2014 Subaru Forester
Slightly bigger, much better, affordable AWD
The all-new 2014 Subaru Forester compact crossover (CUV) offers improved performance and fuel economy with a somewhat roomier, quieter cabin in a slightly bolder-looking body. Its updated look is evolutionary with new "hawkeye" headlights flanking a slightly taller hexagonal grille. Turbocharged Forester 2.0XT models sport a more aggressive front bumper, a one-piece mesh grille, black side cladding and dual stainless steel exhaust tips. The A (windshield) pillar is further forward for improved aerodynamics, and the 2013 Subaru Forester Turbo model's boy-racer hood scoop is gone.
Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries makes and markets cars under the Subaru brand, which is still a fairly small player in North America. Subaru has been on a sales roll over the last few years because reasonably-priced cars like the Forester and Impreza keep getting better, and the unique appeal of its standard all-wheel drive (AWD) makes good sense to more and more Americans.
The standard engine in the 2014 Subaru Forester is a 170-horsepower, 2.5L horizontally-opposed flat (aka "boxer") H-4, while a new 250-hp 2.0L turbocharged H-4 powers higher-performance Forester 2.0XT models.
Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is standard on all models, which sets the Forester apart from FWD competitors with optional AWD. A standard six-speed manual gearbox replaces the previous five-speed manual, while Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) – available on base and Premium and standard on Limited and Touring models – supersedes the old four-speed automatic.
The CVT with the 2.5L engine has a selectable low-shift mode that adds engine braking on downhill grades, and the high-torque version with the turbo engine has steering wheel paddles for manual shifting. The 2.5L/CVT combination boasts the segment's best AWD fuel economy, EPA rated at 24/32 MPG.
Both versions of the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive continuously power all four wheels, transfer torque to those with the best grip and integrate with the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system to improve all-weather traction and stability. The 6-speed-manual is equipped with a viscous-coupling locking center differential that distributes power 50:50. On the other hand, the 2014 Subaru Forester with the CVT uses Active All-Wheel Drive with an electronically-managed continuously variable clutch to actively manages torque distribution.
On the 2.5i Limited and Touring and all 2.0XT models, a new X-Mode feature optimizes control of the engine, transmission, Active AWD, brakes, VDC and other systems to further improve control on slippery surfaces and steep inclines, while Hill Descent Control uses the VDC system to maintain constant speed and improve control on downhill grades.
With soft-touch surfaces on the upper instrument panel and armrests, the new interior of the 2014 Subaru Forester looks and feels more roomy and more upscale than the outgoing model. The driver's seat has more fore-aft adjustment travel, and rear-seat legroom is up to 41.7 inches from the previous 38.0 in. Wider-opening rear doors make it easier to climb in and out and to install a child seat, and the rear seatbacks recline in all but the base Forester 2.5i model.
Instruments are limited to large, round speedometer and tachometer dials and a digital fuel gauge between them, but the steering wheel spokes offer handy buttons for audio, cruise, phone and multi-function display control. Cargo capacity is up to 74.7 cu. ft. from the previous car's 68.3 with the standard 60/40 split rear seats are folded down.
Models and Features
The base 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i comes with the 6-speed manual transmission, 17-inch steel wheels, Incline Start Assist, outside temperature display, security system with engine immobilizer, carpeted floor mats, multi-function display with outside temperature and fuel economy readouts, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming with steering wheel control switches and a tilt/telescopic steering column.
The 2014 Subaru Forester Premium trim adds upgraded audio (but no satellite radio capability), 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10-way power driver's seat, a rear-vision camera, an upgraded multi-function display, reclining rear seatbacks, privacy rear glass and, with the 6-speed manual, an All-Weather Package (heated front seats and mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer). A power moonroof is standard with the available CVT, but the All-Weather Package is optional.
The Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited gets the CVT, the All-Weather Package, a new power rear liftgate, fog lamps, upgraded instrument cluster with an LCD display, perforated leather-trimmed seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, automatic climate control and the new X-Mode.
Top-line Subaru Forester 2.5i and 2.0XT Touring models add touch-screen navigation, an electroluminescent instrument cluster, a one-touch folding rear seatback and 440-watt, eight-speaker harman/kardon premium audio with Aha smartphone integration. A Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) feature on 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT models lets you choose from among three driving modes: Intelligent (relaxed throttle response for normal driving), Sport (quicker throttle response and a six-speed-manual mode for the CVT) or Sport Sharp, which delivers even quicker response with eight manually-selectable ratios. A Driver Assist Technology package (available only on Touring models) includes Subaru's new EyeSight – which uses a stereo camera system to integrate Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking and Vehicle Lane Departure Warning – Keyless Access/Start and HID headlamps.
Standard safety features include "intelligent" dual-stage front, front-seat side and side curtain airbags for front and rear occupants. A rollover sensor activates seat-belt pretensioners and deploys the curtain bags if it senses a potential rollover. New for 2014 are anti-whiplash front seats, a driver's knee airbag, Brake Override and an impact-sensing fuel cutoff. The Brake Override kills the engine power if both brake and accelerator are applied beyond a certain threshold.
We have not tested a 2014 Subaru Forester in off-road or slick conditions, but we liked its improved dry-surface dynamics (ride, handling, steering, braking), its quieter, roomier cabin and its fairly eager performance with the standard engine, especially with the 6-speed manual gearbox (though the 2014 Forester 2.5i does take an unimpressive 9.3 seconds to hit 0-60mph). The four-wheel independent suspension delivers respectable handling and comfortable ride, and the Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) gives surprisingly good feel and feedback while contributing to improved fuel efficiency.
We loved the Forester's top-center color screen, which displays a multitude useful of information and (in reverse) the rear camera view. In a week of mixed driving, we averaged 23.1 mpg with the 6-speed manual, which is not great, but acceptable for an AWD compact CUV. We also appreciated its tight (34.8-ft.) turning circle and the manual's crisp shifter and smooth clutch.
A powerful turbo H-4 engine in the Subaru Forester 2.0XT improves 0-60mph acceleration to a quick 6.2 seconds. Meanwhile, sport suspension on 18-in. wheels and tires, and larger brakes with ventilated rotors, both front and rear, elevate this five-passenger compact CUV almost to the level of sport-sedan fun.
This new 2014 Subaru Forester – more refined, more practical, more feature-rich and more appealing in most ways than the previous generation – should compete well with the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and even segment leaders like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
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