2013 Subaru Forester

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2014 Subaru Forester Review

This 2014 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Evan Griffey of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.7

Bottom Line:

The all-new 2014 Subaru Forester resets the SUV fuel -efficiency benchmark by delivering an impressive, league-leading 32 mpg on the highway that is tops not only for all-wheel or 4x4 offerings, but also shames many front-wheel-drive competitors. The new fourth-generation Forester is bigger inside and out than the previous model, and Subaru has stepped up and added additional gusto to its all-wheel-drive system, vastly improving the rig’s extreme weather and terrain capabilities.
Pros:
  • 24/32/27 mpg and AWD
  • X-Mode enhances off-road prowess
  • Interior bigger, better, more intuitive
Cons:
  • 2.5i trims need more power
  • Loud at full throttle
  • No sliding rear seats

The Forester started as a muscle-bound station wagon in 1997 and has evolved in prominence within the Subaru model line; it now accounts for 23 percent of U.S. sales. To keep the sales momentum going, Subaru's designers have made the most of the fourth-generation redesign of the Forester by enhancing fuel economy and body styling, as well as powertrain, safety and tech systems. The final result is a balanced vehicle that offers more comfort, versatility and rough-and-ready ruggedness than its predecessor and much of its competition.

Model lineup
There are now two versions of the Forester: the naturally aspirated 2.5i and the turbocharged 2.0XT. Subaru has moved the turbo variant from an engine upgrade option to more of a standalone model by giving it a substantially different front fascia with aggressive gills at the outer bumper area and exclusive grillework.

The 2.5i is available in Base, Premium, Limited and loaded-for-bear Touring trims. The sporty 2.0XT is only offered in Premium and Touring.

The base Forester 2.5i has a 6-speed manual transmission. Some key standard features include Incline Start Assist, outside temperature display, security system with engine immobilizer, carpeted floormats, 4.3-inch multifunction display with readouts for outside temperature and fuel economy, and all the improvement and innovation of an all-new model.

Stepping up to the Premium trim adds an upgraded audio system, 17-inch alloy wheels, 10-way power driver's seat, rear-vision camera, upgraded 6.1-inch multifunction display, reclining rear seatback, dark-tint privacy rear glass and more.

With the 6-speed manual transmission, the 2.5i Premium comes standard with an All-Weather package, which includes heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. With the continuously variable transmission, the 2.5i Premium comes standard with a panoramic power moonroof; the All-Weather package is an option.

The 2.5i Limited makes the CVT standard and also includes the All-Weather package, perforated leather-trimmed seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, fog lights, automatic climate control system, an upgraded instrument cluster with LCD display and a power rear gate.

The Touring is at the top of the food chain for both the 2.5i and 2.0XT versions. In addition to including all the Limited content, the Touring makes the touch-screen navigation system standard and also adds a high-end Harman Kardon 440-watt audio system with eight speakers, Aha smartphone integration, electroluminescent instrument cluster with LCD display, a one-touch folding rear seatback and more.

Inner space
The tale of the tape shows the Forester has grown on the outside by 1.4 inches in length, an inch in wheelbase and 0.6 inch in width. But savvy engineering inside the Forester results in a much larger, more optimized and more refined interior than its outward measurements would suggest. The dash has been moved forward 4.7 inches to carve out more usable room in the cabin.

The A- and B-pillars and have been trimmed down and the vehicle's beltline lowered to improve outward visibility and create a more open feel. The front seatbacks have been clamshell contoured and the center console shortened by nearly four inches to open up more legroom for backseat passengers. As for cargo, the Forester sports a cavernous max cargo capacity of 74.7 cubic inches, up 9 percent from the previous model's 68.3 cubic inches. It's a capable gear transporter.

