One of the earliest examples of a compact crossover SUV, the Forester is an excellent example of the prescience of Subaru in recognizing the potential for this kind of vehicle. When you look at how the market is now being somewhat saturated with new compact and other crossover options, it’s interesting to look at back at one of the earlier examples.
The Forester is a front-ending 4WD model, built exclusively as a 5-door SUV. It first arrived on the scenes back in 1997 and is still in production today, with the 2021 variant featuring, for the first time, a hybrid model option.
Key Stats for the First-Generation Subaru Forester (1997)
Length: 4,450mm (’97-’00); 4,460mm (’00-’02)
Height: Max. 1,650mm
Curb Weight: 1,430kg
Key Stats for the Second-Generation Subaru Forester (2003)
Length: 4,450mm (’03-’05); 4,485mm (’06-’08)
Height: Max. 1,650mm
Curb Weight: 1,320kg-1,474kg
Key Stats for the Third-Generation Subaru Forester (2009)
Height: Max. 1,742mm
Curb Weight: 1,470kg
Key Stats for the Fourth-Generation Subaru Forester (2014)
Height: Max. 1,732mm
Curb Weight: 1,495-1,686kg
Key Stats for the Fifth-Generation Subaru Forester (2019)
Height: Max. 1,730mm
Curb Weight: 1,564-1,627kg
Subaru Forester: Background
Arguably the spiritual, and probably also the technical predecessor of the Subaru Forester was the Subaru Bighorn, also known globally as the Isuzu Trooper. The Forester is more compact, but built on a similar engineering and design principle. In addition, however, the Forester in Japan was also made to replace the Subaru Impreza Gravel Express (aka. Subaru Outback Sport in the US)
The Forester has been built through five generations, each adding new technology and appeal to this ground-breaking SUV.
First Generation Subaru Forester (1997-2002)
The crossover concept was all rather new back in the late 90s. The first Forester must have been something of a peculiar sight. It was built much like a regular passenger car, like a hatchback, but it was taller, bigger; an inflated hatchback? These days, crossovers are so normal, we take them for granted.
The first Forester features 2.0L or 2.5L engines, as well as a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. Its production ran up to 2002, during which time buyers couldn’t help but admire the excellent engineering of this new so-called “crossover.” One feature that blew people away was the torque distribution, and how fast it was able to compensate as the Forester tackled varying slopes on winding country roads.
Second Generation Subaru Forester (2003-2008)
The first model in this new generation, rolling off the production lines in 2003, featured some interesting upgrades and refinements. The first thing of note was that it was some 100kg or so lighter than the previous generation. The second generation was also notable for including other improvements that secured a higher 5-star rating from ANCAP, beating out the previous 4-star rating. The 2006 version’s engine even won International Engine of the Year.
Third Generation Subaru Forester (2009-2013)
By now, the Forester was really starting to look like a crossover SUV and not a crossover estate/SUV mix. It received new turbodiesel options, which came with a 6-speed manual transmission. Like many Subaru vehicles, however, the real changes were not noticeable from a cursory surface glance. The third generation featured new double wishbone rear suspension to deliver much better handling and a smoother overall ride. It was also the first to get Bluetooth-compatible tech on its navigation system.
Fourth Generation Subaru Forester (2014-2018)
Though this generation got a lower maximum towing capacity (680kg), it did get some nice upgrades, like the famous Lineartronic CVT transmission, sportier suspension, better fuel economy of up to 38mpg and more.
Fifth Generation Subaru Forester (2019-Present)
The newest edition of course has many extra features, probably most significant of which is the addition of a hybrid powertrain, greatly boosting fuel economy and taking the already beloved boxer engine to new heights.
Attraction as a JDM Import
Three letters help to explain why so many in the UK are interested in Japanese imports of Subaru Foresters — STi. When you need a Forester that can handle any landscape and weather in the UK, the Forester STi, with its distinctive hood scoop, powerful torque, superlative 4×4 system and yet also the same utility and space that you’d demand from a family car.
Furthermore, even though there are equally powerful engine specifications within the UK market, you’d spend a lot more running a UK car, especially in terms of tax, than you would with an older JDM model. The fact is that STi or not, the same is true of many Japan-specification Foresters vs. export ones. You just can’t get the same combination for such affordable prices in the UK.
Finally, the more of the Japanese imports, including older models, have 6-speed manual transmissions, which helps them cruise more effectively on the motorway. For all these reasons and more, take a look through our selection of Subaru Forester imports and see what kind of beneficial differences you can find compared to standard UK-market models.