Here we take a murky look at a Subaru Forester in the middle of the Norwegian winter.
In some ways, all the evils of the current car market can be traced back to this brilliant vehicle, the 1997 Subaru Forester. I don’t suppose Subaru even thought for a moment that their light, nimble and practical product would cause so many people to abandon so many other sectors of the automotive market. “SUV tough, car easy” served as the strapline in early advertisements. Based on the Impreza, the Forester can be understood as a taller 4×4 estate. It adhered to many Subaru traits in that it wasn’t very attractive inside or out and had robust rather than pretty materials inside.
The car came with a boxer engine in 2.0 and 2.5-litre capacities. This feature, coupled with a front-wheel-drive style of packaging, made it look a little reminiscent of Lancia’s early and rather gawky saloons of the 1960s – all nose and overhang, and with spartan cabins inside. This iteration survived until 2002. I still think of it as the essence of Subaru. Later ones didn’t get much prettier but did get bulkier, despite the use of aluminium and hydroformed elements.
The car in the photo today is doing what a Subaru Forester should, providing four-wheel-drive in snowy conditions and on steep inclines. It’s a long way from the typical user, who mostly uses it for shopping and commuting in bone-dry places without much by way of topological challenges.
Car Magazine compared the Forester with the Honda CR-V. To find that out, I had a look at a copy of the October 1997 issue. It surprised me that the CR-V ended up paired with the Forester. They seem to me to be cars with two very different personalities, even if technically similar. The cold numbers don’t differ much. (They are shod with the same sized tyres.) The Subaru is a bantam though, at 1,345kg against the CR-V’s 1,491kg.
Car decided the Subaru won the comparison despite its “odd” appearance. “Think of it as a supreme all-round, all-weather car… It’s practical if tight in the back, characterful and still a hoot to punt along at a reasonable lick. It is also the cheapest 4wd estate on sale, undercutting the other ‘wax jacket’ brands, Volvo and Audi, by thousands.”
The CR-V they summed up as characterless and “smacks of niche-car compromise”. Sometimes the numbers don’t really capture a car’s identity, which means customers for the Subaru’s capabilities may not even have looked once at the Honda. I’d have thought they might really have considered an Opel Frontera (for £3 grand less), a Nissan Terrano (about the same as the Forester) or even a Jeep Wrangler (dirt cheap) as much a the CR-V.
And I shall end today’s sermon by wondering why Peugeot never tried making a proper soft-roader like the Outback and the Forester.