2014 Subaru Forester XT Touring Test Review

Jennifer Hofmann - CAP staff
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I had been looking forward to my week with the new 2014 Subaru Forester. Like many loyal Subaru fans (is saying loyal Subaru fan redundant?) I really like the Forester and was quite curious to test out the new changes.

Speaking of fans, I was mildly accosted in a parking lot by a lady parked a couple of spots down from me. She owned a 2010 Forester and was all excited to check mine out, as she is planning to buy the new model. When she found out I was a journalist she wanted to know what I thought. Well I told her an abbreviated version of what I'm about to tell you.

We were both loading kids and miscellaneous stuff into the backs of our Foresters, and she asked me about cargo space. She was misinformed that the cargo area had decreased in size and was concerned that she wouldn't be able to fit all of her camping gear inside. I was happily able to inform her that cargo space is improved! It's up from 949 litres to 974, and with the seats folded down it has expanded from 1,934 litres to 2,115. Maybe once she steps up for the 2014 model she could add some luxury camping gear such as an air mattress with one of those electric pumps attached to it. It all gets covered by a handy cargo tray that shields from prying eyes, while four tie-down hooks and two utility hooks keep things fastened in place. The trunk opening is now lower and wider too, so it's easier to load.

New for 2014 is a powered rear liftgate with an innovative door height memory system that can be preset lower for shorter garages or higher if you happen to be tall. Very convenient! I sometimes have trouble closing rear liftgates (I am the average woman's height of 5-foot-5) so the powered feature can be a great help, although hitting my head on the top edge isn't a problem.

Moving into the passenger compartment, I like the overall design. The seats' upholstery picks up the blue of the exterior, a nice touch, while leather bolsters give the car an upscale look. The rest of the interior surfaces have a utilitarian feel to them, but it's an improvement over the outgoing 2013 model none-the-less. Another improvement is the lowered foot wells for both front and rear occupants, making getting in and out easier, especially for the little kiddies. I also have to mention the huge sunroof that I still love, love, love!  It almost feels like you're in a convertible when it's open, and even when the glass is closed it allows so much light inside that it feels as if you're outside.

When I picked up the Forester from Subaru I made a comment about how I felt people who love to drive should consider buying this car. Another journalist (a bit of a self-proclaimed elitist snob) asked me if I really believed that (or was I just sucking up to the Subaru guy)? And yes, I truly believe that. Maybe driving a Forester isn't the same as pushing a BMW to its limits on the Autobahn, but this comparison isn't very realistic for most peoples' budgets. A lot of Forester owners are moms like me and the woman I met, who care about getting to baseball practice on time, but also want to enjoy the not-too-twitchy, not-too-loose, just right handling of a Forester XT along the way, not to mention the smooth yet sporty ride.

Speaking of sporty, you have two engine choices under the hood, although you'll get Subaru's horizontally opposed boxer either way. There's the base 2.5-litre four-cylinder with 170-horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, and then there's the one I had, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four with 250-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. I giggled a little (yes, sigh, I'm a girl after all) when I felt the power kick in. All models come with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT), and mine had the CVT. The CVT either comes with six simulated gears that you can click through on your own (or leave in Drive), or eight if you opt for the turbocharged engine. They do a pretty good job of making it feel like it's shifting gears, but I haven't been able to get over it feeling a little fake. What about those who want the power, but would rather shift the old school way? Unfortunately you can't get a manual transmission with the turbo, or for that matter the "eight speed" CVT without the turbocharge engine.

With the audio system, however, you have lots of options. There's the usual AM/FM unit with a single-CD, although CD players are becoming less of a necessity these days. Satellite radio can be had too. Bluetooth streaming audio (and Bluetooth hands-free) is featured on all models, while my tester's Touring Packing had the eight-speaker Harman/Kardon upgrade, a really nice addition.

I preferred the 6.1-inch colour touchscreen for switching channels, etc., over the steering wheel controls. The display was really easy to understand and gave a lot of options for audio and navigation functions, the rearview camera, phone, or whatever I was trying to do. I usually use the steering wheel controls, incidentally, so this really shows how much I liked the Forester's infotainment display. I'll just have to start carrying some of those computer screen wipes with me to clear off all the fingerprints!

Subaru, like its fans, tends to stay loyal to what works. Similar to keeping true to its boxer engine over the decades, the alternative Japanese car company almost always makes four-wheel-drive standard (the BR-Z sports car is the only vehicle they offer without AWD). New for 2014 is "X" Mode, a system that kicks the Forester's hill climbing abilities up a notch, and even more so its hill descending capability. What it does, once switched on, is take over controlling throttle response, adjusting power to the wheels, and basically making it so that you can go downhill without using the brakes at all. The car controls itself, which reduces the risk of sliding. I didn't get much opportunity to test this out, other than about 20 minutes up the mountain, but it gave me the same thrill I felt when I first used adaptive cruise control and felt the brake pedal move on its own to slow the car down when another vehicle in front slowed. X Mode is a great feature to make off-roading just that much safer, yet still fun, and likely would come in very handy on icy winter inclines too.

The Forester starts out at $28,190 including freight and PDI. My XT with the Touring package came in at $34,690. Overall I loved it. The new look makes it more of an SUV and less of a wagon, which is a major plus for me. All of the changes make it easier to access and more comfortable overall. The turbo made it even more fun to drive. And as I said previously, the massive sunroof always lights up my day. Of course the infotainment system made life in the Forester just that much easier and therefore more enjoyable.

If I ever had to get a more functional vehicle, something to cart around more kids and, say a sheep dog, I would definitely put the Forester at the top of my list.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

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

Organizations: Subaru

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