Yeah, I was really really surprised by this Forester. I have never experienced a catastrophic engine failure like that. I have had Japanese, American, and European cars, and none of them has ever failed me. Yeah, they all had their quirks, but this Forester really let me down :( I calculated that it would have been cheaper to rent a car for the months that I owned it, than to buy it.
I currently have a 2001 Toyota 4Runner with over 100mi (160 kms), and it is very solid and feels light years ahead of the Forester in terms of interior and exterior quality, not to mention mechanical reliability.
It is not uncommon for head gaskets to leak into the crank case. When this happens, it puts a lot of stress on the crank and rod bearings. They don't like water/coolant! That is probably what killed the engine in your Forester.
I won't go as far as to say that they are a terrible car, but they can be kind of picky (especially when it comes to head gaskets). It is not abnormal for them to go somewhere around 130-180K's. I personally had to do mine at 179K. It burnt an exhaust valve (probably due to the lack of valve clearance maintenance by the previous owner), and that convinced me to just pull then engine. I had it professionally rebuilt with a 3yr/36000 mile warranty for a little under $1500.
I hate to see people run off by bad experiences with their cars, but you have to remember; everything breaks eventually! My brother's 01 RAV4 blew a rod through the block at 47000 miles under a strict maintenance schedule! It just goes to show that sometimes things happen, regardless of who makes it or maintains it. It is very unfortunate what happened with your Forester, and I wish you the best of luck with your new wheels.
I have a 99 Forester, and still love it. I have replaced all the gasket at 70k, because it started massive oil leaking, but the job was about $1500. Also did a major tune up with timing belt and everything for another $700.
Don't get me wrong, it is a 12 year old car now with 70k miles, but the build quality is great. It was very expensive for the overhaul, but the car drives amazing, and other than that one time major overhaul, the car is problem-free. I am planning to drive it til the end.
I have a S-20 Ltd 99 model (EJ20). Funny thing you wrote, big oil leaks, might as well do the timing belt at same time... and I also did the clutch too within 3 months of buying. It's almost identical to my experience down to the price, although mine was over $NZ2000.
I'm in limbo at the moment. It seems good at the moment, but maybe that's a good time to move it and just wear the mechanical cost/loss. I have owned a Subaru Omega years ago that was a great car, but I won't buy another Subaru now. It's funny how many people I know that have owned Subis, but never mentioned it, only to tell me what it cost them. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, you have to live it first :-).
I just wish I had kept my Nissan Pulsar LX (1.6 GA16DE), 7 years owned, $200 maximum bill and was still running great at 279,000k when I sold it. Drat and double drat!