Take Time to Appreciate the First Generation Subaru Forester

Photo: Subaru

There are times in this life when I see on the street a car I’ve never driven and say to myself “Damn, I dig that car and I don’t know why.” I once declared the fifth-gen Hyundai Sonata “handsome” and I voiced my “deep respect” for the Pontiac Torrent. Now it’s time to show appreciation for the first-gen Subaru Forester. I hope you will join me in this.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Jeep Cherokee XJ—a boxy, lifted four-wheel drive wagon. But what I’m not a huge fan of is its fuel economy, wind noise, and handling. I guess that’s why, for the past 15 years or so, I’ve been ogling Subaru Foresters, and giving nods of approval.

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Photo: Subaru

Their styling is clean and functional, even stylish, and I think that comes down to a couple of factors. First, there’s the boxy, upright look of the vehicle, which makes it feel old-school and a bit rugged. That, combined with the short overhangs and the small size just makes the geometry pretty much perfect in my eyes.

Then there’s all the glass. A big greenhouse is a lovely look on an automobile, and it plays a big part in giving SUVs like the Land Cruiser FJ60 and the Jeep Grand Wagoneer their drool-worthy status. The first-gen Forester has lots of glass on the sides, and my favorite part of the car is the tall rear hatch glass:

Photo: Subaru
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Then there’s the plastic body cladding, which actually works here. Some folks would prefer that to be body-colored, but I’m a practical man, and if some jackass decides to open their door into my car in an O’Reilly Auto Parts parking lot, it’d be nice to know I won’t get a ding or have to break out the touch-up paint.

I will admit that not all Foresters have the gray cladding, and yet, they still look pretty good, but the ones with the cladding have my heart.

The first-gen Forester came with a single engine option in the U.S.: a 2.5-liter flat-four making 165 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque, and bolted to either a four-speed auto or a five-speed manual. EPA-rated fuel economy was 19 city, 25 highway, 21 combined—not great numbers by today’s standards, but solid for something this practical in the ’90s.

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I won’t pretend to know much about that motor, other than that it’s in a line of engines known for going through head gaskets. That’s obviously not optimal, but still, just look at this lovely machine:

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Subaru marketed the first-gen “Fozzy” with the tag line “Sport-Utility tough, car easy.” I can buy that. It’s an all-wheel drive, manual transmission wagon with tons of space, handsome looks, decent fuel economy, respectable handling (or so I’ve read) and actual off-road capability. What more does anyone want in this world?

Seriously, check out this video by YouTuber SXS_ALNSM. Look at how much fun these guys are having in a vehicle that will get them 25 MPG on the way home:

What’s great is that, by now, first-gen Foresters are dirt cheap; I see decent ones on Craigslist for about $3,500. This car’s styling alone makes it difficult for me to resist its allure, especially this beautiful, low-mileage example.

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I also have to admit that the second and third generation Foresters look pretty awesome, too. Here’s gen two, which my Subaru-nerd coworker Aaron Brown mentions could be had with a turbo engine with over 200 horsepower:

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And here’s gen three:

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The new one is shown below, and while I think it looks good in its own right, it’s lost much of what I liked about the previous-gen Foresters. It looks a bit too round and bulbous:

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I’ve never owned a first-gen Forester. But it may be time to change that.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio