As we've noted before, many automotive journalists seem to own Subarus as their personal cars.
We recently spent three days with a new 2014 Subaru Forester XT--the more powerful turbocharged model--driving South Africa's Garden Route along the country's south coast, from Plettenburg Bay to Cape Town.
The drive included quite a few single-lane dirt and gravel roads, along with a few memorable mountain passes. Together, they gave us a feeling for how the new Forester XT coped with the kind of rough roads that Subarus are often used on.
And it let us contrast the bigger 2014 Forester to the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek we tested six months ago.
NOTE: We drove South African-spec 2014 Forester XT models with right-hand drive, a lower power rating than the North American version, and some other minor differences. For that reason, we are not citing specific equipment and trim features from our test car.
Flat fours and CVTs
Both Subarus we tested used the company's LinearTronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is one of the better examples of CVT.
Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel allow it to be "downshifted" or "upshifted" by mimicking six conventional gear ratios, but otherwise it boosts efficiency by optimizing engine speed to the power and speed requested--without some of the wild revving or engine howling other CVTs can produce.
The Crosstrek has a 148-hp 2.0-liter flat-four engine, which was rated by the EPA at 28 mpgcombined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) with the CVT. It's also offered with a five-speed manual, which lowers the gas mileage.
The 2014 Forester XT has a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four engine, whereas standard Foresters come with a 170-hp 2.5-liter fuel-injected flat four.
(Our South African Forester XT had a lower power rating, largely due to changes in engine tuning to handle the much more variable gasoline quality in that country, according to our hosts.)
2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek - First Drive, Oahu, July 2012Enlarge Photo
25 to 28 mpg
The Forester XT we drove is rated by the EPA at 25 mpg combined (23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway). The standard model fitted with the CVT comes in at 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway).
Though it had a bit of turbo lag, the turbocharged Forester XT was punchy and delivered good acceleration under pretty much any circumstance, with little whining or engine howl from the CVT.
The conventional Forester engine is less enthusiastic; Subarus have never been among the most powerful cars in their categories, though to be fair, we haven't yet driven a 2.5-liter Forester.
The Crosstrek with its 2.0-liter engine weighs more than the Impreza hatchback with the same power, so we found that it ran out of steam when pressed hard.
The turbo Forester did not have that problem, but we suspect you could do some serious damage to real-world gas mileage if you use its greater power consistently.
We're not quoting any gas-mileage figures here because of our Forester XT's different tuning and power specifications, not to mention the unusual driving routes.