2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring Review by Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Subaru Forester

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

• SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Subaru Forester

You may not have noticed, but the fourth generation of Subaru's Forester crossover SUV is here. Superficially similar to its immediate predecessor, it's just a touch larger in every dimension without getting too big, for improved interior space and comfort. If stylistic differences are not vast, beneath the skin much has changed.

The Forester's new platform has a wheelbase longer by 0.9 inches. Overall length is just 1.4 inches more, with width increased 0.6 inches. Height grows by 1.7 inches. Structural and design changes allow more increase in interior space to not only feel more spacious, but to actually improve key dimensions. Most notably, rear-seat legroom has increased 3.7 inches. Shoulder room and cargo capacity are also notably improved.

As before, it's offered in naturally-aspirated 2.5i and turbocharged XT forms, but there are some important changes under the new hood -- 2.5i models trade the old five-speed manual transmission for a six-speed, and the previous four-speed automatic is replaced by a wide-ratio continuously-variable transmission (CVT). The XT gets a new engine, smaller in displacement than the old one, 2.0 vs. 2.5 liters, but with more power, 250 horsepower to the old 224. Torque goes from 226 lb-ft to 258. And, since the new Forester is a Subaru, that means that all come with full-time all-wheel drive.

I'll leave the XT for another time, as I've been driving a 2014 Forester 2.5i Touring for the past week. Touring is the top trim level, with Limited, Premium, and just plain 2.5i below it. Pretty much everything you really need is standard in the 2.5i -- driver's seat cushion height adjustment, tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, power windows, mirrors, and locks with remote keyless entry, a rear window wiper, 60/40 folding seatback, automatic-off headlights, air conditioning, and plenty more. That's also the only way you can get the six-speed stick. The CVT's optional there, but is the only transmission in the other levels and in the XT.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Subaru Forester Premium

Premium adds a power driver's seat, upgraded wheels and audio system, panoramic power moonroof, rear-view camera, roof rails, and more, with an optional navigation system. Limited means fancier exterior and interior trim, leather for the seats and steering wheel, power liftgate, and a relining rear seatback. Touring? All the options standard, plus electroluminescent instruments, dual-zone climate control, height memory for the power liftgate, and standard nav. Optional is the Driver Assist Technology Package, with Keyless Access and Start, HID headlights, and the EyeSight® suite of electronic safety features.

My week with the Forester Touring with Driver Assist package saw wild weather swings, from unseasonably late rain and cold to a triple-digit heat wave. The Forester performed admirably in all. If there is no more power from the 2.5 liter engine than before, the CVT makes better use of it, for quick acceleration in city traffic and when needed for highway merging. Fuel economy was 19 to 23 mpg around town and on backroads, with 26 to 32 on the highway. But after suffering through a few days of 100º+ heat, my favorite feature was the air conditioning. Instant cold, no waiting, even in that heat, one of the best if not the best in any car I've driven. Add that to the 2014 Forester's increased space and efficiency, and Subaru has made a good car even better.

APPEARANCE: As it was between the first and second generations of Forester, external changes are evolutionary for continuity, but with more visual interest added to the details. If the overall shape is familiar, all the better for identification. The wide, chrome-trimmed hexagonal grille (as seen on other recent Subarus), "hawkeye" headlights, and sculpted hood give it more presence at the front. A strong shoulder line and moderately-flared wheel arches define the sides. The tailgate styling reprises the hood, and huge taillights at the rear quarters ensure that the Forester is visible at night. Yes, there is black plastic cladding around the lower perimeter, but interestingly it does not extend to the wheel arches. Ground clearance is an SUVish 8.7 inches but the plastic panels underneath are less skid plates than a near-complete aerodynamic undertray.

COMFORT: Did I just say "8.7 inches of ground clearance"? Yes indeed - but that's a bit less than before if still as good as practically any real off-roader, and there is absolutely no detriment to easy access, even by short people. You don't climb in or out, as the seat cushions are close to hip level, even for 5-4 me. And ground lights at the bottoms of the front doors help at night. Form follows function inside the new Forester, but that's not to the detriment of form. It strikes a good balance between intuitive simplicity and visual interest. Soft-touch materials are used for the upper parts of the instrument panel and doors, with silvery plastic trim. separating that from the lower sections and a light-colored synthetic cloth headliner.

