“Carrigrua Is Another World, Darling… We’re Not Like Them.”

Here we take a murky look at a Subaru Forester in the middle of the Norwegian winter.

1997 Subaru Forester. Image: R. Herriott

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.

1997 Subaru Forester. Image: R. Herriott

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.”

1997 Subaru Forester. Image: R. Herriott

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.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

39 thoughts on ““Carrigrua Is Another World, Darling… We’re Not Like Them.””

  1. Fine car. Essence of Subaru indeed. They make a right mess of it these days, I am afraid.

  2. Much comment at the time on how surprisingly poor the Honda CRV was in slippery conditions. The ‘AWD’ system relies on the front wheels loosing traction before transferring power to the rear. On muddy ground, the most common off-road condition in NZ’s maritime climate, the delay in power transfer as all the gubbins worked, meant you were stuck with all four wheels slipping. Sales of Foresters, X-Trails, and Rav4s benefited as a result.

  3. My memories concerning this car, is that it was like a fast ship. In this country it could go almost anywhere and really fast. This is what a fast ship does in the sea. Fast because it used a two litre engine. Anywhere, in all the roads with asphalt, and all the gravel and stone roads found on the countryside. It has not the round clearance of a Suzuki Jimny to cope with any type of terrain, it has enough to go through all kinds of road surfaces, including neglected ones with large holes and stones scattered all around. It’s a pittance the fire fighting forces never acquired it. It was roomy inside, durable and a high quality product, really. I liked its design, it showed a distinctive personality. However, the Subaru commercial footprint in this country was small, it gained local presence as a result of this model, and lost it after the end of this model.

  4. OK, I give up. Carrigrua: Obscure company incorporated & dissolved in the ’90s, a racehorse or a place in sight of Vinegar Hill….. I just cannot work out the link. And now my brain hurts, which isn’t good on a Saturday morning – particularly after yesterday’s experience of following a white Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz for several miles. Nurse, the screens….

    1. See what you did there Robertas…

      Here’s a little brain teaser for the DTW readership on a Saturday. The attached image refers to a well known piece of contemporary music where this (also music-related) symbol is mentioned in the lyrics. This song also formed the framing device to a fairly recent (re-run) DTW piece.

      We’ll see who’s paying attention…

    2. The titles are all related to an area of Cork and will feature in a novel I won´t write. I have the story line worked out but it´s just too offensive to put into print.

    3. Contemporary music that’s (presumably) highbrow? I’m out! 😁

    4. Eóin, the voice is telling me “don’t look back, you can never look back.”

  5. Good morning Richard. A great car in its proper habitat, and great, moody photographs too. Excellent work!

    Sadly, S.V. is right: the current equivalent is a stylistic horror…

    1. Well I’m glad we’ve got the Carrigrua conundrum sorted – but I’m now even more confused by the music mystery. The image is not one with which I am at all familiar…… And there’s worse: I dare not comment on either of the excellent Subaru Foresters, owned by friends, which have given sterling and totally reliable service for several years now because if I were to identify the fuel on which they run our editor would probably have apoplexy and ban me from the site.

    2. I have to wonder if all of Subaru’s stylists quit and there’s just one overworked intern busy slapping the face of the Viziv concept onto as many models as they can get their hands on…Subaru was never about excellent design and have made a fair few homely vehicles throughout their history, but their current lineup just seems especially lazy in this age of the Koreans making every last one of their cars look bespoke.

    3. Hi Alexander. You’re not kidding: I just took a look at Subaru’s US website and the company’s range includes four very similar looking and similarly priced SUVs:


      Overkill, surely, and bound to be cannibalizing sales of each other.

    4. I had a look at Subaru´s website. They have a medium and larger saloon, a sporcar and some SUVs. In this day and age it looks like a complete range of vehicles. The wierd thing is the price range is very narrow. They all look properly plain and not-that-pretty. Superb!

