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2014 Subaru Forester: Preview Drive Page 2

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The other side of the coin is performance, and with a new 2.0XT Turbo model, fitted with SI Drive and a Sport mode for the CVT, the new Forester should keep up relatively well with the Ford Escape 2.0-liter EcoBoost. With its 250 horsepower (on premium fuel) and 258 pound-feet of torque, at just 2,000 rpm, the engine delivers a solid kick at tip-in, especially if you have the SI Drive Control in S#. Just as this system has allowed in other Subaru performance models, SI Drive offers Intelligent (I), Sport (S), and Sport Sharp (S#) modes. These three modes affect the sensitivity to accelerator inputs and responsiveness of the transmission, but more importantly in Turbo models a Sport shift mode enables eight-speed manual control, allowing you to click through closely-spaced ‘gears’ with the steering-wheel paddle-shifters. Otherwise the system allows six manual-control ratios (yes, it’s actually a different set of ratios), and it only holds them momentarily.

The turbo is quick once underway, but its launch lacks as much gusto as it should—mainly, we suspect, because the CVT starts in too tall of a ratio. From a standing start, there’s nothing close to the tire-scorching drama of a current-generation Toyota RAV4 V-6, for instance. Tipping into the accelerator in Turbo models once underway brought quick, strong response, and compared to other CVTs we liked the way it would hold on to current revs for a moment, for a more confident feel as the boost kicks in.

Standard Forester 2.5i models are powered by a carryover 170-hp, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four, but the CVT has an expanded ratio range compared to some of Subaru’s other models. Turbo models get dual variable valve timing, while 2.5-liter versions have variable intake timing only.

Quiet, smooth, and refined

One of the first impressions in driving the new Forester—and one enforced from the passenger seat in a battering high-speed rally-style course—is that it’s very quiet compared to most other compact crossovers. Subaru has gotten serious about hushing the cabin, and added extra insulation behind the instrument panel and within door panels. Bod rigidity has been greatly improved both around the front bulkhead and around the hatchback opening, and new diagonal crossmembers have been added to the underbody.

Subaru has actually increased damping force while softening the spring rate (it’s 20 percent higher for the Turbo), and the new dampers have an increased rebound stroke. We expected that to translate to a little more ride harshness, as well as a little more body motion, but with the structural improvements as well as a significantly larger front stabilizer bar the setup feels surprisingly solid. Subaru notes that it looked to the exact lane-change test used by Consumer Reports in an effort to maximize stability while also improving ride comfort. And they let us loose on a small road course, versus rivals such as the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5—as well as the outgoing Forester. What we found is that the new Forester has less harshness and better weight transfer in quick maneuvers. There’s still a lot of body lean when you drive it like a hooligan, but hey, this is a relatively tall crossover.

Despite being 1.4 inches taller, as well as slightly heavier than the outgoing version, Subaru has managed to quite dramatically improve gas mileage—up to 32 mpg highway for 2.5i CVT versions, or 25 mpg Combined for the Turbo—and better aerodynamics have a lot to do with it. The new model has more carefully sculpted exterior details (with the side mirrors positioned back), while underbody shielding reduces turbulence and even the taillamp design cuts drag—altogether, to a 0.327 coefficient.

Infotainment interfaces the only letdown so far

Although we’ll need to revisit this vehicle on real U.S. roads in order to give you a final verdict, based on our limited drive there was surprisingly little to gripe about. interior materials—everything from upholstery to door panels—are astonishingly improved. The exception is that we just can’t get comfortable or feel happy with the awkward interface and menu system for Subaru’s already-outdated-looking touch-screen infotainment systems—although steering-wheel controls have been expanded, and you can now get Aha app integration for streaming smartphone-based entertainment.

To sum, from the driver’s seat, the 2014 Forester has some strong credentials for families—and that holds true whether we're talking about getting safely around town, rain or shine, or getting up to a campsite on the weekend. The all-weather ruggedness is still there, but the more comfortable interior and far better look inside and out are going to win friends.

True to its name, it still has what the tree-huggers want; it's just branched out.


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  1. Looking forward to test driving the new Forester, and expect to have a tough choice between this and the Outback this Spring!
     
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