Subaru Forester 2003 - 2008 review
If you don't need a large SUV, but value the AWD capability, consider Subaru Forester. The 2003-2008 Forester is a solidly built small car-based SUV with good safety ratings, car-like ride and great all-weather handling, thanks to an advanced all-wheel drive system. The Forester has one of the best fuel economy among SUVs with 4WD.
2008 Subaru Forester, click for larger image
Subaru Forester interior, click for larger image
Subaru Forester has a unibody construction with fully independent strut suspension on all four wheels.
All-wheel drive is standard.
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. Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) are standard.
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. I drove the Forester through foot-deep snow and the vehicle handled it easily.
The Forester offers 64.5 cu. ft (1826 L) of cargo space
with the rear seats folded down
Subaru Forester 2.5-liter engine
The Forester interior is plain, but practical. Front seats are supportive and comfortable on a long trip. Controls are simple and easy to use. An available sunroof is huge; when open, it feels like in a convertible. Large windows and side-view mirrors provide excellent visibility all around. Available front and rear wiper de-icers along with heated seats and mirrors are a big plus for winter conditions.
On the downside, the rear seat space is fairly tight.
On the road, the Forester is fun to drive. The flat horizontally placed engine gives the Forester low center of gravity and as a a result, the tall Forester feels very stable on a winding road. 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.
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 2008 Forester received 2008 Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. 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 liters) tank, the Forester can travel for 335 miles (538 km).
- Good fuel economy for an SUV
- Great all-weather handling
- Car like ride
- Tight turning radius
- Capable AWD system
- Good crash-test ratings
- Excellent all-around visibility
- Decent ground clearance
- Low center of gravity
- Standard integrated roof rails
- Plain interior design
- Road and wind noise
- Small cupholders
- Tight rear seat space
- No telescopic adjustment on the steering column
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; no wonder there are so many Subaru enthusiasts around.
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, Subaru Forester you can get features, like built-in roof rails to carry your bike or canoe, available wiper deicers and cargo cover.
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 are simpler, easier to maintain and can run on regular gasoline.
| Used Honda CR-V
| Used Toyota RAV4
What to look for buying a used Subaru Forester
Once you found a vehicle you are interested in, check the used car history records using the vehicle's VIN number to find out about reported previous accidents or other issues. Read more: how to check used car history.
The service records is another important thing to check when buying a used car. You want to know if the vehicle has been maintained regularly. If the engine has been overheated in the past, avoid the car, overheating can cause many problems down the road. Watch for oil and coolant leaks; if you find any, have it checked with your mechanic or a Subaru dealer before buying a car; in some cases (e.g. leaking head gaskets) the repair might be quite expensive.
For models with a manual transmission, check the clutch operation. Watch for a piston slap noise (tapping or knocking) when the car is started cold. Check if the timing belt has been replaced. If you notice blue smoke from exhaust, even just at a startup, avoid the car. Read more: what to look for when buying a used car. I certainly recommend to have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic familiar with Subaru before signing a contract. If you don't feel right about the car, check a few other similar vehicles to compare; it's a lot easier to evaluate the vehicle's condition when you compare a few similar cars.
Few tips how to keep your engine in a good shape:
Have your oil changed regularly, for the engine to last. A turbocharged engine is more sensitive to the oil quality; don't use poor quality oil. Check your tire pressure regularly; unequal tire pressure will cause increased wear of the 4WD system components. Overheating the engine may cause expensive damage; check the coolant (antifreeze) level regularly and have it topped up if it's low. Subaru recommends using a special cooling system conditioner whenever the coolant is changed, check with your Subaru dealer. Stick with original Subaru parts and fluids. For repairs take your Subaru to a dealer or a mechanic closely familiar with Subaru products - there are many specifics. Have your car inspected, at least once a year, in a garage on the lift (e.g. when doing tire rotation) to keep it safe. If you need an owner's manual for your Subaru, visit this page: Car owner's manuals. Looking for a DIY repair manual, read here: Online car repair manuals.
More on maintenance:
| 10 simple tips how to keep
your car running longer »
| Easy car maintenance
checklist with photos »
Subaru Forester short specifications (2008 US model)
| 99.4 in (2525 mm)
176.6 in (4485 mm)
68.3 in (1735 mm)
62.6 in (1590 mm)
62.4 in (1585 mm)
8.1 in (205 mm)
7.9 in (200 mm)
| Without moon roof:
rear seatbacks up:
rear seatbacks down:
With moon roof:
rear seatbacks up:
rear seatbacks down:
30.7 cu. ft. (869 L)
68.6 cu. ft. (1943 L)
28.9 cu. ft (818 L)
64.5 cu. ft (1826 L)
|| 2,400 lb. (1087 kg) - when towing a trailer with brakes.
|2.5-liter, all-aluminum, horizontally opposed
4-cylinder, SOHC, 16-valve, with variable valve lift;
173 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 166 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
2.5-liter, all-aluminum, horizontally opposed,
4-cylinder, DOHC 16-valve, with variable valve timing;
224 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 226 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
|EPA Fuel Economy (US mpg, L/100 km):|
| 2.5L Non-turbo, Manual:
2.5L Non-turbo, Automatic:
2.5L Turbo, Manual:
2.5L Turbo, Automatic:
| city: 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km)
hwy: 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km)
city: 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km)
hwy: 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km)
city: 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km)
hwy: 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km)
city: 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km)
hwy: 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km)
| Non-turbo models:
| Regular 87
|Fuel Tank Capacity:
||15.9 US gallons (60 liters)
|Engine Oil Capacity:
||4.2 US qt (4.0 liters, 3.5 Imp qt)