Under the hood
Before going under the hood, let's start there: The new Forester's bonnet is made of lightweight aluminum to enhance fuel economy. Other fuel-efficiency design elements include electric power steering that frees up power and burns less fuel, a body shape honed to provide 10.7 percent less drag and an improved, low-friction CVT gearbox. The result is an all-wheel-drive SUV with none of the fuel-efficiency compromises of other all- or 4-wheel-drive crossovers. The 2.5i with CVT delivers 24 mpg city, an impressive 32 mpg highway and a combined 27 mpg from its 2.5-liter 170-horsepwer boxer engine. Among all-wheel-drive nonhybrids in the Forester's segment, only the Mazda CX-5 compares.

Subaru has added a new level of traction for up-level versions, dubbed X-Mode. The system augments the Forester's symmetrical all-wheel drive to optimize control of the engine, transmission shifting and the distribution of power throughout the drivetrain along with controlling the brakes, vehicle dynamics control and other systems to improve performance on harsh, slippery surfaces and steep inclines.

The 2.0XT model pumps 250 horsepower from its two liters of turbocharged boxer fury. For 2014 the XT engine is a turbocharged variant of the FA-Series powerplant found in the new BRZ sports car. The all-new high-compression engine is 26 horsepower stouter than the previous turbo Forester while returning better fuel economy at 23 mpg city/28 mpg highway/25 mpg combined and a 6.2-second zero-to-60-mph time.

The turbo Forester has a system to enhance its on-road agility. Subaru Intelligent Drive is designed to get more performance when road conditions are most advantageous, providing a simulated 6-speed transmission in Sport mode or a simulated 8-speed gearbox in Sharp Sport mode, so drivers can unleash the turbo thrust on their own terms via paddle shifters. The Intelligent setting provides more commuter-friendly throttle response and shifting.

On the road
The turbo Forester engine is so transformational in its impact on the driving experience it's easy to see why Subaru is pitching the 2.0XT as a separate model and not a mere engine upgrade. The introduction in Tucson, Arizona, included track time. We only had two hot laps behind the wheel of a 2.0XT but that was all we needed to appreciate the visceral nature of the 2.0XT's powerband and sport-tuned suspension. The tires squealed their disapproval as we arced from apex cone to apex cone, but the Forester remained smooth and stable, enduring more flat-out acceleration, nose-dive braking and stomach-churning G-forces than it will likely ever see in the real world.

In SI Drive mode the CVT provided video-game functionality; pounding the paddles induced quick shifts from the CVT. We like the simulated 6-speed in SI Drive Sport as it moves the tach needle nicely within the engine's sweet spot. In fact, we wonder why a simulated 8-speed is needed. Perhaps it has to do with fuel efficiency in the top gears?

Bottom line, the on-road performance and off-road durability of the 2.0XT provide an intoxicating drive, and its kick-in-the-pants acceleration seems to belie its commuter-friendly fuel efficiency.

While the turbo is a blast, the naturally aspirated engine will be the most popular among consumers. It does an admirable job providing motivation, and Subaru says its 9.3-second zero-to-60 mph time is better than the old model and much of its competition. While dropping the hammer in a CVT-equipped 2.5i creates an orchestra of engine sounds, we do appreciate the effort. Response is crisp from under the right foot and under the tires as the suspension in the 2.5i provided a great balance between handling the wash-boarded dirt roads on our drive and the smooth highway sections. Inside, the openness of the cockpit is welcome, the seats and driving position supportive, and the quality of material and design above par.

Right for you?
No matter how you want to get your groove on, the Forester has a trim that keeps your life in rhythm. If you want a utilitarian, entry -level fuel miser, go with the base 2.5i at $21,995, or dial up your appropriate level of luxury and technology amenities with the Premium ($24,995), Limited ($27,995) or Touring ($29,995) trims. If you want to have a hoot on your commute it would be hard to beat the turbo models, which start at $27,995 for the Premium, while the line-topping 2.0XT Touring checks in at $32,995.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)

Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compacttuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.

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BB01 - 9/18/2014 5:13:01 PM