2014 Subaru Forester: Reliable favorite gets an upgrade

The 2014 Subaru Forester boasts standard all-wheel-drive, room The 2014 Subaru Forester boasts standard all-wheel-drive, room for five, good fuel economy and a starting price just north of $20,000. Photo Credit: Subaru

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You would think that after 15 years and three generations of Forester that Subaru would have concocted the ideal formula for its tallest tall wagon.

Actually this car-based conveyance has contained mostly all the right ingredients ever since its 1998-model-year launch and the fourth generation model arriving this spring is dishing up more of the same.

Through clockwork-regular updating, the Forester has evolved into a steady performer that treats its passengers well and totes their belongings with ease. On good roads and bad, the standard all-wheel-drive operates virtually unnoticed. But when the need arises, which is frequently in snow-belt regions, the vehicle's mountain-goat capabilities make it a popular choice.

The 2014 Forester's bolder, brawnier styling displays more curves and angles than before. The blacked-out lower body cladding featured on all models ties in nicely with the more expressive mesh-style grille, flat-black bumper and attractively shaped side air intakes featured on up-level turbo models. (Subaru has also eliminated the turbo's obtrusive hood scoop that was part of its standard kit.)

The Forester sits on a new platform that modestly stretches the distance between the front and rear wheels. That translates into a bit more rear legroom (up-level trims add a reclining rear seat), but a taller roofline and lower load floor adds about 10 percent more cargo volume with the split-folding rear seat folded flat.

The cabin's more formal control-panel layout is trimmed in satin nickel and optional leather. Subaru's designers also increased the distance between the front seats and the dash to create a greater sense of spaciousness.

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The Forester's only significant carryover item is the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (installed in 2.5i models) that generates 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. For added punch, the 2.0XT uses a turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the BRZ sports coupe. Rated at 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, it replaces the previous 2.5-liter turbo engine option that produced 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet or torque. The engine also points the way to a future turbo BRZ model.

The 2.5i offers a six-speed manual transmission, or a continuously variable (CVT) option. The 2.0XT only comes with the CVT, but it comes with what Subaru calls its "engine performance management system" with Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp settings. In Sport mode, the throttle becomes more responsive and the steering-column-mounted paddle shifters mimic the action of a six-speed transmission. Throttle response is further heightened in Sport Sharp mode, but the CVT provides eight "speeds" to play with. This is possible because the CVT actually has no set ratios and can be programmed to act differently at different times.

Fuel economy with the 2.5 is estimated at 24 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway with the CVT (22/29 with the manual gearbox), while the 2.0XT's estimate is 23/28. These values improve on the previous-gen's base and optional powertrains.

Updating the Forester's underpinnings was also on Subaru's radar. This included specific retuning the front and rear suspension for the base and turbo models and installing larger brakes for the latter. Electric power steering replaces the less-efficient hydraulic unit to help curb fuel consumption.

Standard on the 2.0XT and available on the 2.5i with the CVT is Subaru's X-Mode control. The system, which can be activated at speeds below 13 mph, adds greater control on slippery surfaces by shifting torque specifically to the wheels with grip, either front to back or side to side. Hill-descent control that restricts downhill speed is also an X-Mode feature.

As before, even base Foresters (estimate at $22,000 to start) arrive reasonably well equipped, while upgrading to the Premium adds a better audio system, heated front seats with 10-way power driver's seat, rear-vision camera. Limited models include the CVT and leather-covered seats, with the Touring edition topping out with touch-screen navigation and a 440-watt Harmon-Kardon-brand audio package.

The Forester's admirers likely won't be disappointed with this latest iteration's crisp styling, added performance and improved fuel efficiency. For those reasons, this Forester is one notch closer to perfection.

What you should know: 2014 Subaru Forester
Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive compact wagon
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC H4 (170); 2.0-liter DOHC H4, turbocharged (250)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; continuously variable with opt. paddle shifters
Market position: The market for smaller, relatively affordable tall wagons continues to expand. In this segment, Subaru's Forester stands apart by including standard all-wheel-drive at a very attractive price.
Points: Forester's looks better with age; New interior would look at home in more expensive vehicles; Ordering your Forester with CVT paddle-shifter option will add some fun, but no more economy; Don't expect optional 250-horse turbo 2.0 to appear in BRZ coupe as Subaru states it won't fit; Fuel economy compares with front-wheel-drive competitors.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front-knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 24/32 (2.4, CVT)
Base price (incl. destination): $22,000 (estimated)

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BY COMPARISON

Ford Escape
Base price: $22,500
All-new 2013 edition offers a wide selection of trims and powertrain options.

Hyundai Tucson
Base price: $20,000
Stylish wagon specializes in fuel-stretching at an affordable price.

Honda CR-V
Base price: $23,500
A comfortable wagon with a reputation for durability and great resale value. 

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