The Forester is an all-wheel drive Compact Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) manufactured since 1997 by Subaru — currently in its third generation and now marketed as a compact crossover. Originally introduced to the Australia in 1998, the Forester shared its platform with the Impreza up to the third generation and now features a hybrid platform of the Japanese Impreza wagon and the rear platform of the Impreza sedan. The Forester was designed and built with four-wheel drive (AWD) as standard equipment.
The Forester was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show November 1995, as the “Sutoriga” concept and made available for sale February 1997 in Japan replacing the Subaru Impreza Gravel Express, known in other markets as the Subaru Outback Sport.
From its introduction into Australia, the Forester has been Subaru’s highest selling car, with buyers attracted by the practicality and versatility of its design, and its car-like driving characteristics. With the introdution of the turbo models, Subaru has basically a niche market for a sports SUV with only Toyota recently adding any form of competition with its V6 RAV4.
This article focuses and deals only with Australian delivered turbo Foresters.
FORESTER GT (MY98-MY02) – SF CHASSIS
The impetus for the tricked-up Forester GT came from the stunning success of the Impreza WRX in the late 1990s – the little turbo tearaway that quickly became the car of choice for a generation of lads and getaway drivers. Subaru figured there was a market for a vehicle with the Forester’s obvious usefulness, combined with its all-wheel-drive safety and some of the straight-line zap of the WRX.
And when you think about it, a small-to-medium-sized station-wagon with plenty of grip and some serious on-road power is appealing.
The GT’s engine was based on the WRX unit of the time, but its sported a smaller Mitsubishi TD035 turbocharger running lower boost pressure. The GT engine produced 125 kW in the first version of the Forester GT which was increased to 130kw for the 2001-2002 model, as opposed to the WRX’s 160 kW.
In keeping with the design intent for the Forester GT, its engine was been tuned to provide strong response at low to middle engine speeds, in preference to maximum urge at high engine revolutions as in the WRX. It made the Forester perky in most situations with a 0-100 time in the mid 7 seconds and gave it enough pulling power to tow a light boat or trailer with ease.
Compared to the naturally aspirated versions of the Forester, the only real concession to the car’s obvious bitumen bias was that the GT version lost the transfer case (with its super-low, off-road gear ratios) of the manual Forester (the automatic never had it in the first place). However with the standard five-speed manual, there’s not much the GT ca’t do.
Like the WRX, the throbbing sound and feel of the boxer engine can be an acquired taste, but the pay-off is the torque and flexibility that is a characteristic of this type of engine. The GT got firmer, lower suspension than other Foresters but it still had plenty of ground clearance, whilst the bigger, wider alloy wheels give it even more grip.
Inside, the Forester GT is not incredibly sporty to sit in, but is well laid-out. Whilst some of the interior fittings feel a bit plastic, equipment levels were comprehensive and included dual front airbags, air conditioning, ABS brakes, an engine immobiliser, self-levelling rear suspension, alloy road wheels, remote central locking, power steering, power windows and power mirrors, a leather bound steering wheel and front fog lights. A $3,000 luxury pack was also available comprising leather trim, heated front seats and mirrors, and an electric sunroof.
The real beauty of the Forester GT was that it’s one of those rare vehicles that really is a jack of all trades. It’s fast enough to be entertaining on a winding road, capable of tackling tracks in and out of secluded camping spots, easy to live with day-to-day and practical, thanks to its station-wagon layout. No wonder is was such a popular vehicle in its day and quite highly sought after today second-hand.
MRT Power Kits
Like so all other early Subaru turbo charged cars, the RS Liberty responds very well to the traditional turbo-car mods. A 3-inch exhaust from the turbo back comprising a high-flow cat, muffler and perhaps a central resonator will give the car extra power, and air intake modifications also reap good rewards. A very popular modification is to replace the TD035 with the TD04L from the WRX. With so many WRX owners upgrading their turbos, it is easy to get a good quality secondhand TD04L cheaply. Boost also be increased to around 1 Bar (14.7psi) with a larger turbo in a variety of ways, with the most common method being the use of a simple boost regulator, however we highly recommend the use of a good aftermartket ECU such as Link or Apexi Power PC for 1998-2000 models and EcuTeK for 2001-2002 models.
There are no Power Kits for the Forester GT, however MRT have done heaps of work on this model and are able to put together a package to suit your needs.
FORESTER XT (MY03-MY07) – SG CHASSIS
After the success of the Forester GT which proved that a performance compact 4WD wagon can be extremely effective on the road, the second generation SG chassis with features such as weight-saving refinements such as an aluminum hood, perforated rails, and a hydro-formed front sub-frame gave Subaru an even better platform for a turbo-charged model. Enter the MY03 Forester XT.
