It was a bit hard to see at first just where the Forester fitted into the Subaru scheme of things. On the face of it, they'd come up with a four-wheel drive Impreza hatchback somehow developed into a square-rigged estate. The point being.?
As ever, the wily Japanese had done their homework and insisted (as they would) that the Forester would be in strong demand. The desire for heavy, macho looking off roaders was waning but the public love affair with four-wheel drive wasn't.
For proof they pointed to successful 'sports utility' 4x4s like Land Rover's Freelander, Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4. Subaru also reckoned they'd found a niche for buyers who wanted a more car-like package (probably because they lacked the resources to engineer a full-blown RAV4 rival themselves).
The company already partly met this need with models like the Impreza and Legacy but those were essentially cars with 4WD traction for occasional tricky circumstances. Hence the Forester rode a little higher than its siblings; it wasn't a full-blown mud-plugger but could realistically tackle forest tracks, muddy car parks and boggy bridle paths. But under its shiny new skin, the newcomer was nonetheless something of a 'parts bin special' and shared even its dashboard with the Impreza.
Subaru launched the Forester in the UK in September 1997, with two-litre power, manual or automatic transmission and a single five-door estate body style with GLS trim. Though this 'base' car was initially priced on the wrong side of £17,000 (to be fair, it was quite well equipped) the importers demanded another £2,100 for an All Weather Pack which added such things as a sunroof, air conditioning and heated seats.
More significantly, the turbo version was launched in October 1998, and this was, believe it or not, effectively a high-riding estate derivative of the Impreza Turbo. You didn't have to give up all the delights of your misspent single days just because you'd now got a family and lived on a farm.
In April 2000, cosmetic changes were made to both models and the entry-level price was dropped £1,400. There was a mild facelift for both the front and rear ends, plus a 'roomier' rear seat with triple three-point seat belts and three rear head restraints. Early 2001 saw the Forester S-Turbo get a 7bhp power boost, dropping the rest to sixty time down to a very brisk 7.7 seconds. It also received cruise control as standard as well as a black carbon-effect fascia centre panel.