CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

New question: Which to buy 2003 Forester or 2003 fwd Vibe?

We are looking to purchase an auto that our 17 year old son will be using. We have found 2003 fwd Vibe and a Forester, both have 90k and the Vibe is $1,200. less; any thoughts out there? We appreciate it.

Plus for Vibe - cheaper, better mpgs, less to repair (no AWD, less concern with keeping tires the same)
Plus for Forester - maybe a bit more room, better traction in bad conditions, and the crash ratings are better (see http://www.informedforlife.org/getscore.php )

I got a Forester for our teen, so you know my vote.

If your area is normally subjected to harsh winter driving conditions, the Forester’s AWD system is superior to that of most other AWD systems on the road, and would thus be a great advantage. If you are not subject to severe winter driving conditions, I think that you would be better-off with the Vibe.

Bear in mind that one blown or punctured tire on the Forester is likely to result in the purchase of 4 new tires, due to the AWD system. A FWD Vibe will not have this restriction.

The good news is that neither of these vehicles is what I would call a powerhouse, so your invincible 17 year old will likely get into less trouble with either of these vehicles than he would with something like a Trans Am. (And, neither of these vehicles is likely to spend a significant amount of time “up on cinder blocks”, unlike a Trans Am!)

Also, I would suggest that you check whether the Vibe has a timing belt, or a timing chain. The Forester will require a new timing belt at 105k or 8 years, whichever comes first. If the Vibe (which is actually a Toyota Corolla station wagon with more fashionable styling) has a timing chain, that will save you money on one expensive maintenance procedure.

In addition to the test data presented by texases, you can see real crash data at IIHS.org. In this case, it agrees with the fake crash test data. The Forester Collision/Medical/Theft ratings are 78/75/18 and the Vibe ratings are 103/106/40. Toyota Matrix ratings are 149/120/70. Apparently, Matrix drivers get themselves into more trouble than Vibe drivers. BTW, 100 is average in each category and lower is better. Either one will probably never be in a serious accident. It’s all in what you are comfortable with.

I feel that as reliable as a Subaru is, Toyota products hold an edge given comparable maintenance. I’m a huge Corolla fan for kids…and this fits the bill as a clone. The only exception would be a definite need for AWD…you live in a place like I do. Our neighbors had no choice but to raise two boys with three Subarus parked in the yard. If that’s not you…the Vibe has the potential for better service.

I will chime in with this. I owned a 2004 Vibe and had so much trouble with tire wear that I finally traded it in a a new 2005 model. At about the 10K mark I had to replace both front tires. I drive normally and on straight roads for the most part. I traded the 2005 Vibe in on an extended cab Silverado. I spend more for gas but I spend a whole lot less on tires. Other Vibe owners have told me the same thing about tire wear.

My 2006 base Matrix 5-speed wears the inside edges of its Continental tires. The alignment is good, camber is modest, regular rotations etc. A couple days ago I thought of a stop-gap solution to do before the edges are too far gone.

I just went to a tire shop and had them remove the tires from the rims, flip 'em over, remount and balance. So now the worn edges are on the outside. Cost $109. The tire tech was skeptical, but hey, I’m paying…

I haven’t had her up to highway speed yet but the handling feels OK and the tires are much quieter at 30mph. I got 16K miles out of one set of edges and if I can get another 16K I’ll be satisfied.

I’d go for the Vibe. Simplier drivetrain and made by Toyota quality. There are a lot of posts on this site lately about Subaru Forester auto trans issues. The more I read about Subarus the less likely I am to ever own one.