The naturally-aspirated SOHC 112kW 2.5-litre four found on the X and XS model is heavily modified in XT guise with innovations such as an electronic accelerator, improved ECU, DOHC, variable inlet valve timing (AVCS), and the first 2.5L turbocharged engine (EJ255) introduced by Subaru into Australia – it took the WRX another 4 years before it replaced the old 2L EJ205 engine.
Its five-speed manual gearbox houses a blend of base model Forester (first and second) and WRX ratios (the higher gears, and final drive.) Power goes to all four wheels in high range only, with a viscous coupling/limited-slip differential at the rear.
Turbocharging the 2.5 delivers peak power of 155kW at 5600rpm and a very handy 320Nm of torque at 3600rpm, some 30 percent more than the old 2. 0 GT engine, and enough to get the manual version from 0-100kmh in 6.5 seconds. Under 2000rpm the 2.5L is nothing special, but from there the turbo begins to push things along. When the tacho passes 3000, its assistance becomes more emphatic with the XT running hard and mighty fast to its 6500rpm redline. On the open road, this equates to strong, responsive performance from about 80kmh in fifth, and that lovely, effortless, hand-in-the-back turbo shove.
The performance hike is substantial, yet modifications to the Forester’s running gear on the XT are relatively few. The front crossmember mounts are stronger to cope with higher cornering forces, the anti-lock brakes have minor upgrades, the front suspension struts are stiffened, and surprisingly XT wears the same tyres as other Foresters: 215/60 Yokohama Geolandars on 16-inch alloy wheels.
And therein lies the MY03 Forester XT’s achilles heel. With the extra power and torque of the 2.5L engine but with only minimal upgrades to the chassis, it soon becomes clear after some spirited driving that some components are not up to the task. Firstly the suspension suffers from too great body roll. Sure it is very compliant and gives a nice smooth ride on our typically average Aussie roads, but the tip the XT into a corner and it the wallow is somewhat unsettingly, especially if you do’t adhere to the slow-in, power out tactics. Its made worse by the awful Geolander tyres that might work well for the X and XS models that might go off road occasionally, but do’t provide the XT with its extra power the required grip on the road.
Get some steam up on the open road and whilst the 2 pot front disc brakes will haul you up the first time, they go spongy quickly afterwards and do’t inspire much confidence. The XT also suffers a slight lack of refinement which is not noticeable in the X and XS models that shows with excessive noise, vibration and harshness.
Despite this, the XT has all the practical virtues of the base model Foresters, so in addition to smoking performance, you also get a versatile family wagon, albeit with a fairly dour interior, and class-leading safety credentials.
The dash layout is functional, minimalist and a touch dated. The Forester has more storage bins and cup-holders than you can poke a stick at, including a couple of shopping bag hooks in the back, two sunglasses holders and a handy bin on top of the dash. Long-range reception is great on both radio bands. The XT includes active front seat head restraints, Subaru’s hill holder, an in-dash six-CD player with 6 speakers and subwooker, climate-controlled air-conditioning, remote central locking, dual front airbags, air conditioning, ABS brakes, an engine immobiliser, self-levelling rear suspension, 16 inch alloywheels, power steering, power windows, power mirrors, a leather bound steering wheel and front fog lights. The Luxury pack adds leather upholstery, two side airbags for the front seats and a huge sunroof.
The MY06 and MY07 models saw a significant revision to the Forester model range. The most noticeable differences was the heavily revised front grille and lights, giving the car a more aggressive look as well as new self-levelling HID lights. The rear end also copped significant revision, with the XT badging being removed altogether (although the huge exhaust is still adead giveaway).
The most significant revision was the engine, with Subaru giving the upgraded MY06 model the same engine as the MY06 WRX with 169kw @ 5600rpm and 320Nm @ 3600rpm, allowing the manual version to sprint from 0-100kmh in 6.1 seconds, a mere 0.2 seconds slower than the WRX! Other improvements included 17 inch alloys, revised HVAC controls and most importantly, stiffer spring rates to reduce the body roll around corners whilst still giving excellent compliance on the average Aussie roads. The four speed auto is also upgraded to a tiptronic version.
MRT Power Kits
The Forester XT is a good car from the showroom floor – no doubt about it, but there is huge amounts of untapped potential that can be released with simple yet effective modifications. The most effective mods are simple – replace the stock Geolander tyres with something better suited the potential of the XT and replace the front brake pads and rotors with quality parts from us, DBA and/or Bendix to improve the braking. Whiteline swaybars are also a good modification to reduce bodyroll, and changing all of these component will transform the handling of the XT. And we have’t touched the engine yet . .
