A small crossover that's deceptively quick

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring review notes

A small crossover that's deceptively quick

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring review notes
The 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring is a quick small crossover.
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EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I've always liked Subaru vehicles. Had a yellow GL wagon in college and loved that car. I put a couple hundred thousand mostly trouble-free miles on it. I remember driving it to Seattle pulling a smallish boat trailer. Took it camping, back and forth to school, etc. I basically drove it until the body rusted off the poor thing.

This 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring is a terrific all-around car. It's got plenty of power, a ton of room inside (Foresters are getting big!) and all-weather grip. For a winter beater so you can park the Porsche 911, it's about perfect. The flexibility is off-the-charts high.

That said, I'd keep the heated seats but would absolutely ditch the active cruise control, and if possible the top-mounted center screen. Active cruise annoys me no end -- I'm on record many times about that. And this center screen and its information and the various menus are so unneeded. I could probably whack that sticker price down a bit by eliminating a lot of that stuff. It looks like if one went for the Premium rather than the Touring you could hack it by about $5,000 and come away with a more pleasant car, or at least a less-complicated one. The interior materials are improved dramatically -- the hard cheap plastics are gone.

Other than the active cruise and fiddly buttons, I enjoyed my time in the car a bunch. It rides rather softly and there's some body roll, but recalling previous Forester drives, I expected that. No surprises in the ride/handling mix. There's good power here -- better than I thought there'd be -- and the power is relatively even for a turbo. It feels best above 3,000 rpm. It even feels decently mated to the CVT. There are different modes you can dial up -- normal, sport and what Subaru calls sport sharp. As one cycles through the throttle response quickens and sports sharp makes it even quicker. They were fun to mess with to see how the car's character changes in each mode.

I'd go for the turbo for sure if I was shopping a Forester.

Overall, a nice, enjoyable wagon that's practical in the extreme.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR SHERRICE GILSBACH: The Forester is a great flexible ride that offers interior space, powerful acceleration, AWD capability and rugged good looks. This Touring model was also loaded with technology that was effective, at least to the extent I used it, but a tad outdated-looking.

I like the exterior of this Forester, especially the front end. It seems more chiseled, which adds character to a car that is typically understated. Larger headlights also clean up the face of this car and contribute to an overall sturdy appearance.

Inside, the first thing I noticed was the leather seating. It looked well-made and comfy. I have long been a fan of Subaru save one feature: horribly uncomfortable seating. After driving around in this one all weekend, I have no complaints. And, if you want leather but not the premium price of the top trim level, you can get leather in the 2.5i Limited that starts out around $28,000.

Another interior perk is how bright the cabin is. Large windows provide the open and airy feel as well as good visibility all the way around the car.

Beyond seating and windows, nothing else appealed to me visually in the car. The technologies housed in the center stack included two small screens. One was used for the navigation and satellite radio and the other charted out your fuel economy and provided average fuel consumption. The screens provided were pretty small and looked outdated to me, but everything worked and the navi/radio portion worked with knobs or as a touchscreen that was effective.

Subaru's eyesight technology can take you by surprise. I did not have the experience of the car stopping for me, but I did get the, “car ahead of you had moved,” message. I didn't feel overly monitored by this particular nanny because it was helpful. When the car comes to a complete stop, either at a light or in rush-hour traffic, I take these pauses as opportunities to change the radio station, test out technology or read texts that have come through. The text alert accompanied by the audible chime was a good call to attention.

On grocery day, the cargo area of the Forester easily swallowed a week's worth of grub. A plastic cargo-floor insert assured that any spills from groceries, backpacks or snow-covered kid gear would not ruin cloth or carpeting.

On the road the Forester offers strong acceleration even without moving into sport mode. The CVT never bothered me, although with it I would expect the Forester to get better fuel economy. Throughout the weekend of running errands about town, I averaged 18 mpg.

What competes with the Forester? Vehicles in this class with turbocharged engines and CVTs are rare, but AWD crossovers are not. There is a turbocharged Hyundai Santa Fe Sport that offers similar features with a softer interior and the latest Toyota RAV4 boasts more cargo and passenger volume than the Subaru, albeit with less horsepower, at lower price.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: When Subaru released initial images of the redesigned 2014 Forester last fall, I certainly wasn't alone in thinking that it looked a bit like the Mazda CX-5. Subaru could have done worse than to crib lines from the sharp crossover, but it was as if the resemblance was a trick of photography.

The new Forester is a bit more boxy and upright in person than I would have expected -- not that I'm complaining. Boxy = cool, especially when it results in an interior that is much brighter than most of the cave-like crossovers on the market today.

Interior seems straightforward and durable. Seats weren't bad, but I wasn't in the car for a very long time and I didn't drive down bumpy trails.

I did get a pretty good feel for the powertrain, which was frankly surprising. The 2.0-liter turbo and CVT combo works great; the Forester is deceptively quick. Certainly quicker than the CX-5, though it takes a hit in fuel economy with an estimated 25 mpg combined.

Driver aid tech was my least favorite feature. Obstacle detection picked up on stopped traffic, yes, but also such threats to personal safety as a cloud of steam and an elevating parking structure gate (I had an unpleasant encounter with the automatic braking function with that one). To add insult to injury, the back-up camera -- one of the few driver aid features I've come to love -- was somewhat hobbled by a tiny camera display.

Besides that, the only other thing I'm not fully on board with is the $36k price tag. But that can be chopped significantly by starting with a more basic trim package -- or simply ditching that $2,400 EyeSight driver aid package.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: A co-worker thought it looked like an XV Crosstrek -- heck, I thought it was a B9 Tribeca as I walked up to this all-new fourth-generation Forester in the Autoweek garage -- it seemed that large. Though the dimensions grow only slightly (1.4 inches taller, 1.4 inches longer, 1 inch more in the wheelbase), the new styling makes it seem like a far bigger and more substantial vehicle than any Forester in the model's more rudimentarily styled past. Gone are the box-on-box wagon looks, replaced by smooth sheetmetal and clean lines running stem to stern. Like it. The big wheels and tires help too.

Inside, it's more of the same -- positively spacious, with lots of upscale touches such as stitched leather and keyless entry and ignition. I've heard a lot of the grousing about the car's active cruise control system, but in any stop-and-go traffic or on a long trip, I'll take it. This one works well; braking down to a stop without driver intervention, but its reaction time in speeding back up and its overly sensitive gap awareness at higher speeds are the kinds of things that give these systems a bad name. I'll give it a B-minus, so far, but I'm happy to see these systems proliferating, if for no other reason than to prevent rear-end collisions by issuing warnings when the driver is too distracted to notice that everybody else has come to a halt.

Unless you're trying for max fuel economy, I can't recommend putzing around in normal powertrain mode -- it's duller than a butter knife. But click into sport or sport sharp and everything picks up, making the Forester's little turbo 2.0-liter and CVT a very responsive combo. Regardless, this CVT is well-mannered in all modes -- this is a shining example of doing it right.

The price is worrisome, not so much because of the options but in the $33k base price. That seems like a chunk, but then it is AWD, with turbo engine, and very well equipped.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring

Base Price: $33,820

As-Tested Price: $36,220

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged H4; AWD, continuously variable transmission

Output: 250 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,622 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 23/28/25 mpg

AW Observed Fuel Economy: 22.9 mpg

Options: Keyless access and start, EyeSight, HID headlights ($2,400)

You can reach Wes Raynal at wraynal@crain.com.

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