2014 Subaru Forester Limited Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Subaru has a very successful formula with its Forester crossover, so it is understandable that the company has tended to make evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes to the design. In this sense, the fourth generation Forester is unsurprising: another evolutionary step in the Forester bloodline. But underneath the slightly softer, more rounded (and more spacious) bodywork, and beyond the restyled, upgraded interior, this new Forester does indeed offer up some significant mechanical changes aimed at increasing fuel economy and performance.

Key among these changes is a pair of new transmissions and a new performance engine option. The base engine, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer that delivers 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, carries over from the previous generation car. But instead of the previous choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, you now get the choice of a six-speed manual or an automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission). The new performance engine option, available in Forester XT models, is a twin-scroll turbocharged, directed injected 2.0-litre boxer that punches out 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This engine comes standard with an upgraded version of the automatic CVT.

My test car was a 2.5i Limited model so I wasn't able to try out the new engine, but I was able to test the new CVT transmission. There are no real surprises here: the transmission delivers seamless (if perhaps slightly droning) acceleration during normal operation, and in all but the base model offers a Sport manual mode with paddle shifters and six virtual gears. I found the manual mode useful when I wanted to keep the engine revs up in corners and such, but the virtual gearshifts certainly aren't as crisp feeling as you get with a conventional automatic.

Where the CVT really pays off is in the fuel economy department, where the 2.5-litre Forester is rated 8.3 / 6.2 L/100km (city/hwy) with the CVT, versus 9.5 / 7.0 with the six-speed manual. Performance is relatively modest but the Forester still has plenty enough power for daily driving needs, with a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of around nine seconds.

Of course being a Subaru, all Foresters come equipped with the company's symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive system, which for 2014 gains a new X-mode for CVT-equipped models. The X-mode switch works at speeds below 40 km/h and adjusts various drivetrain parameters, changing the throttle response for better control, adjusting power output to the driving wheels and increasing clutch pressure in the AWD system, among other things. Combined with the Forester's high ground clearance and hill descent control this gives the Forester genuine light-duty off-road capability, and certainly makes it plenty capable on cottage roads and in poor weather. And while the Forester may not take to the wilds quite like some of the more off-road oriented SUVs out there, in return it delivers crisper, more controlled handling than taller SUVs and crossovers can muster.

Inside, the 2014 Forester is a very nice place to spend time. Soft-surface materials are used for key touch points and on the top of the dash, with good-looking hard-touch plastics are used elsewhere including the door uppers. The front seats are very supportive, and the back seat is also remarkably spacious and comfortable, while behind it there's a respectable 892 litres of cargo space (1,940 litres with the rear seats folded, and a little bit more in cars without the panoramic roof). The list of standard equipment is genuinely impressive - indeed far too long to list here - and includes all the expected comforts like air conditioning, power locks and windows, cruise control, automatic headlights, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, and a multi-info display that shows instant and average fuel consumption in a variety of graphic representations, plus an entertaining (but not particularly useful) diagram detailing the current steering angle and the power distribution to each of the four wheels.

My test car's Limited package increased the comfort factor even further with a whole range of additional equipment that included contrast-stitched perforated leather upholstery, an excellent-sounding upgraded eight-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, a panoramic glass sunroof, and a power liftgate. These last two features are actually included with the Touring edition; the glass roof got glowing reviews from my kids for the way it brightened up the interior, but I found the power liftgate to be a bit slow in operation, and balky if I tried to manually override it. On the plus side, Subaru has made the opening height adjustable, so if you have a low garage roof you can set it for a lower opening, or if you are tall you can set it higher so you don't bump your head when loading cargo.

Pricing for the 2014 Subaru Forester starts at $27,655 (including the $1,650 destination fee) for the base 2.5i model, with the range-topping 2.0XT Limited with Eyesight and Multimedia going for $39,645 including destination. In between there is a whopping seven additional trim levels, including Convenience, Convenience with PZEV option, Touring, Limited, Limited with Eyesight and Multimedia, 2.0XT Touring, and 2.0XT Limited. My mid-range 2.5i Limited, which includes the above-mentioned leather upholstery and automatic transmission, lists for $34,945 destination in. If you prefer a manual transmission, you'll want to look at either the base model or the 2.5i Touring, the latter which lists for $31,645 (the CVT is optional in these two models).

The Forester's pricing and equipment range lets you select the exact vehicle to suit your needs, and it allows the Forester to be competitive against a wide range of rivals including the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Jeep Patriot, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, and others. Where the Subaru stands out is its excellent fuel economy, great safety ratings (it was an IIHS top safety pick in 2013), good driving dynamics, superior outward visibility, and all-around practicality.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Subaru, 2014, Forester, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Compact,

Organizations: Subaru

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