Speaking of which, MRT has done heaps of work on this model and have designed three Power Kits for the XT in addition to custom work. All Power Kits use EcuTeK, giving the ability to tune the factory ECU whilst also allowing direct access to factory calibration data, and the ability to use most of the default factory settings whilst just changing those required.
MRT offers three Power Kits using EcuTeK:
XA kit: Consists of an EcuTek upgrade and MRT 3 inch rear muffler for a guaranteed 15kw power increase and up to 45% torque increase over standard.
- XB kit: Consists of an EcuTek upgrade, air intake modifications and full MRT 3 inch exhaust for a guaranteed 35kw power increase and up to 60% torque increase over standard.
- XC kit:Consists of an EcuTek upgrade, air intake modifications and full MRT 3 inch exhaust, upgraded fuel pump and VF34 turbo for a guaranteed 65kw power increase and up to 65% torque increase over standard.
FORESTER XT (MY08 ONWARDS) – SH CHASSIS
The MY08 Forester was unveiled in Japan on December 25, 2007, and introduced in other markets suc as Australia in 2008. With a more pronounced grille and strongly styled fascia, the MY08 XT leans more towards SUV cues than the previous wagon-like Foresters.
The strengthened body has also answered the customers’ call for more space. It’s 110mm taller, 60mm wider and 75mm longer on a 90mm larger wheelbase – most of which as been given to the rear passenger and cargo area, while larger openings make for easier access. Overhangs have been shortened slightly for better manoeuvrability and ground clearance has been raised by 25mm to take the XT to 225mm, which gives a smidge more leeway but still keeps the Forester in the light offroading category.
The engine is largely unchanged from the outgoing MY06/07 models, however it now gains variable valve timing on the exhaust side which helps bring peak torque of 320Nm lower by 800rpm at 2800rpm. Power remains unchanged at 169kw at 5200rpm. but fuel consumption for the manual version drops a significant 7.8 per cent benefit (and the auto 5.4 per cent) at 10.5L/100km.
Interestingly, despite only adding 30kg to the kerb weight, the 0-100 performance times for the MY08 Forester increased over the outgoing model by one second to 7.1 seconds,
The drivetrain remains the same, so drive goes to all four corners and is infinitely variable: changing from 95-front/5-rear bias to 50/50 depending on throttle, load and speed inputs. The five speed manual remains albeit with some improvements to the 1st gear synchromesh, and the four speed tiptronic auto remains unlike the Liberty which gets a 5 speed version. VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control), a premium stability control system designed to give you optimum control in emergencies, is now standard on all models.
Like the previous model XT, body roll is once again issue. Indeed the roll is worse than the MY06-07 and similar to the MY03-05 with Subaru obviously deciding that ride quality is more important than cornering ability. The 17 inch alloys are once again wrapped with Geolanders which help the give the car good off road capabilities, but do it little favouts when driven hard on bitumen. Whats more, like the previous model, the brakes could be better to with Subaru making no changes to the brake system, so the MY08 XT experiences significant brake fade after repeated stops or heavy towing.
Also like previous models, the MY08 comes with active front seat head restraints, Subaru’s hill holder, an in-dash six-CD player with 6 speakers and subwooker, climate-controlled air-conditioning, remote central locking, dual front airbags, air conditioning, ABS brakes, an engine immobiliser, self-levelling rear suspension, 17 inch alloywheels, self-levelling HIDs, power steering, power windows, power mirrors, a leather bound steering wheel and front fog lights. The Luxury pack adds leather upholstery, two side airbags for the front seats and a huge sunroof, and an integrated factory DVD and SatNav system can also be optioned for the first time.
MRT Power Kits
Whilst the MY08 Forester is a more refined and uses its interior space better compared to the previous mdel, it is acutally less accomplished in terms of performance. It still requires the same essential updates as the MY03-07 models – tyres, brakes and potentially swaybars as well, but also needs work on the engine to bring its performance level back to that of the MY06/07 model.
MRT has done heaps of work on the MY08 Forester XT and have designed three Power Kits in addition to custom work. All Power Kits use EcuTeK, giving the ability to tune the factory ECU whilst also allowing direct access to factory calibration data, and the ability to use most of the default factory settings whilst just changing those required.
MRT offers three Power Kits using EcuTeK:
XA kit: Consists of an EcuTek upgrade for a guaranteed 15kw power increase and up to 25% torque increase over standard.
XB kit: Consists of an EcuTek upgrade, and full MRT 3 inch exhaust with twin mufflers for a guaranteed 30kw power increase and up to 35% torque increase over standard.
XC kit:Consists of an EcuTek upgrade, air intake modifications, full MRT 3 inch exhaust with twin mufflers, upgraded fuel pump, larger intercooler and larger custom turbo for a guaranteed 60kw power increase and up to 40% torque increase over standard.