There's a difference between data and information. Information has context and relevance. It's the building block of knowledge. Data can be trivial: meaningless facts. How many rivets are there in the Eiffel Tower? I don't know, and I don't care unless you can tell me why it matters.
The realization came to me as I stared at the year's silliest gauge in the roomy and fuel-efficient 2014 Subaru Forester.
The gauge in question claims to present the Forester's acceleration as a percentage of the total available power. Acceleration isn't among the Forester's dozen most noteworthy characteristics, but the greater problem is that the gauge doesn't measure acceleration at all. It measures how far the driver depresses the accelerator pedal. The faux-accelerometer treated me to the spectacle of a readout announcing 60 percent of full acceleration -- as the Forester sat motionless in neutral. The gauge is nonsense.
It's a minor, but telling, faux pas. An accumulation of small flaws hold the Forester short of class leadership despite the SUV's accommodating interior and admirable fuel economy.
Prices for the 2014 Subaru Forester start at $21,995 for a six-speed manual transmission and 170-horsepower 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. All Foresters have all-wheel drive.
The Forester needs premium gasoline to achieve its promised power and fuel economy of 23 mpg city, 28 highway. That makes it more expensive to fuel than the 2.0-liter Ford EcoBoost Escape, but its tab will be considerably lower than the V-6 Chevy and Dodge.
The Forester's steering is direct and provides good feedback. The suspension holds the road and keeps the vehicle stable in enthusiastic driving.
The adaptive cruise control, which uses sensors and automated brakes to hold a set distance behind other vehicles, works very well. It inspired confidence with smooth acceleration and braking. I found the lane departure warning annoying and intrusive, going off so frequently that I eventually turned it off.
The 2014 Forester has one of the roomiest and most accommodating interiors in its segment. The Forester 2.0XT Touring I drove was trimmed in high-end materials. It had perforated leather seats and soft surfaces for the dash, doors and armrests. The spots where some pieces of trim met were not quite flush, and some of the gaps between exterior panels were wider than usual.
The new Forester is solid, but not the leader, despite room and fuel economy that should put it at the front of the pack.
2014 SUBARU FORESTER
Base price: $21,995
Price as tested:$35,395
Engine:2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged DOHC four-cylinder
Power:250 horsepower at 5,600 rpm; 258 pound-feet of torque at 2,000-4,800 rpm
EPA fuel economy:23 mpg city/28 highway
Ground clearance:8.7 inches
Towing capacity:1,500 pounds
Bottom line: solid model despite flaws