Subaru Forester 2003 - 2008 review

Overall rating:4.5 Star Rating: Recommended
Updated: August 18, 2013
2008 Subaru Forester
2008 Subaru Forester, click for larger image

Subaru Forester is a solidly-built small wagon-like SUV. The Forester is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market. It comes with a 4-cylinder horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine and manual or automatic transmission. All-wheel drive system is standard on all models; Subaru all-wheel drive system is one of the best out there. The 2003-2008 Forester got 5-star ratings in the NHTSA crash tests. The interior is plain, but functional. Front seats are supportive and comfortable on a long trip. An available sunroof is huge. All-around visibility is excellent. Available front and rear wiper deicers along with heated seats and mirrors are a big plus for winter conditions. On the downside, the rear seat space is fairly tight. Repair and maintenance costs are higher than some of the main competitors like Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. Overall reliability is above average, but some engine problems are reported.

Subaru Forester interior
Subaru Forester interior, click for larger image
Subaru Forester cargo area
The Forester offers 64.5 cu. ft (1826 L) of cargo space
with the rear seats folded down
2008 Subaru Forester engine
Subaru Forester 2.5-liter engine

Powertrain: The Forester offers two engines: the 173-hp 4-cylinder 2.5L SOHC and the turbo-charged 224-hp 2.5L DOHC. Both are flat Boxer engines with cylinders arranged horizontally; two cylinders on each side. Both engines have a timing belt that must be replaced at recommended intervals. A turbo-charged DOHC engine requires premium gasoline. Transmission choices include a 5-speed manual with Hill Holder clutch or 4-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy: The 2008 AWD Forester with a non-turbo engine and an automatic transmission is rated at 20/26 mpg (11.8/9.0 L/100 km) by the EPA, with yearly fuel costs estimated at $2,550 with average driving. This means that on one full 16.9-gallon (64 liter) tank, the Forester can travel for 335 miles (538 km).

Handling and ride: On the road, the Forester is fun to drive. The flat horizontally placed engine gives the Forester a low center of gravity and as a result, the tall Forester feels very stable on winding roads. At the same time, the ground clearance is high enough not to worry about hitting curbs. Overall, the handling is comfortable. The steering is on the light side, but precise, with tight turning radius. The ride is fairly smooth. There is some wind and road noise at higher speeds, but not too intrusive. The non-turbo 2.5L engine has enough power for everyday driving. A turbo-charged engine is quicker, but is more expensive to maintain.


AWD System: What makes Subaru special is its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive where left and right axles are of the same length. Models with a manual transmission have an AWD system with a central limited slip differential. In automatic models the torque distribution between the front and rear axles is controlled electronically by a hydraulic transfer clutch. A viscous limited-slip rear differential is available. Although the Forester's AWD system is not designed for rock climbing, it works well on slippery roads or in moderate off-road conditions. We drove the Forester through foot-deep snow and the vehicle handled with confidence.

Safety: Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) are standard. The 2003-2008 Subaru Forester received perfect five-star ratings in the NHTSA frontal and side-impact crash tests and four stars in dynamic rollover tests. The Forester earned the 2008 Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.

Pros: Good fuel economy for an SUV, safety ratings, capable AWD system, low center of gravity, car-like handling, compliant ride, tight turning radius, visibility, decent ground clearance, standard roof rail.

Cons: Plain interior, road and wind noise, tight rear seat space, no telescopic adjustment on the steering column, small cupholders.

Similar vehicles:

Honda CR-V review Used Honda CR-V
2002-2006 review »
Toyota RAV4 review Used Toyota RAV4
2006-2012 review »

Overall: If you need a small SUV, or wagon with good all-wheel drive capability and fuel economy is important to you, Subaru Forester is worth considering. Don't let the plain look fool you; mechanically, the Forester is a very solidly built vehicle. It has a decent engine, strong body and advanced AWD system. The Forester has scored very well in the crash-tests; it offers great all-around visibility and decent towing capacity for a small SUV. In addition, you can get features like built-in roof rails to carry your bike or canoe and available wiper deicers. Reliability-wise, the 2003-2008 Forester has been pretty good, but don't expect it to be completely trouble-free. Look for non-turbo models; they more simple, easier to maintain and can run on regular gasoline. Read about what to look for on the next page.