy Industries, which owns the upstart all-wheel drive automaker, the car is cobbled together from a mixture of Impreza and Legacy bits.

Based on the rally-proven Impreza platform, the Forester uses the same AWD system found in other Subaru models. The 2.5-liter boxer engine comes from the Legacy Outback, and makes 165 horsepower in the Forester. Torque has been increased for 1999, earning a Stage II designation for this motor. Forester has more power than its primary competitors, though Suzuki's new Grand Vitara V6 has closed the gap.

Also, thanks to its hunkered-down stance, low center of gravity and car-based foundation, the Forester handles better than the Chevrolet Tracker, Honda CR-V, Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota RAV4. The trade-off is lower ground clearance and less capable off-road ability, but you weren't going to go too far off the beaten path anyway, were you? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know-what-I-mean?)

Inside is room for four adults, with a rear center position marked off for a fifth rider in a pinch. Cargo space is equivalent to what you'd find in the RAV4 or Tracker, and storage room abounds.

Three Forester models are available: the base, the mid-level L and the high-end S. Air conditioning, roof rack, rear defogger, tachometer, power windows, tilt steering, rear wiper/washer, and an 80-watt cassette stereo are standard on the base model. The L adds antilock brakes, power door locks and cosmetic goodies. This year, the L's standard equipment list has been expanded to include power exterior mirrors. With a base price barely over $20,000 when destination charges are included, the L is Subaru's volume seller. The uplevel S gets a toothy chrome grille, alloy wheels, bigger tires, rear disc brakes, cruise control and upgraded interior trimmings.

New to the S for 1999 is a standard All Weather Package that includes heated seats and exterior mirrors, as well as a windshield wiper de-icer. Remote keyless entry and leather is optional on the L and S. Other Forester options include CD player, alloy wheels, cruise control, trailer hitch and a variety of cosmetic upgrades. All Foresters can be painted in two new colors: Silverthorn Metallic and Aspen White.

While we are partial to the Impreza Outback Sport and Legacy Outback models, the Forester will attract buyers who want an inexpensive, functional, all-wheel drive vehicle that looks like a truck and drives like a car. As long as Subaru can keep a lid on pricing, the Forester should pick up right where the Outback wagons leave off


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