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For 2014, Subaru has given its compact Forester SUV new life with a complete redesign including a new interior, new engine choices and a big jump in fuel economy. Not that the outgoing Forester was hurting for customers, mind you. Its sales numbers remained strong throughout 2012. But, there were some noticeable shortcomings with the old design, shortcomings that Subaru has identified and corrected.

Although the look is new, Subaru has made only modest increases to the Forester's exterior dimensions, most notably to the roof height and vehicle width. The new Forester is vaguely familiar, but its lines are more rugged, with a bold front end, more distinctive wheel designs and larger projector-style headlamps.

Inside, the Forester sees some major improvements. The windshield's base has been moved forward allowing the dash to be further away from the front seat passengers. This design frees up more space for big knees and long legs. Similarly, the door panels have a more sculpted look that improves on hip and elbowroom. There's more rear seat legroom, too, and when the rear seats are folded flat the 2014 Subaru Forester provides the most cargo space in its class. For the first time, a power rear liftgate is offered.

The Forester's interior is better in more ways than just the added space it provides. The seats, although somewhat flat, are more comfortable on long trips and the fabric covering them is more durable as well as more attractive than before. In a nod to complaints about overly aggressive fixed head restraint position, Subaru has fitted the Forester with tilt-adjustable restraints for better comfort. The dash, lifted from the new Impreza, is clean and well organized, although the plastics bits that comprise it are somewhat hard to the touch. Subaru's radio choices remain maddeningly behind the times, but at least there is a new 440-watt harman/kardon system on the Touring trim.

Visibility in all directions is excellent thanks to narrow pillars and tall glass. There is even an additional fixed front quarter window at the forward edge of the front door to help better navigate turns and avoid objects otherwise blocked from view. Despite the thinner side pillars, Subaru expects the new Forester to earn a five-star crash rating from NHTSA and excellent results from IIHS. Further adding the Subaru safety story is the available EyeSight crash detection and alert system. EyeSight can also be used to maintain a safe distance between the Forester and the cars ahead when the cruise control is engaged.

By the Numbers

Under the Forester's conservative new skin reside a number of mechanical improvements delivering better handling, improved acceleration and significantly better fuel economy. The base 2.5-liter engine remains unchanged, producing 170 -horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. This engine is mated to a new 6-speed manual transmission on base and Premium trims, with an available CVT automatic that is standard on the Limited and Touring trims. On upper end models, the new CVT includes Hill Descent Control and X-Mode, two features designed to better control the Forester when off-roading or descending steep inclines. The new CVT works well in the Forester and helps it to return an impressive 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. That's as good or better than any all-wheel-drive competitor in the small SUV segment, and even better than some front-drive models.

One step up from the 2.5i is the 2.0XT. Powered by a 250 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer engine, the XT trim takes on a life of its own, receiving modifications to its suspension and steering, as well as larger 18-inch wheels and bigger brakes. The XT comes with an upgraded transmission featuring a variation of the SI-Drive found in the WRX. The XT's CVT can operate as a six or eight-speed and even features a mode that simulates the shift pattern of a standard automatic. Zero to 60 sprints shave a full second off the previous generation's time, yet fuel economy actually improves to a respectable 22/28 mpg.

More Power, Less Fuel

On the road, we found the Forester to be quite agreeable, delivering a fairly smooth and quite ride and very car-like cornering. The electric power steering setup keeps the Forester's steering wheel nicely weighted at all speeds and never feels vague or slow to respond to input. Acceleration from a standing stop isn't neck snapping, but once under way the 2.5-liter pulls strongly and provides good low-end torque, an attribute we found most enjoyable when teamed with the manual transmission.

The turbocharged XT has excellent power and throttle response, especially when set in the Sport Sharp mode. Sport Sharp increasing throttle input and modifies the CVT to replicate the feeling of driving a traditional 8-speed paddle shift automatic. Despite its newfound road prowess, the Forester has not given up any of its off-road ability. With 8.7-inches of ground clearance and standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, our little Forester was able to tackle inclines that left other compact SUVS spinning their wheels.

Pricing for the 2014 Subaru Forester ranges from around $22,000 for the base model up to just over $30,000 for the XT Touring. Look for the Forester to arrive in dealers this spring.

What do you think of the new Subaru Forester? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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