2014 Subaru Forester XT convoy on tour in South AfricaEnlarge Photo
Capacious Forester, shorter Crosstrek
"Bracket creep" is increasingly common as cars expand their footprints to add more structure, letting them comply with increasingly tough crash-safety tests.
The new Forester is only slightly bigger than the previous model, but it feels and drives rather like the 2000-2009 Outback, the previous generation of mid-size Subaru.
The Crosstrek, on the other hand, is clearly a compact hatchback that's been raised and toughened--with larger wheels and tires, and some suspension modifications, but still very much in the middle of the compact size category.
The Forester has 113 cubic feet of space for people, plus 34.4 cubic feet of cargo volume; the comparable figures for the smaller Crosstrek are 97.5 and 22.3 cubic feet.
While both cars have fold-down rear seats, our comparison was somewhat skewed by the fact that South African Foresters are equipped with a full-size spare wheel and tire, meaning their load deck is higher than in North American cars with space-saver spares.
(We'll get a U.S. market 2014 Forester to test soon.)
Confident in the rough
Both the Forester and the Crosstrek cope fine with rutted dirt and gravel roads, mud, and presumably snowy roads too (though we didn't test that on either car).
Both have standard all-wheel drive, long a Subaru hallmark, and on our South African jaunt, we had several occasions to use it.
Our fleet of Foresters scurried up the famous single-lane Swartberg Pass outside Meiringspoort, pausing briefly at Die Top ("The Top") for photos.
Back on more level gravel roads, fast swerves to avoid large potholes showed the Forester to be balanced and responsive, and to retain the practical, capable versatility of its predecessors.
2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, upstate New York, Dec 2012Enlarge Photo
Our biggest disappointment with the Crosstrek was its tendency to wander at high speeds, and the Forester showed none of that.
It tracked straight, and while its electric power steering wasn't the most tactile we've ever driven (hello, Mazda), it gave sufficient feedback and was decently weighted.We'd pick the Crosstrek for around-town and mixed suburban use, but the Forester if our driving required long stretches on the highway.
Subaru has put effort into making the 2014 Forester's interior nicer than its somewhat plain predecessors, and while it's far from glamorous, it's definitely a nicer place to spend hours behind the wheel.