    5. No matter, they’re wildly popular over here in the States as we’re by far Subaru’s most lucrative market. They’re the only brand to really crack the ‘liberal’ outdoorsy image, as ridiculous as such partisan marketing must sound to Europeans, so they sell in massive numbers to West Coasters looking to go ‘overlanding’ when in reality they are simply driving to Whole Foods. I do also wonder how the CUV sector can support such niche fragmentation when it comes to sizing as the XV Crosstrek and Forester are both theoretically Impreza-based, yet the latter is marketed as a much larger and more substantial offering.

      For all their foibles, I’ve driven several of the previous generation Foresters and as far as horrid CUVs go they feel properly functional and honest; the DLO is huge compared to most modern cars, the CVT gives them a rather utilitarian and agricultural feel, and they’re decent off-road. I wouldn’t own one myself, but it’s refreshing that people still go for something so ‘tech-backwards’ in this day and age of overcomplication.

  6. Thanks, Richard. Ah yes, the Forester: brief blip of a post-WRX future for Subaru that never really happened (Subaru withdrew from rallying around that time, it memory serves). At least in the Netherlands where tax regulations have made Subarus an inviable proposition, although the brand still holds out somehow. I liked the Forester for the same reason I liked the first Nissan Qashqai: it is an – in my eyes attractive – half way house between a car and an SUV and more accomplished than the raised stationwagons from Volvo and Audi (and Subaru… ahem). It wasn’t particularly attractive, but its businesslike styling holds an appeal that its increasingly elephantiasis-afflicted successors don’t. Being around *that* age when the thing was current, I particularly liked the one with the WRX engine and the discreet bonnet scoop that signaled it to those in the know:

    In another, less climate afflicted world I could very well plump for a third-gen legacy sedan as a youngtimer:

    Although like Volvos, Subarus aren’t cheap to run, I gather.

  7. We got a first gen Forester as a loaner car once when our family impreza wagon needed a new rear wheel bearing (again).

    At the time, i remember we didn’t like it all that much compared to the impreza as it had higher NVH, less ride comfort and only a tiny bit more space.

    good for hat enthusiasts though, as it had lots of headroom.

  8. Robertas Parazitas
    Hi Robertas I’m struggling with the “Dead Head” avatar. Help me please…

  9. The next gen SG 2.0 DOHC Turbo JDM was the one to go!
    A no compromise car, went wherever you chose to go, on any surface, and it went FAST!
    Only setback its’ “drinking”habit: 12-14 l/100km was easy, no foot on the throttle. Step on it a bit and yo-ho all the way!
    The full power came after 2400 rpm and came as a surprise…for many.
    Great car, shines especially in a mountainous landscape, don’t think it suits lowlands so well except when it rains!
    At its time it ruled the competition.

  10. Our only car is an SF5 Forester. It’s silver, it’s a 2.0 S/Turbo automatic (2001 refresh shape). It’s 21 years old and it’s brilliant.

    It’s our faithful little dog.

    Yes, the paint is suffering from UV damage, and it has a mismatched silver door from an earlier model after a battle with a deer in france, but it’s only got 90,000 miles on it and it doesn’t miss a beat.

    I love the brick styling – very much in the Volvo 240 vein. No nonsense, pure, purposeful.
    I love the box flares on the wings – very ‘rally car’.

    The interior is very well appointed – not the most ‘lux’ of materials but everything works, everything is comfy, and well appointed (heated seats, arm rests, double-size moon-roof), and the durability really strikes you compared to an Audi A2 of similar vintage we had where the ‘soft touch’ plastics were all wearing off around the buttons, along with the icons that signified what they did.

    I love the bonnet scoop (not actually the WRX engine – or at least not the same block and turbo combination – that was reserved for the JDM-only S/TB and T/TB models) and it goes at a fair old lick, if you aren’t worried about petrol costs.

    And I love its stealth. It’s sort of agricultural, and is often understimated.

    But yes – the Achilles heel – petrol.
    American reviews always mention its ‘economy’, but in the UK it’s not a cheap car to run, and I’ve taken to setting the cruise at 55/60mph on long runs when I’m not in a hurry just to attempt a better mpg.

    But mostly it’s our everyday car. Big enough for trips to the dump, throw a bike in the back, shopping, furniture, icy road, gravelly road. It does it all—swiss army knife car, with a boxer rumble and a happy wag of its tail.

