A real world review of a car you may or may not be interested in; the Subaru Forester Turbo.
WHAT: Subaru Forester S/Tb turbo (SF chassis)
USED & ABUSED FOR HOW LONG: 3 years and counting
MILEAGE COVERED: Approx 14,000 miles
FUEL EFFICIENCY: 300 miles on a full tank. Probably something like 20-25mpg.
PROS: As you’ll read everywhere, the Forester Turbo is essentially a larger Impreza wagon on raised suspension. Jap import ones like this one generally have more power than the farmer-spec UK models which comes in useful. Having owned a UK Impreza 2000 turbo (classic shape) I can tell you that this Forester is a fair bit more fun. Not only does it seem to to pick up with greater urgency you get the whole ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ thing – despite the factory kit, nobody ever seems to expect much from the boxy Forester, which leaves them a little confused when they’re eating Boxer exhaust fumes. Small things I love about it are the numerous cubby holes inside (they’re literally everywhere) and the fact it makes heavy snowfall a delight – with decent tyres you’ll not have an issue in any weather.
Reliability is one of the most impressive things though. It’s like a tank. Some maintenance things like a rear wheel bearing and brake pads have been needed, but it’s generally been very low cost to keep on the road. Not bad for a big barge of a wagon with 200bhp+. My car was used to tow a 205 rally car around the country in its previous ownership and by all accounts it did that with ease (it even towed the 205 on a trailer hitched to another car and dragged the duo up the side of a small mountain).
CONS: The major bad point is insurance. Many companies don’t even list the Forester as a car they cover and those that do charge a premium for being an import. It’s probably worth about £1500 in its current guise but I’m paying close to half the value of the car just to keep it legal. The boot space is also not that impressive for an estate/SUV, which is confusing. Surely headroom space can’t be the only advantage over an Impreza of the larger body.
Performance-wise the brakes and suspension are really the weak areas. This might not be the same on all of them, but certainly in this case the brakes need plenty of foresight to be properly effective and the suspension bogs down through bends. This is annoying as you know there’s a pretty keen handling car behind the sogginess. Impreza WRX wagon suspension up to 2002 is meant to be a straight swap and would probably help in the latter case (in fact a lot of Impreza parts are inter-changeable). They also have some pretty dodgy interior trim patterns.
POINTS OF INTEREST: A lot of Forester turbos are auto. Not a clue if they’re any good, but a manual has always got to be the first option. Some have a panoramic roof too, which delivers a massive opening and would have been on my hit list if I’d realised. Even though it’s getting on a bit there are some touches that modern cars don’t even seem to have; the headlights going out when you turn the engine off for example. It’s an obvious idea and has probably saved my battery a few times, but it’s amazing how many modern cars don’t have similar.
VERDICT: If it was more economical, easier to insure for reasonable money and had slightly better brakes and suspension it would be a near perfect daily driver. Real value for money.
PROJECT INSPIRATION: Lifted suspension for off-road use is one way to go, but slammed and ready for the track would be a preferable choice. They can look quite hard with minimal work.