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Car reviews - Subaru - Forester - GT 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, standard equipment levels, seating position, all-round vision
Room for improvement
Relatively expensive, over-assisted steering, hard interior plastics

24 Aug 2001

EVEN though the Forester GT has been around for a few years now, it remains somewhat elusive when you try to pin a label on it.

Some say it's a true four-wheel drive, others a crossover vehicle, while a few even consider it a sports car, albeit with four doors and a large luggage compartment.

In reality it is a combination of all these, which probably explains why it sells so well in spite of its boxy, uninspired styling. It simply offers a wider range of buyers the package and lifestyle accompaniment they are looking for.

The Forester GT has certainly got some street-cred these days, more than the standard model anyway, with its WRX-style bonnet scoop and broad spoke 16-inch alloy wheels announcing to the world that it is not just another off-roader. And with a detuned WRX engine hiding beneath that scoop, it has the performance to back up the sports car attitude.

It sets the performance benchmark for the light-duty four-wheel drive class, despite lacking the low down torque of a naturally aspirated engine. Once the turbo lag is dispatched it will happily pull all the way to redline, accompanied by the requisite whistle from the turbo.

The GT is one of those cars where an automatic transmission is the preferred choice, like with the Porsche 928 if you can stretch the association that far. Driven back-to-back with a manual version, the automatic GT impressed as a better match to the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the manual mind you, it's just that the auto does a better job of keeping the turbo on song and overall it comes across as the more complete package.

The auto is not perfect though, as gear changes are quite harsh until everything gets up to operating temperature and it is none to keen to kick down to first gear out of slow speed corners - when you are otherwise left in second, waiting for the turbo to spool up. When full throttle prompts it to drop down, the change is slammed home in a mechanically unsympathetic way.

The steering is another area of contrasts, as it is undoubtedly over-assisted and it takes quite a while before its lightness begins to feel natural. But it doesn't cause any problems with accuracy and placing the car where you want from one corner to the next is simple.

In the car park though, it is all too easy to bang it against its stops and overload the power steering pump, as full lock is wound on with surprising ease.

The GT's road holding and handling is certainly as good as you'll find amongst any of its competitors. Bodyroll is pronounced, betraying its off-road focus, but it can still be hustled through corners at a remarkable pace.

The semi off-road Yokohama Geolandar tyres prove to be the limiting factor though, as tyre squeal sets in relatively early and it takes familiarity to push beyond the warning signs and utilise the grip of the four-wheel drive system.

On dirt and gravel roads the GT's tyres and raised suspension endow it with a comfortable ride and help to isolate the body from much of what is going on underneath.

On really loose surfaces, especially road verges and in corners, it doesn't feel totally stable though. The car feels light and disconnected from the road with the tyres moving over the surface rather than cutting through it - a sensation heightened by the overly light steering.

The brakes are adequate for everyday use but they do lack initial bite and faded noticeably after repeated use on a winding, downhill run - a result of the extra weight in the car over the Impreza models.

Given the Forester's strong links with the previous generation Impreza, it is interesting to note the better build quality and finish of the interior. The glovebox and centre-dash storage compartment are both flock lined in the Forester, which stops any loose items from moving around, rattling and scratching.

The door trims are also a slightly different design, made up of three or four separate parts rather than the single skin design of the Impreza. While more components, especially when made of hard plastics, usually means more places where flexing and frequency vibrations can occur, the Forester is distinctly more solid and quieter than its stablemate.

The storage compartments within the door armrests are a good idea but are not particularly well executed. The latches are quite flimsy and can cause the entire mechanism to rattle, especially when being used for their intended purpose ... as an armrest.

One of the few ergonomic mistakes in the Forester's interior was the choice of locating the outside temperature indicator in the dash while placing the digital clock in the roof console - as one would imagine needing to check the time more often that the outside temperature. Liberty's and Impreza's both have their clocks in the dash, so it would seem a strange choice to change the situation just for the Forester.

Front passenger accommodation is good, with ample headroom and comfortable Captain's-style seats with folding armrests. The only quibble was the seat base lacked support on long stints behind the wheel, which is a common problem in other Subaru models as well.

Rear seat accommodation is adequate but can border on restrictive, especially if there is a tall driver using most of the front seat travel. The rear seat base is also mounted higher than the front seats, which, combined with a vertical backrest, means headroom borders on marginal.

Parents with young children will find rear space limited for baby seats, which can easily - and illegally - end up making contact with the front seats.

Head restraints for all seating positions are a good safety feature, but the large centre position item intruded on rear vision. A smaller, adjustable item would help solve the problem.

The option pack available on the Forester GT brings with it one of the biggest sunroofs you're ever likely to see - as it creates a hole nearly half the size of the roof, from the front passengers right back over the rear seat occupants.

Given its size there is naturally no tilt function, but the wind-in-the-hair feeling it provides certainly adds to the Forester's lifestyle appeal.

When compared to the host of models entering the booming "soft-roader" class at present, the Forester is certainly starting to look old fashioned and in need of some major changes to freshen its face.

But having said that, it still offers an excellent combination of packaging, performance and equipment the others are yet to match. As a result it remains one of the top sellers in its class and is not quite ready to be pensioned off just yet.

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