2014 Subaru Forester road test: More frugal, more agile, more fun

2014 Subaru Forester

2014 Subaru Forester

Maverick Japanese manufacturer Subaru has built a loyal following and a successful business producing vehicles slightly out of the mainstream, but the new, fourth generation 2014 Subaru Forester is aimed directly at the heart of the compact crossover market.

True, it is still powered by a non-traditional, horizontally opposed (Boxer) four-cylinder engine and comes only with standard all-wheel drive, but its size, performance statistics and fuel efficiency make it more directly comparable to the sales leaders in this quickly expanding and ever-more-competitive utility-vehicle segment.

Subaru Forester dashboard

Subaru Forester dashboard

Although the 2014 model is easily identified as a Subaru Forester, its more modern design comes with new benefits not immediately apparent at a glance.

It is only 1.4 inches longer than its predecessor, with a wheelbase that is increased .9 inches to 103.9.  With clever interior packaging, this translates to 41.7 inches of legroom in the second row, an increase of 3.7 inches.  Even a middle rear-seat passenger will have more room, thanks to a lowering of the driveshaft hump.

Seat height has been raised, too, but step-in height has been lowered by two inches. The outward view is even further enhanced with a generous expanse of glass around the vehicle.

The upscale Touring model supplied for the test drive retains the same 2.5-liter Boxer engine that was introduced in the 2013 model. It generates 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque.

Subaru Forester cargo space

Subaru Forester cargo space

Teamed with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Forester is not exactly fast, able only to make the flat-out run from a stop to 60 mph in a little over 9 seconds.

The good news is that under normal acceleration the engine droning normally associated with a CVT is minimal. However, when the accelerator is floored during passing conditions and hill climbing, the expected droning returns as the transmission works to match gearing with engine speed.

The best news is the increase in fuel efficiency. The EPA estimates the 2014 model at 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway, up from the 21/27 rating for the 2013 model that was saddled with a four-speed automatic transmission. In a week of mostly suburban and highway driving I averaged 29.5 mpg per gallon of regular unleaded fuel.

Equipped with struts in front and a double-wishbone rear suspension, the 2014 Forester offers better driving dynamics than the 2013 model. It is more agile, but some may find the ride to be a bit firm.  The four-wheel disc brakes are plenty strong for the 3,366-pound vehicle, while the electric power steering is accurate but a bit numb. The turning circle is a tight 34.8 feet and towing capacity is 1,500 pounds.

The Touring model is equipped with a version of Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive that distributes power to the wheels based on acceleration, deceleration, cornering and available traction. When loss of traction happens, power is transferred to the wheels with the best grip.

Subaru Forester front seats

Subaru Forester front seats

While the Forester is most often appreciated for its poor-weather performance, the 2014 model also has enhanced off-road capability.

The Touring model features a new X-Mode, which controls throttle and transmission settings for low-speed off-road driving and also engages hill-descent control to maintain a constant speed on steep downhill grades.

Equipped with the standard panoramic sunroof, the Touring model has 31.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats and 68.5 cubic feet with the 60/40 split seatbacks folded forward.

In addition to a comprehensive list of safety features, the Touring model features the optional EyeSight system, which provides adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-departure warning. A rearview camera is standard, as are new anti-whiplash front seats and a driver’s knee airbag.