I used this little Sooby for years. I have packed it up with work and camping gear, and towed a large quad bike in a trailer up a steep, rough, rocky track to a county property. It was towing about 650kg and I can’t imagine it would have been able to crawl up without the dual range box. Who else makes boxes like that these days on little all-wheel drives or four-wheel drives, other than Suzuki? One time I had a visitor in a proper 4WD. He came up the first time, saw the quad bike, the trailer and the Sooby, and looking at the bike he said “How did you get this up here?”
I had pointed at the Sooby. He’d thought it was just a little city car.
It was way better towing the quad bike up the hill in the dry though. Unlike the next model Forester it didn’t have a limited slip diff. So one time I was going up at night in the wet, the car got stuck on a slope in mud and I couldn’t back the trailer down the narrow track straight enough. Ooops.
Can’t say the plastic sump cover lasted so well over the bigger rocks, but it was easily replaced with a proper metal guard.
It was bouncy with heavy duty shocks (that was a mistake putting them on), but still had nice direct steering, at least in comparison to the next model (2006) Forester. Also, it was way more settled than early L-Series Soobies, and had good visibility all around. I drove a Peugeot 2008 one time and despite lots of good things about it, it was a relief get back into the Forester and see so much of the world from the driver's seat.
Then another time I bought a 2013 VW Tiguan to replace the Sooby. The VW was safer, had lower emissions and it was lovely on the highway, but it was nowhere near as nimble or easy as the old Forester around town. I had to sell one, and I sold the Tig.
One great feature that disappeared on later model Foresters were the long fold-down armrests that were part of each of the two front seats. This meant you could drive along like you were sitting in a big armchair, albeit a slightly bouncy armchair in my case. It did make it hard to unclip the seatbelt though.
The attitude on keeping your eyes on the road seems to have changed over time. The car had radio station presets in two sloping sets of three with a braille type dot on the third and sixth, so you could easily figure which button was which and change stations without looking at them. Can't do that with a touchscreen.
I had the car for fourteen years and sold it last year. I’d retired it from towing the quad bike. It was good city car for me, being not too big and having good clearance. I know there’s lots of people who are happy to nurse their cars over gutters and speed humps, but I’m just not one of them. But I didn’t want to keep driving a car that had emissions over 200g/km, so it was time to go.
Such a capable little rouseabout.