In the Touring, the main instruments are electroluminescent, bright and easy to see in all light, and well-shaded from glare. The information display between the tach and speedometer is controlled by switches on the lower left of the steering wheel hub; cruise and audio controls are found on the spokes. Because of wheel and seat adjustability, the correct driving position is easily obtained, and front seat comfort is very good. Visibility to the front and sides is good. To the rear quarters, it's okay with correct use of mirrors. Directly behind, yes the rear window bottom is high, but the rearview camera screen is a good safety and convenience feature. Situated at the top of the center stack under another hood, it could be larger. That screen also doubles for information purposes. Below that are climate system vents, below them is the navigation/audio touchscreen. All current audio formats are supported. Climate controls are simple rotary knobs at the bottom of the stack. Interior storage is good, with a locking glovebox, deep console box with armrest, and pockets with bottle holders in all four doors. The rear bench seat cushion is only mildly contoured and the central tunnel is low, so the rear center position is more useful than in many other similarly-sized cars. Outboard positions have excellent leg, head, and hip room. The view through the standard extra-large sunroof is best from the rear seat. The rear seatback is split 60/40, and each side can be reclined a bit. There is plenty of space behind the seats, with small compartments in the foam plastic insert between the load floor and space-saver spare tire.

SAFETY: Safety has been a Subaru priority for many years. A unibody structure based on the "Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame" architecture ensures crashworthiness, which is enhanced by a full complement of airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and all-wheel drive traction. New this year are ant-whiplash front seats, a driver's knee airbag, Brake Override to cut engine power if both the throttle and brake are applied simultaneously beyond a certain threshold, and an impact sensor that cuts fuel to the engine during an airbag deployment. The EyeSight system combines adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning systems and is based on a stereo camera system, not radar.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Since its debut back in model year 1998, the Forester has had a reputation for nimble handling and good ride comfort. Subaru wasn't going to mess up a good thing, so there are only detail changes to the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear suspension. In 2.5i models, it's tuned moderately, with an emphasis on ride comfort. Want more sport? That would be the XT, or a WRX… Steering assist has changed from hydraulic to electric. Some electric-assist systems are numb to the point of feeling like video game controllers. Not this one -- steering feel is no different than it used to be, and effort is appropriate. Good soundproofing and attention to aerodynamic details keeps the cabin quiet, and the Forester tracks well in strong winds.

PERFORMANCE: No change to the four-cylinder, 2.5-liter boxer engine, and no complaints there. With 170 horsepower (at 5800 rpm) and 174 lb-ft of torque (at 4100 rpm) and the Subaru Active Valve Control System to control valve timing for improved efficiency and decreased emissions, it's proven technology. New this year is a switch from a conventional torque converter automatic to a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). No discrete gears, so no shifting, and the electronic controls try to keep the engine at its most efficient speed as much as possible. The result is very good low-speed acceleration, all the better to deal with traffic, and very good fuel economy, especially on the highway. As mentioned, I got low twenties around town and high twenties on the highway for 25 mpg overall. Being a Subaru, all four wheels transmit power to the ground all the time. The Active All-Wheel Drive System uses an electronically-controlled transfer clutch to apportion the front-rear split, not the brakes via the stability control system as some other AWD system do. X-Mode, new this year, provides optimized control on slippery surfaces at low speeds.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2014 Subaru Forester is just like the old one. Only even better.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring

Base Price $ 29,995

Price As Tested $ 33,220

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 170 @ 5800 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 174 @ 4100 rpm

Transmission CVT

Wheelbase / Length 103.9 in. / 180.9 in.

Curb Weight 3366 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.8

Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P225/60 R17 98H Yokohama Geolander m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone

Ground Clearance 8.7 inches

Drivetrain inline front engine, full-time all-wheel drive


PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 24 / 25 / 32

0 to 60 mph 8.6 sec

Towing Capacity 1,500 lbs.


OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Driver Assist Technology Package -- includes: Keyless Entry And Start EyeSight Driver-Assist System -- includes: Pre-Collision Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane-Departure and Lane-Sway Warning, Pre-Collision Throttle Management System - $2,400

Destination Charge - $825


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