Our 2003 Forester was purchased brand new as a downsizing option from a Ford Falcon - we wanted something comfortable, safe and reliable with a bit of flexibility when it comes to load and cabin space.
We decided on the top trim XS Luxury model as it came with leather, sunroof and side impact airbags - when we first got the car we did experience some quality niggles that in all honesty were expected due to the fact that this iteration of Forester had only just started to be produced. During the warranty period we were satisfied with the support from Subaru - I say satisfied because it was really nothing to write home about, faults with the sunroof not closing properly and making rattling noises when it did close were met with trepidation and explanations that this is how they operate. After a few months of issues this was rectified by way of a few new guide clips in the sunroof assembly.
Performance and Economy are not these cars strong suit so if you want a bit of kick you’d be best to look at the XT or another vehicle. The symmetrical AWD system does work well on this car relaying a sense of grip and security, but do not be fooled into thinking this car has any sporting pretence as the 2.0L engine that it's fitted with is asthmatic, severely under powered and quite thirsty. Given the weight of the car vs the less than mediocre power output it sees fuel consumption rise to a level much higher than expected. We came from a Falcon 6 into this Forester with the hopes of lower running costs but were sorely mistaken as this vehicle will chug and wheeze its way to a maximum of 400k’s per tank and that is driving it very gently – if economy is what you are after again look else where
Even when the vehicle was brand new sound isolation levels were not the greatest but it kind of gave it an element of charm, like driving an old wobbly ute – yes it may be noisy but it's reasonably comfortable and it will get you there… most of the time
We have owned this Forester for 13 years and one of the points when buying it was Subaru’s reputation for a robust and long lasting product. Sadly I think that those days for Subaru are long gone as the longevity of this car is questionable at best.
We have had all routine maintenance completed on time or even before it was due and being honest its only left us stranded a few times with some electrical problems with the immobiliser and more recently the dreaded head gasket failure issue – to be clear this car has been very well kept and maintained and to this day only has 160k on the clock, quite low mileage for a car its age.
Some may argue that the longevity of a 13 year old car is irrelevant as it should have been scrapped by this time or what do you expect for its age. To be frank I expected more – given Subaru’s reputation and marketing push for being tough reliable cars.
The head gaskets blew quite spectacularly on this car in a moment where the dear Forester was giving a lovely steam show much akin to a kettle but alas the problems with this car don’t stop there, the sunroof started leaking profusely and in the end it was sealed shut as dealerships were reluctant to touch it and explained the cost of the repairs outweigh the value of the car, rear power windows have failed multiple times, intermittent central locking failures, combination switch failures resulting in sporadic episodes of having no lights, various trim items have broken and fallen off such as door moulding protectors, arm rests etc, the clear coat of the paint is peeling off on the bonnet and front guards, the transmission and rear diff even though having their fluids changed and maintenance as per manufactures recommendation are dying a slow and often noisy death.
It's been long observed that Subaru’s have developed a cult following and many owners swear by them, in the beginning we were pleased enough that we bought another one a few years after purchasing our 03’ but that enthusiasm has waned due to mounting electrical and mechanical problems that have definitely changed our minds on ever buying a Subaru again.
My advice to those looking at one of these Foresters used would be to ensure that it's very well checked over – avoid models with a sunroof unless you like it to rain inside the car and look for a vehicle that’s had the head gaskets replaced, ours is heading to the scrap yard soon as its not financially viable to have it fixed.
If you do like the idea of a Forester buy a new one under warranty and get rid of it before the warranty runs out- or if buying new have a look around at other models as there are now more ‘SUVs’ on the market than just about anything else, and they will more than likely be more comfortable, quieter, better equipped and more efficient.