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2014 Subaru Forester Test Drive

by Ben Lewis on

The 2014 Forester may be more mainstream than previous models, but don’t worry, it’s still a Subaru.

And that’s a good thing, because Subaru has always done things a little differently, and it gives them a charm and a unique driving experience that makes them special.

When the Forester first came out, it was the anti-SUV, a small, maneuverable and capable off-roader when most of the competition felt and looked more like converted small trucks.

Well, in the meantime, the world has come Subaru’s way, and we now have a wide assortment of small crossover/SUV’s that are much like the mold the Forester formed years ago. Escapes, RAV4s, CR-Vs, Santa Fes and more all offer a similar set of talents, and they’re all really quite good.

So when Subaru created the all-new 2014 Forester, they had a real challenge on their hands; the competition is fierce, and they have raised the bar for expectations. Buyers expect it all now – plenty of space, comfort, good fuel efficiency, quality materials and a good drive.  And being Subaru, they still had to make it fun to drive, and offer greater capability in poor weather and light off-roading than the other guys. That’s a tall order.

Well, the looks will please Forester fans. The design is familiar, with handsome square-jawed lines that are more no-nonsense than fashion plate, and the overall impression is one of capability. Our Satin White tester, sitting on its standard 17” alloy wheels and with nearly 9” of ground clearance looked ready for just about anything.

The drive is what really sets the Forester apart, and for 2014, the drive has been substantially improved.  It starts with the famous Subaru “boxer” engine, which has horizontally-opposed cylinders to keep the mass of the engine low – a benefit for handing.

It’s the same kind of design Porsche uses in its iconic 911, and while it’s no German Supercar, it gives the Forester a very responsive feel at the wheel that is more fun than any other small crossover/SUV we’ve driven.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. Hooked up to the 170 horsepower, 2.5L four-cylinder engine is an all-new CVT transmission. While we don’t always like the CVTs, in the Subie, it works well, giving a smooth flow of power and quick acceleration. It also gives real benefits in fuel economy – we averaged an excellent 27 MPG – and this in a relatively large vehicle with all-wheel drive.

That Subaru all-wheel drive is superb, too. We didn’t have a chance to go off-roading, but even in regular conditions, the grip is excellent, and you can feel the rally-car DNA urging you to have a little fun on your favorite twisty roads.

Our tester also featured Xmode, which is specially designed for slippery conditions. While the Forester may not be an ultimate off-roader like a Jeep or Land Rover, in many parts of the world, Subaru off-road ability is legendary, and we have no reason to expect that the Forester would be anything less than extremely capable.

And if you’re looking for more scorching performance there’s also the turbocharged, 250-horsepower Forester XT model, something we look forward to testing in the future.

Ok, if you’re more likely to be making a run to Home Depot than the Himalayas, the Forester will serve you well. Where previous models leaned on the agrarian side, the new one is gorgeous, with high quality materials throughout the cabin, enjoying an understated, tasteful two-tone design. Our tester was a 2.5i Limited, and that got us leather-trimmed seating, that made the interior that much nicer.

Like many other automakers, the Forester uses a two-tier display system for info-tainment, with a nicely sized main screen in the center of the dash for stuff like navigation and audio, and a smaller screen higher up for climate controls, trip computer and the rearview monitor.

We do have a beef with the navigation/audio system. It’s not up to the level of the competition, and the voice recognition system had us screaming, begging, pleading and anything else we could think of to get it to understand us, but to no avail…

Thankfully, the Frou-Frou hasn’t overtaken the functional, as the Forester has a huge cargo hold with the rear seats down and plenty of room, even for six-footers with the rear seats up.

Up front, we found the front seats are at the perfect height to step right out when parking – just a little thing that makes running in and out to do errands that little bit nicer. Speaking of nice, the 10-way power front driver’s seat is about as comfortable as what you’ll find anywhere.

And that’s the thing about Subarus. They are comfortable, friendly vehicles that wear in well, like a favorite pair of hiking boots. They also have that sweetness to drive that sets them apart. It’s no surprise owners tend to keep them a long time, and that resale values on them are notoriously high. So we think if you want one, it’s worth paying to get a new one.

Your most basic, durable Forester starts at just $21,995 and builds from there. Our nicely loaded 2.5i Limited started at $27,995. Add in the optional navigation and destination and we were still under 30 large. Load up a turbo 2.0XT and you can approach $36,000, so there’s a wide range of models, equipment and performance to suit just about anybody’s needs.

There are a lot of vehicles that compete with the Forester, but time and time again, when we’re asked for a recommendation, the Subie is always at the top of our list. All new for 2014, it’s even better. And still all Subaru. We love it.

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