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First Drive: 2014 Subaru Forester

More than just another cute-ute.

by on Jan.25, 2013

The 2014 Subaru Forester delivers both on-road and off-, according to TDB's reviewer.

Subaru, long a favorite of drivers facing snow drifts and steep mountains, is beginning to catch on with motorists in other parts of the country and after driving the new 2014 Subaru Forester it’s easy to understand why.

The first crossover in the maker’s line-up, the Forester is back in all-new form for 2014, and the new model is versatile, nimble and quite capable. It delivers the kind of comfortable, stable ride on both pavement and dirt of gravel roads which other crossovers find hard to match.

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Carmakers like to claim their CUVs combine the attributes of a passenger car — with a nicely-tuned suspension and better mileage – with the off-road capabilities of a sport utility vehicle but few come as close as the 2014 Subaru Forester.  Subaru’s engineers have actually delivered a CUV that does handle like a compact sedan out on the highway while showing itself quite adept at moving off the pavement without losing its bearings or having the automotive equivalent of a hissy fit.

The 2014 Subaru Forester will offer a new 2.0XT model using the maker's turbocharged I-4, sharing it with the BR-Z sports car.

Add in the fact that Subaru has delivered a more stylish and distinctive look for the 2014 Forester.  While considered an inventive and innovative company, Subaru has never been viewed as a style leader. The old air scoop on the hood is gone and, overall, the Forester has a fresh pleasing exterior, complete with a more stylized grille, rounded corners and tailored sides panels that give the entire vehicle a more contemporary look.

The CUV has traditionally suffered from a down-market feel, even more apparent in the interior.  The latest update, as the image here reveals, is a significant step up-market.  The instrument cluster and driver information display deliver a lot of information.  The cabin steers clear of the cheap finishes that have led many potential buyers to shy away from the nameplate in the past.  But the interior still doesn’t have a lot of soft touch materials, which I suspect some motorists will continue to find off-putting.

What’s really likely to win them back, though, is the 2014 Subaru Forester’s improved road manners.

The Forester’s four-wheel independent suspension system has to be considered among the best in the compact crossover segment, while the 8.7 inches of ground clearance for all 2014 Forester models is higher than for many conventional SUVs. But the extra height doesn’t seem to make it more difficult to step up and into since the side sills are 2 inches lower than the earlier versions of the Forester.

The 2014 crossover retains Subaru's familiar symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

As in all previous versions of the Forester, the new 2014 model remains true to its roots and the Japanese automaker’s lionized “Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive” is standard equipment.

Forester also succeeded in staying at the head of its class in all-wheel drive fuel economy, with the 2.5i model, which is powered by a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine, delivering a manufacturer’s estimate 24 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 27 mpg combined. (EPA numbers have not yet been released.) From what we could tell during the test drive the figures are quite accurate.

However, Subaru also is offering a new 2.0XT model, equipped with a new turbocharged variant of the FA Boxer engine that debuted in the Subaru BRZ sports car. In the 2014 Forester 2.0XT models, the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder Boxer uses a combination of direct fuel injection, high compression, “Dual Active Valve Control” and turbo charging with an intercooler to achieve outstanding performance and high efficiency.

The Forester 2.0XT engine produces 250 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, accompanied by a broad torque curve that peaks at 258 lb.-ft., according to Subaru’s specifications.

The 2014 Subaru Forester's interior is a big, visual improvement but still features too many hard surfaces.

On the road, the extra power and torque makes the Forester even more fun to drive. But even with the extra power, the Forester platform is very stable, very quiet on pavement and very easy to handle.

One reason is the 2014 Forester’s new electric power steering system. Unlike some competitors, it doesn’t neutralize the steering feel, providing the driver with plenty of feedback under different driving conditions.

The 2014 Forester 2.5i model will be available in base, Premium, Limited and top-line Touring versions. The turbocharged Forester 2.0XT will be offered in the Premium and Touring versions.

In an effort to boost fuel economy, Subaru is offering both a new six-speed manual transmission in the 2.5i models or the continuously variable transmission previously available on Forester. On the 2.0XT models, the CVT is standard and offers 6-speed and 8-speed manual shift modes with steering wheel paddle switches.

High-line 2014 Forester models equipped with the CVT also feature new Hill Descent Control and a new X-Mode control feature, which provides extra control in certain driving conditions.

During the test drive, the CVT performed admirably. It’s quiet and moves the transmission to the point of maximum power with relative ease. The one shortcoming, which is common among cars equipped with a CVT, is that it lagged as the vehicle was accelerating – that “rubber band” feeling that has led so many buyers to reject CVTs. Nonetheless, the gearbox performed quite well out on the interstate when the car had plenty of momentum.

Subaru has carefully cultivated an image of delivering purposeful, well made vehicles and the new Forester certainly carries on the tradition.

The maker has yet to release final pricing information. With the current model starting at $22,390 plus delivery charges, expect to see the 2014 Subaru Forester nudge up to the $23,000 range, with a well-equipped 2.0XT nearing $30,000.

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