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We'll keep this brief: The 2014 Subaru Forester is one of the safest, most versatile vehicles you can buy today, which is why it's The Car Connection's Best Car To Buy 2014.
Yes, we know it's a crossover, not technically a car, but the Forester does such a convincing job of behaving like a car, we're letting the technicalities slide. It's the perfect tool for weekend warriors; a capable all-weather commuter; a family wagon par excellence; and a vehicle so well-endowed with crash-test goodness, it was called out specifically by the folks who crash-test cars for a living.To keep in pace with families yet in touch with the rugged side, and keep the balance right on what’s already a very successful vehicle (about a quarter of the brand’s U.S. sales), Subaru has taken an “evolution, not revolution” approach with the completely redesigned 2014 Forester. Priorities included better fuel economy, improved drivability and usability, and to retain (and improve) the Forester’s rugged all-wheel-drive advantage.
Appearance-wise with this fourth-generation Forester, Subaru looks to have kept the modus operandi, but especially finessed the design. The 2014 Subaru Forester is roughly the same size as the outgoing model on the outside (it’s a little taller, with a wheelbase that’s only an inch longer), but it inherits some of the themes and design details seen in last year’s redesign of the Impreza lineup—including the crisp new grille design and smoothly sculpted side sheetmetal that flows into taillamps that are ‘pinched’—for appearance, and for aerodynamics. A somewhat taller hoodline and a more chiseled look in front give it more of an SUV look, although Turbo models get a more aggressive, technical-looking lower airdam (and the hood scoop is gone).
Behind the driver’s wheel, the new Forester is no revelation, but it still feels a little more athletic than most models in this class, while making major gains in gas mileage. The base powerplant—included in all 2.5i models—remains the same 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed ‘flat’ four-cylinder engine that was first introduced on the Forester last year, but a new 2.0-liter flat four in 2.0XT models has direct injection and turbocharging and produces a stout 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm (on premium gas). 2.5i models can be had with either a six-speed manual gearbox (our pick with this base engine) or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while the 2.0XT comes only with the CVT. XT turbo models get a special version of the CVT, though, that can simulate an eight-speed automatic transmission when wanted. A stiffer body structure and a completely reengineered suspension otherwise put the Forester close to the head of the class with respect to ride and handling. Steering is nicely weighted, and body control is as in-check as you'll find from such a tall, spacious utility vehicle. 2.5i are adequate, EPA fuel economy ratings range up to 32 mpg highway with the CVT. 2.0XT models are quite a bit quicker overall, yet they return a 25 mpg Combined rating that Subaru says is best in class.
Several things—in addition to the extra power—contribute to a sportier driving experience in the 2.0XT. One of them is SI-Drive. Essentially the same system that Subaru’s used in some of its sporty models in the past, it offers three modes—Intelligent (I), Sport (S), and Sport Sharp (S#)—that tweak the way the accelerator and powertrain respond. There's also the the transmission's eight-speed mode (only in S#), paddle shifters (only in the XT), and XT-exclusive suspension components, as well as a completely different performance calibration.
The Forester retains all of its rugged trail prowess, including 8.7 inches of ground clearance and some approach and departure angles that even off-road purists wouldn’t be quick to dismiss. But perhaps inspired by systems such as Land Rover’s Terrain Response, Subaru has added something called X-Mode. When engaged at low speeds, it electronically manages torque from left to right, supplementing the AWD system’s front-to-back distribution, and it automatically deploys Hill Descent Control at low speeds.
While the 2014 Forester is about the same size as before on the outside, the automaker has applied some packaging smarts with the interior, rejiggering the seating position and interior appointments into what feels like (and is) a roomier vehicle. This Forester feels completely different from the outgoing model from the driver’s seat; much of that’s because the entire instrument panel has been pushed forward nearly five inches from the seating position, while the seats themselves have been raised slightly, for a ‘hip point’ that’s more than an inch higher than before, and they’re also slightly farther apart. There's more rear legroom, plus about 12 percent more cargo space, and rear seatback folding that’s close to fully flat with a one-touch mechanism.
There’s also a much greater sense of detailing and refinement inside. Materials—everything from upholsteries to door trim—are a solid step up from before, and Subaru has added more insulation both to the door panels and to the area just ahead of the instrument panel. All models now get a fold-down center armrest, and solid-looking cupholders have been moved there instead of at the back of the center console (in turn, the center console now longer extends as far back, to give the center occupant a little more space.
Available active-safety features in the Forester include adaptive cruise control (ACC), running at speeds from 25 mph up to 90 mph, while the Forester gets the EyeSight system for spotting road hazards with a camera-based system, up to 80 meters ahead, and potentially avoiding an accident by braking at up to 0.4g.
Instruments and displays in the Forester are new, and most models in the lineup get a color multi-information display that shows audio and trip information, the rear-camera view when backing up, and off-road-relevant info when in X-Mode. Even the base 2.5i model has a 4.3-inch LCD display for outside temp and trip-computer functions and now comes with Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming. With the Limited model, the CVT is mandatory but you get perforated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, automatic climate control, a power rear liftgate, and an upgraded instrument cluster. Top Touring models, you get eight Harmon Kardon speakers and a 440-watt amp, along with full integration of Aha streaming audio, through an app for iPhone or Android handsets, but the touch-screen interface can be frustrating.
The 2014 Subaru Forester gets an improved feature set throughout the model line. And several new features, including a rear-vision camera, multi-function display, power rear liftgate, and EyeSight active-safety systems, are now offered on much of the lineup. It's also the only model in its class to earn a top 'good' rating in that test, and only one of two in its class to earn the new Top Safety Pick+ accolade--although in new federal tests it hasn't quite pulled off a sweep (it earns four of five stars in frontal impact).
It moves forward with a good value proposition, too. With prices up only modestly (about $700) on the base model and not significantly changed at the top of the lineup—plus prices that more or less line up with front-wheel-drive rival models—you definitely get more value for 2014.
- Composed ride yet responsive handling
- Active-safety features, including X Mode
- Tight, quiet cabin
- Turbo’s eight-speed paddle-shift control
- Top-tier safety
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- No manual (Turbo)
- No paddle shifters for 2.5i CVT models
- Kludgy touch-screen audio interfaces
- Too little drama for Turbo's launch