  11. “And I shall end today’s sermon by wondering why Peugeot never tried making a proper soft-roader like the Outback and the Forester.”

    I always saw the first-gen 3008 and the ill-fated 508 RXH as half-hearted attempts in doing it, mating the AWD to an automated gearbox and a battery that could only go 5 miles in full electric mode, among other strange compromises.

    While I like the MkI 3008, the lines of the first-gen 508 do no favours to the RXH, both inside and outside. Had Peugeot insisted and made a RXH version based on the current 508, I would seriously consider it.

  12. “And I shall end today’s sermon by wondering why Peugeot never tried making a proper soft-roader like the Outback and the Forester.”

    “We will now sing hymn number 242, ‘The Lord Will Bless His People With Peace’”.

    The Forester really is an anti-SUV, in much the same way as a Fiat Panda 4×4 is an anti-off-roader. They are all go and little show.

    1. Sorry Charles, you’re wrong about the Panda 4×4 – SWMBO has one and I can assure you it’s an absolutely brilliant off-roader which fits through gaps which stop most “proper” 4x4s in their tracks!

    2. I think you might be doing Charles a disservice, John, although he probably should have put “off-roader” in quotes.

      He said “all go and little show” which is bang on the money for such a useful little vehicle, I think. ☺

    3. Hi Eduardo and Charles. Richard and you both are forgetting the “Why make it when you can fake it?” Peugeot 4007, courtesy of Mitsubishi:

    4. Hello JTC & Daniel. Yes, Daniel’s right – what I meant say was that the Panda and Forester are very effective, without trying to portray any image, such as being an SUV or ‘off-roader’. They’re what people who really need cars that can handle difficult conditions, but don’t have enormous budgets, drive. In a way, they have their own low-key image, because of this.

    1. You might have to look back, although you should never…

  13. Charles & Daniel – my apologies gentlemen; I did indeed mis-read. I think I’m having one of those days…..!

    1. By way of clarification or wtfihoab, the lyric goes as follows:

      “Out on the road today
      I saw a “Dead Head” sticker on a Cadillac
      A little voice inside my head said
      “Don’t look back, you can never look back.”
      I thought I knew what love was
      What did I know?
      Those days are gone forever
      I should just let them go”

      Boys of Summer – Don Henley 1984.

      Which leads us to:

      Boys of Summer

      I’m not convinced by the notion of ‘highbrow’ Daniel, but it’s a good song. Which is saying something from a fella who REALLY doesn’t enjoy The Eagles.

    2. How about Bruce Hornsby and the Range? For me, ‘Scenes from the Southside’ is the definitive soundtrack to accompany an American road trip. Hornsby also played for The Grateful Dead for a time, if I recall correctly.

  14. I’ve long admired Subarus, mostly thanks to Colin McRae. When my son decided he needed a petrol automatic estate, a 2011 Legacy seemed to fit the bill and I travelled with him to south-east England to test drive it and bring it home on the ferry.The problem was that the Irish Revenue and Customs didn’t really know how much import duty to impose, since nobody else had been inclined to import a family holdall that would cost €1200 a year in road tax ( 2.5 petrol…). Eventually Revenue refunded some of what he paid them, and the vehicle gave good service for a while – the all-wheel drive came in handy for crossing wet mountain fields to view wind turbine sites.
    The problem with Subarus (apart from broken crankshafts on the diesels ) is that they have two head gaskets, situated low down close to the road, exposed to water spray etc. If you keep them long enough the gaskets are likely to fail, it seems.

  15. About that ’59 Cadillac I was following – earlier on the same day I’d followed a Tesla along the same road (single carriageway, winding and lined with trees & high hedges). The Tesla’s width prevented the driver from keeping his o/s wheels to the left of the centre line and he was having to brake heavily before creeping round each bend, then accelerating away as only a Tesla can. Not so the Cad – despite its size it stayed in lane and made stately progress at a constant 48mph, brake lights only coming on when we had to stop at some traffic lights. Perhaps being LHD helped the driver.
    Suddenly a 60+ year old “Yank tank” looked far more at home on English roads than a state-of-the-art EV. And have you seen the size of the boot – sorry – trunk?!

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