2014 Subaru Forester Preview Drive - pre-production mule, Japan Proving Grounds
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.