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2014 Subaru Forester XT Six-Month Road Test: So Far

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Three months ago, a Subaru Forester XT showed up in the nick of time to help us navigate Atlanta's worst winter storm in 20 years. And then another. And one more.

Think it deserves a break? We do too. Now at its halfway point in our Six-Month Road Test, the Forester's spending a month at our New York bureau, shuttling between the city and the Catskills so we can get a true insider take on its strengths and weaknesses.

It's not like we've been dawdling. Three months behind the wheel is time to learn a lot. But where else in the world aside from the Northeast, would you find Interstate-stop Starbucks choked with Foresters and Legacy wagons--most of them stuffed and loaded down with Labradors, leaf blowers, and the occasional bale or two of hay?

These people know their Subarus.

MORE: Read our 2015 Subaru Forester review

While it settles in its temporary Hudson River Valley home, a quick look back on the first three months are in order. First, we introduced you to our Forester 2.0XT Touring wagon, a top-line model with leather, navigation, and a power tailgate, as well as a $2,400 option package which bundles pushbutton start and EyeSight, the Subaru system that alerts drivers to impending obstacles detected by a pair of forward-facing cameras. Our sticker price: $36,459.

Next, we brought you up to date on all our drives of the new Forester, from early prototypes to base versions. We explained why it's already earned some of the best-crash-test scores possible. And since the 2015 model's already on sale, with a standard rearview camera and cheaper EyeSight, we let you know the small differences between model years only result in an even better deal for the latest Subaru wagon.

2014 Subaru Forester XT Six-Month Road Test--the soil test

2014 Subaru Forester XT Six-Month Road Test--the soil test

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Back to our Forester XT, which has been a paragon of usefulness, whether we've used it to haul stuff to goodwill charities, or to haul home bagged soil to replenish a frost-burned yard. The fold-down seats fold nearly flat to open up a huge cargo bin: we're estimating 15 bags of the good dirty stuff would have fit if we hadn't exercised some seasonal restraint.

On the mechanical side, upkeep has been minimal. In more than 5,000 miles of driving, our Forester's only required an oil change, a top-off of coolant, and a tire rotation. The service call took all of about an hour.

As for gas mileage, our Forester XT has been spot-on the EPA figures. The agency gives the turbocharged Forester wagon a 25-mpg combined rating. So far, we've observed 24.6 mpg, with a best tank clocking in at 28.7 mpg, and a worst one at 20.1 mpg. We credit the long, slow coast to southern Florida for the first figure--and the obnoxious Atlanta evening rush hours for the second.

We've renewed our dislike for the Forester's navigation/infotainment system, and over time, we're becoming less fond of the flat-bottomed front seats. More bolstering on both seat cushions would be very welcome. That said, we're getting more and more enthusiastic about hiding stuff from ourselves in the Forester's cubbies and bins, and lording over sedan drivers with the Forester's arena-height headroom.

We're also adapting to the potential future of self-driving cars with the Forester's EyeSight system and with its adaptive cruise control. Blips and bleeps aside, these features could on the one hand, promote less attentive driving--you can glance away for seconds and seconds while the Forester keeps a safe pace behind the vehicle in front of you. It also takes an override of the right foot to nudge non-adaptive drivers out of the left lane, and that throttle engagement isn't entirely smooth in the Forester. The lane-keeping, accident-avoidance piece of autonomous vehicles may take some time to fully flesh out, but even this rudimentary system shows off how far-reaching the changes will be.

Over the next month, we'll let you know whether the Forester tackles dirt trails with the same ease it does pavement--and we'll bring it back to the south for another stint before we wish it good day. Let us know via Facebook or Twitter, or the comments below, what you think about the Forester--and if you agree with the Best Car To Buy 2014 award we gave it last fall.

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